Writing these Tuesday Tens, sometimes they go off in completely different directions than I’d first intended. Aside from the Tracks of the Month posts, the “subject” posts are either ones I’ve collated myself or have been opened up to suggestion threads on Facebook. The latter are often really interesting, and this week particularly so.
/How to Disappear Completely
I asked for songs about “invisibility and/or not being seen”, and it provided a flood of songs that I’d not even considered – or in some cases ever come across before – but also it tilted the way I was thinking about this. Sure, there are songs about actually wanting to be (or imagining to be) invisible (Queen’s Invisible Man was the most suggested song of the week), but in terms of songs to write about, songs that didn’t use the sense of the invisible literally turned out to be the more interesting ones – and in many ways, this week is as much about loneliness as it is invisibility.
I should note now that there is a Content Warning for discussion of implied abuse.
Anyway: there were 140 suggestions this week and 117 individual songs, of which no less than ten have been used before. Thanks as ever, to the 72 different people who took the time to suggest songs.
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).
/How To Disappear Completely
Amid the electronic experimentation of this album – that is perhaps a whole lot better than many of us considered at the time – there were moments of extraordinary, fragile beauty, and this track is very much one of those. The bleak, desperation of the lyrics can be interpreted in two ways, I think: one of which is the title, comes from the Doug Richmond book, which detailed various ways of disappearing and starting again with a new identity. The other is the position the band were in at the time of the release of Kid A – after the critical and commercial success of OK Computer, there were all kinds of expectations for the band, that Kid A was part of the attempt by the band to subvert and, effectively, disappear from the radar. That never happened, but they certainly moved on and changed their sound drastically.
A different kind of invisibility here, as Suzanne Vega imagines herself as an observer of a child (the titular Luka) going through horrors no child should have to deal with. She remains in the shadows, never involving herself, as the silent conversation with the child reveals the physical abuse that they are enduring, put up with and accept as a fact of life. That nothing appears to be done by those seeing the snatches of detail makes the song all the more harrowing – but it should be remembered that this song was not fully based on reality, as Vega only ever saw the child, and added the remaining details herself as an imagined circumstance.
A first appearance – and first suggestion, remarkably – for Mega City Four, a band that perhaps passed me by a bit over the years (there were other bands I was into from that time). I rather like this, too, a surprisingly melodic and very much of its time song, complete with a dry mix and slashing guitars. The song, though, articulates a feeling that I occasionally feel rather acutely. That of feeling invisible to others, out on the periphery of life and social events without feeling that there’s any prospect of improving it. Thankfully for me, it’s usually a passing feeling and just something that hits when I’m in a particularly low mental state.
/Is She Really Going Out With Him?
A popular choice among the suggestions – and an artist I was introduced to as a child by my dad’s love of his work. One commenter suggested that Jackson’s bitterest moments could “strip paint from the walls”, and this is certainly one of them, as probably one of his best-known songs. Here he starts out as an invisible observer of people, partners and lovers, later a near-invisible presence at parties, commenting to himself on the unsuitability of the partnerships he sees – although it’s unclear (perhaps deliberately so) whether his views have a basis in facts that he knows, or if it is simply bitter, seething jealousy. Either way, his invisibility comes from keeping his thoughts to himself.
/Lost In The Supermarket
As a consumer, customer, whatever you want to put it, in today’s world, you’re rather invisible. Your identity is denoted by your purchase history, by your loyalty cards, and your spending power – partly because most of our purchasing is now completed online, making us almost entirely faceless. Which makes Strummer’s lyrics here all the more surprising when you consider they were written in 1979, a time when the internet hadn’t even been invented and most shopping was in person. But even then he’s feeling alienation in a depersonalised world, and the song feels appropriately numb and unfeeling, the breezy rhythm never really pushing too hard in any direction, as if like Mick Jones on vocals, it wants to remain unseen, unnoticed, in the background.
/Invisible Married Breakfast Blues
/Guess What They’re Saying at the Happiness Counter
I often get folk song suggestions, but I rarely get any quite as bleak as this. A two-minute character sketch of a marriage that has long since lost all precept of love or communication, here they may as well be invisible to each other as they sit across from the breakfast table at each other. Thankfully my wife and I are nothing like this – we still talk, we still acknowledge each other, we still love each other – but there are times where we like our own space (but that doesn’t mean ignoring the other entirely). But I have been in situations where you just know things are ending, but you don’t quite know how to deal with it as things ebb away.
I wonder whether there are any more complete, astonishing songs about loneliness – and thus invisibility – than Eleanor Rigby. Just two minutes long, and just strings and Paul McCartney’s voice, it broke all kinds of ground at the time by even discussing these subjects. There is both the titular character, and the Reverend that marries and buries her, and both are subject to a character sketch of excruciating detail, as Rigby can’t recall the details of her marriage, and is buried alone, with no mourners, while the Reverend sits at home after service, darning socks alone as he has nothing else in his life. Much progress has been made in the five decades since, with a vastly greater awareness of these invisible people in helping them get the support and human contact that they desperately need, but there are still sadly stories that make it into the press of lonely lives that end without anyone – neighbours or support services – even noticing.
/Clear Hearts Grey Flowers
Amid the popping rage and fury of most of Jack Off Jill’s output, there were moments where Jessicka and her band slowed things down somewhat, and Vivica is probably the best example of that by far. A simmering track that disguises somewhat the author’s rage at what she is seeing through soothing vocals and the gentle pace, but make no mistake – this is a song that wants to change a situation. Watching a hopeless relationship as a friend (something I’m fairly sure that we have all seen at one point or another), but apparently helpless to intervene, there are observations of hope that the titular character may escape with her help, but in the meantime, she just avoids the other party to avoid the hate and put-downs, instead of hoping that she might remain out of their sight for as long as possible.
/Invisible and Silent
My wife has long maintained that this is Covenant’s finest album – personally I prefer Europa, but there is no doubt that this remains an exceptional release. The cover, of a man frozen in a snowy landscape, gives a clue to the general feel of the album. The production somehow gives across a chilly, icy atmosphere that is only thawed on a number of occasions – the belting dancefloor tracks that this album is mostly remembered for, and this track. For Covenant, anyway, this is an unusually lush ballad, complete with a choir to back Eskil’s plaintive vocals, as he laments the end of a relationship where he has become invisible. The cold is from the other party, the warmth from Eskil, sadly not reciprocated.
/Sitting Down Here
/Playing My Game
This song got suggested, I added it to the list, I looked at the lyrics and thought “yeah, I can include this”. Then I listened to it, and suddenly it all flooded back. I know this song, as it was inescapable in 2000 in the UK, when it became a massive hit (#5 in the singles charts and sixteen weeks in the charts), but I’ve likely not listened to it since. I don’t think I’d ever quite noticed how bleak a song it is under the sunny, featherlight musical backing. Marlin is, in this song, trying to remain invisible as an act of revenge, imagining how she could fight back against a verbally abusive, unpleasant person by simply not being there for them, the invisibility both acting as a shield and a weapon.