The mundane doesn’t have to be uninteresting – or indeed fun. Sometimes the smallest things can spark a joyous reaction (yes, even decluttering, apparently), and it might be a minor event in the midst of a humdrum day, but that one event might keep you going through the rest of it.
/Tuesday Ten/370/Being Boring
/290/Why Don’t You Get A Job?
There’s even an entire event dedicated to the nominally “boring” now – that sells out well in advance pretty much every year. So anyway, this is ten songs about regular life as adults. Not the exciting bits, but the stuff we have to do. Responsibilities, jobs, life.
Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions at rather shorter notice than usual for this week’s post – there were (as of the time of writing), 95 song suggestions and 80 individual songs, seven of which I’d used before (and this crosses over a bit with Tuesday Ten: 290, which was about jobs).
Actually, talking of stats, this series passes a notable milestone this week in passing 4,000 included artists or songs (this week are 4,001 to 4,010). I’ve featured 1,605 different artists and 2,930 different songs (remember that it’s sometimes been just artists, rather than songs, or even more nebulous subjects on occasion). Also as of this point – since I began the submission threads – there have been 56 suggestion threads, resulting in 6,649 suggestions by no less than 640 people.
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).
/Crushed By The Wheels of Industry
/The Luxury Gap
“Work all day or work all night it’s all the same / Will we ever change / It’s vocation or vacation”
The strident left-wing politics of Heaven 17 permeated through some extraordinary, rabble-rousing pop songs, and perhaps one of the more overlooked is this fabulous synthpop-funk crossover that looks at the daily grind of work and suggests that there is a better way, one of old-school socialism (remember, the band came from Sheffield) that would make a fairer deal for all, rather than just for few. That never worked out, of course – the country has continued on a rightward course ever since – but the broader sentiment in the song still holds true. Many of us do get ground down by our jobs, with little energy left to enjoy our free time or, more importantly, to find a better and more rewarding job. One more time “Woo! Woo! Work! Now!”
Just five years or so after 9 to 5, it is one of Prince’s greatest pop songs, and he passed it onto another artist to get all the glory. Not that this is a problem with the glorious take by The Bangles, as Susannah Hoffs grumbles about the working day interrupting her, er, entertaining dreams, and later the commuter rush through the city and the regret that she’s the breadwinner (as her lover is unemployed). This is a sunny, bright song that is, broadly, about trying to make the best of things when regular life is grinding you down, and I don’t think it is possible for me not to be beaming with joy after hearing this again.
/Making Plans for Nigel
/Drums and Wires
XTC were utter masters of highlighting the small details in their songs, and their extraordinary body of work is perhaps underappreciated even now (the recent film about them helped to redress the balance a bit, and is well worth watching if you haven’t seen it). I’ve long wondered if coming from an unremarkable town like Swindon might have helped – away from the hotbeds of “cool”, they made their own rules and style that was quite unlike anyone else.
And thus, they came up with songs like Making Plans for Nigel. A song about parents wanting to make something better for their now working son, but that means following the norms and being a good worker, that is unremarkable and doesn’t make waves. But under that positive ideal, there is the dark undercurrent here that Nigel doesn’t have a say in the matter, and boredom can, of course, become destructive…
/Standing In A Queue
Ah, the great British past-time of queuing. Various numbers exist for this, but the latest I could find suggests that 235 days of your life will be spent in one. Having queued for what seems like most of that time at airports and gigs over my life, I could well believe it.
There must have been songs about this before Saxon got onto it in 2013, but here Biff Byford gets the point across well – the despair as you look forward to the exit…but you have to queue for fucking hours first. As Byford says, there has to be a better way…
/Faith No More
Amid the darkened edge and experimentation of Faith No More’s greatest album by far, there were surprising moments of humour and playfulness. One of those came in the hilariously strange character sketch of RV, where Mike Patton assumes the role of a grouchy, quite unpleasant older man – perhaps imagining what might be awaiting him in his later years – moaning about his ailments, what other people think of him, and what he thinks of others. The song is cut down by the closing lines, where he offers contrite opinion to his “kids”: “You ain’t never gonna amount to nuthin’“. A world away from the views (or hopes) of Nigel’s parents…
/Martha and the Muffins
It is perhaps notable how many songs in this week’s post were written around the time of major recessions, as bands – and workers – used music as a form of escapism from the unpleasant conditions around them. Like The Bangles, perhaps, Martha & The Muffins were also daydreaming of other things as they spent their working day clockwatching, and here they are wistfully hoping for a day (or more) on Echo Beach instead, and the chiming, positive New Waves vibes here resulted in a classic escapist song of the period.
I can think of few bands that nail the silent fears of adulthood quite like The National. Sure, they are now one of the biggest alternative bands around, but Matt Berninger’s (and his wife’s, who collaborates in writing some of his lyrics) knack of telling of the lived experience as it is – warts and all – is what makes them so fascinating. I was a late convert to the band, but listening back has made some of their later songs make more sense. This song, though, speaks a common truth. Couples aren’t always the perfect couples they are made out to be – how they choose to present themselves to others may not be what goes on behind closed doors. Some just want to keep any difficult moments away from prying eyes, away from gossip, and this song seems to me to be just this. But couples, too, endure the moments of adulthood together – the good and bad, and so we endure, we love, we laugh. Some days we just do more than others, and some days we just want the company of each other – and others we absolutely don’t!
/It Was a Good Day
Hip-hop is so often preoccupied with power and control (in all of it’s forms), and indeed has a sometimes deserved reputation for glorifying violence and unpleasant behaviour (although this very much depends on the artist), that it is genuinely a surprise to find a song that revels in the routine. Especially from someone like Ice Cube.
But his “gangsta” persona is never far away, even here, as he rolls through a stress-free day in Los Angeles, going from home to basketball court to lover, and back home – and marvels that he isn’t carjacked, the cops don’t pull him over, he’s not involved in violence. It is perhaps notable that he has to commment that these don’t happen, and indeed the sting in the tail comes at the end, as he checks himself for thinking like this…
/The Day Before You Came
/The Singles: The First Ten Years
In the week following Eurovision, and forty-five years on from Waterloo, seems an appropriate time to feature the most famous Eurovision winners of all. But this bleak, synth-led song is a world away from that famous breakthrough, a downbeat banality threads through the lyrics in particular (which are delivered in a curiously flat style that matches the mood perfectly – indeed, was this song the template for the kitchen-sink beauty of Dubstar, now I think about it?), as Agnetha details the events of a day before some event happens (and god, few appear to agree on exactly what!). The song is deliberately long and drawn out, without any real tying up of loose ends – much as the group ended, and indeed, much as real life works out. You never can end everything satisfactorily, you just have to deal with and make do as best as you can. Adult life is complex.
/A Day In The Life
/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Amid the wild experimentation of one of The Fab Four’s most mighty albums, it is also astonishing to think that this was their eighth album in just five years, which puts into context just how much of a feat this album actually was. But the closing song is perhaps the most awesome thing on it. A richly layered tapestry of sound, it nods to the advances and experimentation in contemporary music in the previous decade or two, uses tape manipulation, found sounds and recording effects that were pretty much unheard of in popular music at the time…but amid all of this, the lyrics are just observational. Some commenting on fanciful or imagined news stories, perhaps, but the core verse of the song is a simple recitation of a morning’s actions to race to work, well, aside from the smoke that leads to a dream.
Popular music was never quite the same after this album, and maybe, neither was the idea of singing about everyday life. They made it interesting, and everyone else has benefitted since.