Two years after I started to think about a /Tuesday Ten on the senses, and I finally come to the end of what has been a pretty difficult subject to write about. Lots of metaphor and double-meaning has had to be dug through to find the right songs to feature over six posts, and I hope that for those of you reading it, I chose appropriate songs.
/Senses Working Overtime/Sixth
/Tuesday Ten/Senses Working Overtime
So, this is the last of six posts on the senses, and this week it is something of a two-parter. There are both songs about the senses in general, and also those of the “sixth sense” that is absolutely something that is not universally agreed that it exists. Also, there weren’t a lot of suggestions for this, just 29. Three of these had been used before, and no less than nine of them (!) were for one song (the XTC song that leads off this week and has been the title for the mini-series). 23 people suggested songs, too, and as ever, thanks to everyone who takes 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).
/Senses Working Overtime
This was the song that got me thinking about the whole idea of interpreting the human senses within music. One of the (many) great XTC singles, this one where Andy Partridge is marvelling at the power of the human-machine. How it interprets the smallest, most insignificant of signals, into feelings and experiences (such as tasting lemons and limes, a memorable example in the song), and becomes pretty much the bedrock of our interaction with the world. Quite a weighty subject for such an extraordinarily breezy pop song, really…
/Isn’t It Funny How Your Body Works
/Body of Work
The young members of Nitzer Ebb were thinking along same lines just a few years later in 1984, on their debut single. A comparatively primitive thrash of synth, drum machine and Douglas McCarthy’s barked vocal, it makes me think of a teenager discovering the primitive urges that make us human – from sex and onwards, uncovering an innate curiosity that sets us up for the rest of our lives. As an early EBM (Electronic Body Music) track, too, it also works in that concept – a musical style that was obsessed with rhythmic, powerful music that your body reacted to (usually by dancing), that is a relationship probably as old as humans making music.
plural noun: sensoria
the sensory apparatus or faculties considered as a whole.
Cabaret Voltaire was also thinking along the same lines in 1984. The thrilling closing track to Micro-Phonies, and probably their best-known song, thanks to the exceptional, head-spinning video whose style and concept has been copied by many others since, not least fellow Sheffielders Pulp, is one of sensory overload. How do we cope with all the information that our body sends to our brain? What happens when it is too much to deal with? This song, based around an industrial-funk backbone, seems to ask that in musical terms, as synths, vocal samples, guitars and Stephen Mallinder’s own voice fizz around the mix, looping and creating a sonic overload, that along with the video, can be a disorientating experience.
/Hungry Like The Wolf
One of those songs that is an instant earworm, thanks to the hook at the end of each verse, in particular, it is also a slick, powerful new-wave track that I had always assumed was the lead single for what became a smash hit of an album (My Own Way, it turns out, was the oft-forgotten lead single). The senses are important in this song, though, as the protagonist imagines themself as a predator, hunting down their prey through the city, using their (presumably enhanced) senses to survive and track them down. There is, of course, a twist to all of this in the epic, stylish video…
/Make Me Feel
Having been a fan of Prince for well over thirty years, the sparse funk intro of Janelle Monáe’s lead single to her excellent recent album hooked me on the spot. A song about the burst of overwhelming feelings unleashed by sexual attraction, the song is a thrill from start to finish (and makes amazing use of tongue-clicks as part of the underpinning rhythm), and as was quickly noted, it is open-minded attraction, made especially clear by the video. Monáe flirts and interacts with both men and women in the video, going for who she likes and not who society tells her to do. Our feelings – and sensory revelations – are not always straightforward, and following your feelings may not always take you down the prescribed route. So what? It’s no-one else’s business but your own, and what you feel may not be the same as others, and that’s your right as an independent human.
/I Am, I Feel
/Alisha Rules the World
A duo “discovered” by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, what I perhaps dismissed as little more than bubblegum pop at the time had rather more substance than I ever realised. Particularly this song, their debut and a top-twenty hit in the UK in 1996, that was a woman pushing back against an unpleasant, sexist – and potentially psychologically abusive – partner by reminding him that she’s a person too. One with her own feelings, her own opinions, and her own mind, rather than just being an extension of him. Twenty-four years on, in 2020, it still beggars belief that this still needs to be started, and isn’t understood by too many men.
extrasensory perception (ESP)
perception (as in telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition) that involves awareness of information about events external to the self not gained through the senses and not deducible from previous experience
Yep, a reminder that Deee-Lite did more than just one legendary hit (Groove Is In The Heart, of course). This song – a trippy, mind-expanding dancefloor track that is kinda psychedelic techno, really – taps into the dancefloor connection. Is the DJ playing exactly what you wanted, as if he had some direct link into your mind? Or, more likely (bearing in mind that this was 1990 or so, as dance music culture and recreational drug use became indelibly intertwined), that you were binned out of your mind, and it just felt that way?
/Dead When I Found Her
the supposed ability to perceive future or distant events; clairvoyance.
One of the striking highlights of the first Dead When I Found Her album, like much of it containing distinct nods to Michael Holloway’s influences (particularly Skinny Puppy and Mentallo & The Fixer), but still starting to hone their own niche (which they would do to spectacular effect on the following albums). Amid the swirling synths and heavy basslines, Holloway seems here to be taunting someone somewhat, asking whether what they had predicted (and presumably wanted) had really worked out as they’d suggested, and whether some form of telling the future (rightly or wrongly) is really everything it is cracked up to be…
The last track proper on the glowering, intense trip that is Mezzanine is another pitch-black work. 3D and Elizabeth Fraser imagine the life of a faceless security guard, stuck behind his screens in a faceless building, having to use his technology and his senses – not to mention a “sixth sense”, of sorts – to identify any intruders or security breaches that might happen in his long, dull shifts. And all the while, as you might expect, his mind wanders to better things, hopes of a better and more interesting life. The titular Group 4, mind, were a firm that gained one of the first private security contracts for Prisons by the Tory Government in the nineties and managed to “lose” four prisoners in the first seven days of their contract. That our Governments to this day continue to outsource such security – much like many other privatisations, even amid failure and ever-spiralling cost – is an outrage.
Finally, the longest song this week by far. Dictionary.com tells us that “The third eye is a representation of mystical intuition and insight—an inner vision and enlightenment beyond what the physical eyes can see. It is traditionally depicted as being located in the middle of the forehead.“, and the late comedian Bill Hicks, notably sampled at the beginning of this song was a notable exponent of expanding your mind (or in his words, “to squeegee one’s third eye”), by way of taking mind-expanding drugs and getting a new perspective on the world. I’m not particularly sure I had a similar experience when doing such substances in my youth – I had some pretty fucking weird things happen, but nothing like this. This track is the mighty, lengthy closer to their best album by far, and expands somewhat on Hicks’ statements amid a trippy, metallic squall that is an absolutely extraordinary track live.