Last week, I looked at Leaders. Following on from that this week, I’m looking at Losing – as with poor leaders, you get losers, and like last week’s post, this has been sitting on the back burner for some considerable time. Next week will be songs about Winning.
/Tuesday Ten/Winning and Losing
I had to be a little careful this week not to encroach too much on a previous /Tuesday Ten I’ve written about gambling, so only one or two songs this week touch on that subject, as there were other more interesting routes to take in this subject.
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).
/Losing My Edge
By the time James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem made their breakthrough with their debut album in 2005, he was already in his thirties – an unusual age to finally “make it” musically. He’d already taken account of this in song, though, as his striking debut single under LCD was the quite brilliant Losing My Edge. Which dealt with getting old, memory – and, critically, losing ground to the younger, cooler people also making music. It imagines an ageing hipster who was “there” for all the notable moments in music over the past few decades, as the protagonist desperately tries to remain relevant as the future rushes past him. It’s an understandable concern – being in my early forties myself now, am I starting to lose my own edge? Then again, should I care?
The early nineties was a strange time to be into alternative music, or indeed not to be part of the so-called mainstream. Those of us in our teens around that time were the tail-end of Generation X. Derided as “slackers” that would lose out in the “race” to the top that is Capitalism – even as previous generations pulled up the ladder to opportunity, particularly by beginning to make higher education even more expensive and also privatising everything in sight, reducing job opportunities – it is perhaps unsurprising that many decided to kickback. One such artist was Beck, who scraped a living in his younger days and hit success by working his nuts off until he got it. His early work saw folk music and lo-fi hip-hop colliding, which didn’t always work but when it did… we got tracks like Loser. Where he took the piss out of the slacker mentality, with sardonic, weird lyrics and an anthemic chorus that perhaps too many took at face value…
/I’m With Stupid
/Wisconsin Death Trip
Along similar lines, Wayne Static is also self-aware in this song to admit that he could be better. As the industrial-metal back flies past at a hell of a clip (one of quite a few songs on the debut Static-X album that does so), this song spits with spite. The song suggests that the protagonist knows that he could do more and improve (and stop “wading through shit”), but the kicker is that apparently their partner has less than a high opinion of him (“he’s a loser”). Amid the carnage, other vocal samples are hurled into the mix, as if his mind is racing with the negativity being thrown around. If you’re constantly told you’re a loser, do you automatically become one?
/And Some You Lose
/Available In All Colours
Equally scathing of the world they saw was One Minute Silence at the end of the same decade, a furiously left-wing, anti-racist band who wanted a better world but were realistic enough to realise that there were few chances for it. They weren’t afraid of delivering the odd reality check, either, as on this song from their debut album, where Yap rips into someone who thinks that they are better than they are, reminding that they’ve not exactly won in life up to now…
Prior to the resurgence of this band as futuristic industrialists in the late eighties – light years ahead of their peers as they released striking songs about the nascent internet and hacking in 1989 – their early eighties work was jazzy, funk-tinged art-rock, and it was enthralling. One such moment on Advantage was the pitch-dark, bass-led pulse of Beautiful Losers, a song that makes perpetual failure sound sexy and alluring. One thing I’ve ever been able to work out is whether this is a reference to Leonard Cohen’s novel of the same title.
/Sorry You’re Not A Winner
/Take to the Skies
Never a band I particularly got into, and this is just their second appearance in this series. This chaotic, bitter song was their first physical single back in 2006, mixing up metal, hardcore and skittering drum’n’bass among other styles, and points the finger at another loser in every respect, gambling away their life (in this case on Lottery Scratchcards) and losing their love-life as a result. The title, as I recall, is the phrase used when you check National Lottery results and you haven’t won anything…
/I Fought The Law
A song covered by a whole lot of artists besides The Clash (who probably did the best-known version these days), it dates from 1958 or so (originally written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets), and is something of a song that celebrates the Outlaw. Except here they aren’t the hero particularly, instead having failed in their attempts to make a quick buck through crime, their loss is of their liberty, as they are now apparently on a chain gang (a practice that lasted a surprisingly long time). That meaning, mind, has often been forgotten in the singing of the title refrain as a way of “sticking it to the Man”…
/Born to Lose
/Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash
Another song covered by pretty much everyone is this lament by Johnny Cash, a song so utterly bereft of hope. The protagonist in this song has apparently had the deck stacked against them from the off, with no chance of winning in life whatsoever, and the small crumb of comfort was that they had someone to love, and the kicker here is even that hope is now gone. I mean, quite a few Cash songs were very dark indeed, but this plumbs depths uncharted by many other songs by the Man in Black, that’s for sure…
/My Guy Died (Level 12 Human Sorcerer)
/Industrialites & Magic
Back when I was younger, I dabbled in playing RPGs that involved complex narratives, pen and paper and an awful lot of dice. In such games, playing a character that you’ve patiently built up, losing that character – it dying, in effect – can be really bloody annoying. Especially, as Brian Graupner points out in the song when it all came down to the luck of dice through. The line between winning and losing is sometimes especially thin (and cruel).
/The Winner Takes It All
This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the songs that was an automatic consideration for this week’s post. The majestic lead single from Super Trouper, it pretty much told the story of what the members of the band had lost during their extraordinary success across the second half of the seventies – each other. It’s remarkable to think that ABBA was composed of two married couples for much of their active time, but by the time of this song, both had divorced, and this song sees Agnetha Fältskog sing of her sadness and regrets over what had happened in her divorce with Björn Ulvaeus – although Ulvaeus wrote the lyrics, and for a long time denied it was about them. Hmm! Either way, I saw my own parents divorce in bitter circumstances as a child, and frankly, there are no winners in situations like that. Everyone loses.