This week, I’m picking up on a recent suggestion thread that really got me thinking, as the very idea of secrets in song seems like an oxymoron. After all, if you reveal a secret in a song that then goes on to sell millions, that’s hardly a secret then, is it?
But it turns out that the reality is rather more nuanced. Many songs that talk about secrets are not revealing anything, instead of encouraging you to read between the lines and try and decipher some lover’s code, or to accept that they are simply not going to give you the detail that you crave. Thus, secrets remain secrets.
There were 95 suggestions for this post, and just two had been used before. 59 people suggested 74 songs (one of which, needless to say, that was used, was suggested no less than eight times). Thanks, as ever, to everyone who took the time to get involved.
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).
/Super Ready / Fragmenté
Aside from the ambient instrumentals of Music for Artificial Clouds, Secret was the first new track from this Swiss band in some years when it opened their XX Years – 1985-2005, and was then also featured on the excellent Super Ready / Fragmenté album that followed. After the sleek electronics of the past couple of albums, the return to a distinctly “rock” sound was a jolt, but the synths subtly coiled around the muscular rhythms and it is still a joy to listen to now. I have a hunch, though, that the lyrics don’t translate especially well from French, but as far as I can tell this song is about the things two lovers might keep to themselves, their own secrets that the rest of the world need never know.
It also resulted in a marvellously cryptic t-shirt from the band – my first of three Young Gods t-shirts – that simply has “Secret” on the front, and the iconic stick figures logo on the back, nothing else. It kinda represents the fact that despite being an enormously influential, fascinating band, for those of us that love them, they remain our secret.
I have to confess that I’ve rather lost my love of IAMX over the years. I don’t know why – I really liked the early material – but somewhere, Chris Corner’s work simply went in a direction that no longer moved or interested me, and thus I stopped listening. One of his more striking songs from that earlier time was this lush duet with Imogen Heap, that, like much of this week’s songs, leaves the listener to read between the lines and work out what’s going on. There’s quite a code to crack in the secrets here, perhaps, but he gave the answers in an interview around the time of release that shed light on dark secrets within. He noted that: “When I wrote it, I imagined some kind of psychotic brother/sister relationship, perhaps romantic, dependent, incestuous. I imagine her as the boy and me as the girl.”
/In My Secret Life
/Ten New Songs
Cohen was such a candid chronicler of life and what he saw (and thought!) that the very idea of secrets in his songs seems unthinkable. But in this song from his 2001 album Ten New Songs (although by all accounts, it was originally written over a decade before – Cohen was unusual in often sitting on songs for years until he was happy with them), he looks back at his life, and those of others, and imagines different, perhaps more optimistic, happier times in his own head – the secret life of the title, that others may never know. For all his reputation as a dour singer, there was a surprising amount of hope and light in his songs, you just sometimes had to look for it.
/Post Orgasmic Chill
Another band that I drifted away from a bit over the years is Skunk Anansie. One of the very first bands I ever saw live back in the summer of 1995 – before they’d even released their debut album Paranoid & Sunburnt – my interests once again diverged as the band began to take another route, and maybe, after all these years, it is high time that I returned to this band again and gave some of their later work another go.
I recall at the time, though, that the strings and bombast of this song felt a little “much”. But then, you dig deeper into the song, and the feelings that bubble to the surface justify that bombast. This is a song less of jealousy, but of deep, unrequited love. The protagonist can’t reveal their love for their friend – much as they want to – because their friend is already in love with someone else. Thus, their love must remain secret, a burning inside.
/Our Lips Are Sealed
/Beauty and the Beat
It’s remarkable to think that it took until 1981 before an all-female band topped the US Billboard charts having written their own songs and played their own instruments – a sign of just how misogynistic the music industry was (and sadly, in too many ways, still is). Their story – and it’s a hell of a story – is well told, but there were little details that I didn’t realise about this song in particular. This sunny, hook-laden slab of power-pop is a gloriously catchy song, like all of the band’s best hits, but I never knew until researching it that the song was inspired – and written by – Jane Wiedlin and Specials member Terry Hall, who were having a secret affair. Terry Hall later recorded his own take on Our Lips Are Sealed with Fun Boy Three, which is rather less bright and sunny – and the opening drum-beat on the version here sounds exactly like intro to The B52s Love Shack to my ears…
Björk’s fourth album Vespertine felt like a retreat from the striking, dance-influenced music of her previous albums, shedding the spotlight, staying indoors and beginning a period of wild experimentation with found sounds and unusual instrumental sources. That said, the lead – and opening – track from the album is recognisably a Björk song, that’s for sure, as her unusual and distinctive vocals pitch and roll over choral samples and gently swelling electronic rhythms. This was very much an album about new love, and the joys of your own world with your partner, and this song took us into a safe space, where the rest of the world doesn’t exist, and your life with your partner can be played out in secret. By this point Björk had an awful lot of stressful press intrusion, so some secrets never to be told were probably a good thing.
/Mount the Air
North-Eastern based folk group The Unthanks – better known to many of my friends than to me, I must admit – appear to be continuing various folk song traditions, both playing old standards as well as new songs of their own. This song takes up the baton of One for Sorrow, an ancient traditional song based around the superstition of sightings of magpies in the wild, one line of which is “seven for a secret never told”. The origins of the song are, unsurprisingly, murky – not least because there are multiple versions – but appear to be based in the superstition around Magpies, as they are seen to have been thieves and opportunists, a perhaps unfair assumption.
/The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret
It dawned on me while writing this week’s post that the breakthrough album by Queens of the Stone Age – and, in my opinion, still their best work – is two decades old this year. While the album took some interesting twists and turns along the way, their most direct songs on it were often the best, and this charging single is absolutely one of them. The song is Josh Homme making it clear that whatever has happened remains between him and whoever the other party is, their secret forevermore. I’ve understood from reading somewhere before that this refers to an affair somewhere along the line, a tryst that’s probably for the best that it remained a secret.
This, by the way, is the single most suggested song in a song thread related to this series yet.
/Live To Tell
From that period where Madonna seemed to do very little wrong – and peaked with the extraordinary Like a Prayer a few years later – it’s still fairly striking that the lead single was a yearning ballad. it was a song that seemed to be an exorcising of Madonna’s demons from the past, too. What is interesting, though, is that whatever has happened is not detailed in the song specifically – secrets that don’t need to be told, even though that she needs to vent about them in this still-outstanding song.
The unmistakable voice of Martina Topley-Bird winds herself around this languid, dreamy piece from techno artist Clark – one that sounds rather different to his usual work, for sure – that sees her examining the exterior of a man and finding him hiding something, but unable to work out what it is. It is, potentially, a tale of lust, but it also could be a tale of curiosity, simply wondering what on earth they are hiding behind their eyes. Trying to prise secrets out of people is naturally hard. Why should we tell? A bond may have been made never to tell. But, curiosity often gets the better of us to ask.