This year really has felt, in some ways, like the world has run out of luck. A pandemic, a succession of hapless, right-wing Governments manipulating just about everything in their favour, and the general feeling that it is going to be a long route out of this.
/Some Guys Have All The Luck
As ever, though, such things got me thinking about songs that cover luck. One of the definitions of luck is effectively being the superstition and/or belief that chance can be affected in various ways, and it turned out that there are an awful lot of songs on the subject – even if some of them had previously been used on /Tuesday Ten/282, which was about gambling.
117 suggestions were made, of which seven (ha!) I’d already used, with 94 individual songs suggested, and 55 different people made those suggestions. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who got involved.
That said, songs about luck – or lacking in luck – needed thirteen songs, though, so this is a baker’s dozen of songs this week. Ready to get lucky? Here we go.
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).
/The Coin Toss
/The Duckworth Lewis Method
The concept of the Coin Toss goes back to Roman times, and in sport – both in cricket and association football – goes back to the 19th century at least, the latter as the fairest way to resolve simple organisational questions. Like who bats first in cricket, or who kicks off in football. But, in past times, even major tournament matches in football have been decided by a coin toss. The latter is extraordinary when you think about it – all that work in a major international tournament, and whether you progress or not comes down to the luck of a coin toss?
/A Little Bit of Luck
The latter years of the last Millenium – post-Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 – saw a continued explosion in electronic music in the UK in particular, as while “illegal raves” had been cracked down on, those running nights simply opened bigger clubs, resulting in the age of the “superclub”. But there also continued to be thriving underground scenes, which would variously burst into the mainstream at one point or another. In the nineties, Big-Beat, Jungle, Drum’n’bass and then UK Garage all had their moments in the limelight, as well as others, but UK Garage seemed to hit really, really big in the charts for a short time. It was never my thing – I much preferred drum’n’bass at the time – but the more soulful edge and more danceable rhythms clearly appealed to many. One of the many top-ten hits from the genre was this track, whose main refrain is “With a little bit of luck we’ll make it through the night“, which I guess could be taken two ways – either that the protagonists will have the staying power to dance all night, or that they will make it through without violence, arrest, or anything else untoward happening. Sadly in London and elsewhere – particularly if you weren’t white – the latter events would happen with all-too depressing familiarity.
/I Should Be So Lucky
The production-line releases of Stock Aitken Waterman fit a template, perhaps, but it worked – they had thirteen UK number ones and three US number ones between 1985 and 1990, and over one hundred UK top 40 hits overall. One of their most remarkable success stories was with then-teenage Australian actress Kylie Minogue, who initially came to prominence on the equally-long running sitcom Neighbours that became a huge hit in the UK. Her pop career began with a cover of R&B hit The Loco-Motion in 1987, and this was her second single – an instant hit and monstrous earworm that relies on repetition, repetition, repetition to hammer the lovelorn message home about being luckier in relationships. I suspect Kylie’s lengthy, enormously successful music career since has been anything but luck – canny decisions around stylistic changes and song choices have long meant she’s remained on-trend almost every time.
/The Man Who Couldn’t Cry
Originally a song by fellow country veteran Loudon Wainwright III, it was covered by Johnny Cash on his late-career resurrection that was his American Recordings album, and like many of the other covers he did on that and the following albums, he tempers the humour with the extraordinary gravitas of his delivery and voice. The song is an absurd one, in many ways – a man who simply cannot cry (or presumably show other emotion), no matter what bad luck or misfortune comes his way. The man gets his revenge, though, after a miserable death, in spectacular, blackly comic fashion…
One of Radiohead’s most majestic songs – and one of the many highlights of OK Computer – was released nearly two years before the album actually arrived. Ot was their contribution to the legendary HELP album that recently marked its twenty-fifth anniversary (all songs were recorded in one 24 hour period, with all proceeds to the War Child charity that was dealing with the fallout from the Bosnian War), and thus is well worth revisiting. A tender paean to hope and luck – “I feel my luck could change” is the key line – Thom Yorke takes the position of a survivor of a plane crash, who becomes a hero and thus changes his life. But, of course, it’s all chance – his luck worked out, had the protagonist been in a different location, perhaps, on the plane, he may not have survived.
That chorus, though. Maybe, just maybe, the most soaring, uplifting moment in any Radiohead song, ever.
By the time of their mainstream breakthrough with Urban Hymns, Richard Ashcroft had indeed been a very lucky man. The band he led had released two albums and a host of singles, most of which were well-received but with only moderate success. They’d toured the US, he’d been hospitalised after dehydration and heavy drinking, survived an awful lot of drug use, by all accounts, and the band had split once and reformed. Then Bittersweet Symphony became an enormous, majestic hit, the follow-up single The Drugs Don’t Work went to number one (!), and the album Urban Hymns eventually saw them break America and everywhere else, and sold over ten million copies worldwide (it’s also among the twenty biggest-selling albums ever in the UK). This song – one of the later singles from that album – perhaps isn’t the strongest one, but it does see Richard Ashcroft reflecting on his good fortune up to that point, as frankly getting Urban Hymns released in the first place was lucky enough…
/Lonesome Johnny Blues
One of the really interesting things in cultures around the world is the concept of a lucky number. In many western cultures, the number seven is lucky, while some elements of Chinese culture, it’s the number eight that’s more auspicious – and from what I can tell, in Judaism, it’s the number 18. American band Cracker is one of many to have referred to the lucky number seven in song, and seeing as I’ve somehow only featured them the once previously (on one of probably my favourite /Tuesday Tens that I’ve ever written: /338/With a Little Help from My Friends), it’s time to feature them again. It’s something of an alt-country knees-up, which sounds bright but is actually pretty dark – someone down on their luck, and their reward for allowing the visiting Grim Reaper to take someone they love…is to stay alive. In 1992, it might have been bad enough, but in 2020, I suspect many might do a different deal.
/Men of Good Fortune
The spitting ire of this song seems as relevant – if not more so – in 2020 than it did when written in 1973, and reminds that for some, so little has changed. Rich leaders – both political and in business, or both – can make decisions to benefit themselves and continue to gain more, often simply because of the fortune of the family that they were born into and nothing else, while the working classes work to survive, and little else. That 47 years after this release, we’re still talking about this – and perhaps have the ultimate example of undeserved wealth and privilege as the President of the USA at the moment, and it’s tempting to wonder if this song was referring to the same man in 1973, who’d taken over his father’s real estate business in 1971 in New York – is something of an outrage. It has long been clear that wealth and privilege is little more than luck for many, we should be asking why nothing has changed and work to change it. Those benefitting sure as hell aren’t going to change.
/Any Day Now
Among the various suggestions unused this week was Wet Wet Wet’s debut single Wishing I Was Lucky, and despite a very different sound and style, this late-period song from Cop Shoot Cop has a similar sentiment. The character in the song is sitting back and hoping that luck will come to him in a whole variety of forms. From meeting the woman of their dreams, to get in shape, to win the lottery. But there’s also other things on here, like being President, or being an Astronaut, that I can’t help feel need more than a bit of luck. Application, perhaps…
Perhaps the greatest example of good fortune in simply surviving in this entire post is that of the Happy Mondays. With their legendary drug consumption (reputedly they got through hundreds of Ecstasy pills in the ten-day recording period for their second album Bummed in 1988), never mind their later consumption, it is frankly a miracle, not only luck, that the band survived as long as they did, and that Shaun Ryder is still alive. Not everyone’s cup of tea, like many “Baggy” bands – and I’m by no means a fan of a lot of their music – but some of their earlier singles are outstanding. Particularly this gloriously spare, funky groove take on Wrote for Luck by Vince Clarke (Erasure, and once upon a time Depeche Mode), which stripped away everything from the busy original but the odd flash of shimmering guitar and Ryder’s voice, leaving that epic rhythm pattern to carry the weight. Perhaps the luck Ryder wrote for was delivered in terms of those remixers – the other club-bound version of this was by Paul Oakenfold…
(A quick warning – the video for this on the playlist has pretty much constant strobing)
/A Stroke of Luck
The striking debut album from Garbage – that turns twenty-five next year, by the way, you’re welcome – has been featured a few times in this series, as this is the fifth song from it to feature. I’ve long felt that this searing ballad was the better of the two bookends on the album (this closes the first side of the album, while Milk closed the second side), as Shirley Manson dug once again into the darker side of relationships, peering around the facade of perfection to reveal the rot underneath. Here, she questions whether what seemed so perfect was after all, whether that person really was a “stroke of luck” or something rather more sinister.
/Rockin’ The Suburbs
I must admit that I lost track a little of the work of Ben Folds after he went solo, his solo work simply not pushing my buttons like his more rock-based work in Ben Folds Five did. But for others, the case was rather different – as I found when two of my friends used this song as their first dance at their wedding. A simple song of love, where Ben Folds swooningly states that his partner makes him feel the luckiest man alive. Certainly a sentiment I can get behind – I had similar feelings at and after my own wedding, as I marvelled in my own fortune at marrying the love of my life.
/Dead to the World
Leeds goth/darkwave band Zeitgeist Zero has been around for some time – I remember seeing them in Leeds many years back – and they’ve made quite a name for themselves with striking live shows and often equally-striking songs. The album Dead to the World was perhaps where they really began to find their own, distinct style, too. Hidden away at the tail-end of that album was Unlucky 13, a song revolving around numerology again, and the long-standing belief in the west that the number thirteen brings nothing but bad luck, which includes fear of a date. That fear of Friday the 13th, in particular, has a tongue-twisting name – paraskevidekatriaphobia – but there are loads of odd stories about the origins of the fear of the number, most of which seems to come from religion, originally.
That said, you can believe what you wish, and make your own choices. But I prefer to make my own luck.