This week, as the Tuesday Ten series reaches a repeating number in the form of 444, I will now attempt this week’s post without repetition, deviation, or hesitation. Actually, maybe not. I’ll leave that to Just A Minute (which unexpectedly, to me at least, returned last night with Paul Merton at the helm).
/333/Joy In Repetition
Of course, the eagle-eyed among you will know that I’ve already covered this subject before, on /333/Joy In Repetition. But, it was so much fun to do the first time round – and I had so many damned suggestions – that I thought I would dip back into that epic thread for another round of repetitive songs.
Once again, this is about songs that use repetition as a device – either specific musical repetition, or more often, lyrical repetition, and many of these songs will be familiar to you. Anyway – 282 songs were originally suggested, and including /333/Joy In Repetition, 65 of them have now been used previously. No less than 116 people suggested songs, and there were 238 unique 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).
The rather combustible duo of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger (assisted by Conny Plank on production, of course) were NEU!, and the opening song on their debut album is something else. Dinger’s “motorik” drum pattern drives this forward, and it does for ten minutes, and when it fades away – much as it seems to fade in to begin with – there’s this distinct feeling that they could have just kept playing this forever (much like their compatriots Faust, who were featured on /Tuesday Ten/333, in fact). It’s hypnotic, beautiful, and something of a vitally important pointer – alongside what their former employers in Kraftwerk were also about to do – in what was about to happen with electronic music in particular in the coming years. Repetition was key here, and was key in what was to come, too.
/On A Rope
/Scream, Dracula, Scream!
San Diego’s greatest exports had perhaps unlikely UK chart success back in 1995 with the singles from this exceptional album (which wasn’t even their best album that year – Hot Charity is that, fact fans), and particularly On A Rope, an epic earworm that crashed the Top 20. Amid the horn-driven punk rock, John Reis howls a couple of verses and leaves his bandmates to broadly chant the title refrain endlessly (The chorus is “On a rope, on a rope, got me hanging on a rope” repeated seven times, and that happens three times in less than three breathless minutes). If you’ve never heard this before, I kinda apologise for the fact that you’re going to be singing the chorus to yourself for the next few days.
/Holiday in Cambodia
/Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Written and released just months after the end of the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge, this searing song rather sneered at the “troubles” of American students by putting their comparatively easy lives up against the atrocities that a quarter of the Cambodian population hadn’t lived through in the previous few years – as well, perhaps, as tearing into those students who want to “see the world”. This furious track remains one of the gold standards in putting up the mirror to hypocrisy, but is here for Jello Biafra’s psychotic repetition of “Pol Pot”, that gets faster and faster until you can’t keep up.
For a long time a phrase was used by 3TEETH on their social media bios. That phrase was “Bound by Flesh, Freed by Blood”, and comes from what was for a long time their live calling card, and the hulking opening track live – as well as also being the opening track on their first album, my original vinyl copy of which is worth a surprising amount of money these days. That track is NIHIL, which stomps and snarls through a still-striking four minutes that loop and repeat through the same instrumental sections, while that phrase is repeated by vocalist Lex. A hypnotic effect, in many ways, and something that sounded quite unlike anything else at the time.
Funnily enough, my original thought to this being suggested was “no”. But then, I thought about it a bit more this time around – and probably was able to replay most of the song in my head before even listening to it again, and I realised that I probably should have included this the first time around. Built around a repetitive synth hook and pounding Eurodance beats, this has been played in clubs, at sports grounds and just about anywhere else that might play music ever since. Among the insightful lyrics, by the way, the vocalists between them say the word “no” at least sixty-eight times, and I suspect the total number may be even more.
/They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!
Genuinely one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever heard, never mind weirdest one-hit wonders, I honestly didn’t realise that this song dated back as far as 1966. Jerry Samuels was the person behind it, and the simple drum beat behind his vocals only serves to make his vocals all the clearer, and the way it is delivered makes it sound like the vocalist is actually having a live breakdown as they recorded it. The titular refrain, of course, is the bit that’s repeated (a lot), and it is repeated even more on the much longer Neuroticfish cover (which works surprisingly well for an artist that was often rather more serious)…
/Without You I’m Nothing
I saw Placebo very early on (when they were touring their very first single Bruise Pristine in the autumn of 1995, supporting Whale), and I saw them quite a few times more across the rest of that decade. One of their most divisive singles, though, was Pure Morning, a song full of looped guitars and beats, and Brian Molko’s lyrics that superficially seem to celebrate camaraderie with women (and post-club comedowns), but perhaps aren’t his greatest work, in retrospect. The lyrics rather loop like the music, though, always coming back ’round to “A Friend…”, two words repeated endlessly through the song.
/Talking Heads: 77
It is perhaps no accident that a number of musical earworms make their appearance this week – and I wonder if musical research has been done on the link between repetition in popular music and whether they are earworms or not? That this song is an earworm is doubly strange for its subject matter, where David Byrne imagines being in the head of a deranged murderer and it is fairly clear from the lyrics that things are “not OK”. He’s tense, nervous, and more applicable here, he keeps repeating things. A lot.
Also of note, if you’ve never seen it – this is the opening song to the greatest concert film of all, Stop Making Sense, where Byrne makes this song even more compelling using just an empty stage, a boombox, an acoustic guitar and his voice.
/The Disintegration Loops III
I’ve seen Basinski live a few times – every time supporting either Swans or Michael Gira solo, and in retrospect, his delicate, looped ambience made far more sense in the Church of St. John supporting an acoustic Gira show. Basinski is best known for the haunting Disintegration Loops, the remnants of old tapes that he was transferring to digital in 2001, and realised that the physical media was literally disintegrating as he worked, so he took it further. The results were looped and pulled together as lengthy pieces, and are beautiful, melancholic works – that were, by chance, completed on 11-Sep 2001 as Basinski resided in New York City. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a deep sense of loss and mourning in this work as it gently falls apart, a metaphor for a life lived and gradually coming apart at the seams.
We finish this week with a band I rarely use, a band so influential that pretty much any pop and rock that followed them owes them a debt in some way or another, and this song – released as a non-album single around the time of The White Album in 1968 – was at the time the longest song to have topped the UK charts. What is perhaps most remarkable about the song is the structure. While it is over seven minutes long, over half of it is the now-legendary closing coda – which according to notes about the song on wiki, which repeats the same element no less than nineteen times (which vocally, is mostly “Na-na-na na” and the title). Unsurprisingly, Paul McCartney continues to play it in his live sets to this day – it looks quite something, a reminder of the awesome power of live music that we, hopefully, will get to enjoy again sometime soon.