Don’t call me frozen

As I hurtle towards my 40th birthday (just over 15 months to go!) I keep seeing and hearing little things that make me feel my age.

Take this year’s World Cup, for example. I’ve lost count of the number of things that last happened 32 years ago, such as Algeria’s last World Cup finals win. 32 years ago, frighteningly, was 1982, the first World Cup I remember watching.

And then there’s Father’s Day, where the “Dad” compilation albums have moved on a bit – the 70s and 80s classic rock versions are still out there, but they’ve now been joined by ones focusing on Britpop and other 90s stuff. I’ve even caught myself singing along to the odd advert, and thinking “that sounds good”, before realising how past it that makes me.

So when I heard Pearl Jam, my favourite band in the world, had tagged Frozen’s Let It Go onto the end of one of their own songs at the weekend, I thought it would be my chance to score some cool points.

Did I succeed? Well, I’m not so sure. To begin with, Megan fell out with me because I’d commandeered the iPad to show them the YouTube clip. Apparently Play-Doh tutorials are far more important!

Heather took more of an interest, and her face was an absolute picture when she realised what the song was. But even she wasn’t that interested. No cool points for me then.

I’m not sure about the rest of the guys, but I know that Eddie Vedder, like me, has two young daughters, and I suspect they may have had something to do with this particular song choice. And even though he doesn’t quite hit all the notes like Idina Menzel (who can, though?) I reckon it’s a decent attempt, and maybe he’s got the cool points that I didn’t.

I guess I can live with that. Especially if they’d pull the finger out and come back to Scotland, neglected for over 14 years, now. An old man can dream, can’t he?

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

Let me sleep (it’s Christmas time)

I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay attention to the BritMums festive playlist linky, I’m just glad I spotted it in time to take part.

The format here is pretty straightforward – pick (at least) five festive songs and explain why I love them. Given that a week or so ago we spent a night building a spreadsheet whilst trying to decide which Christmas album to buy (Heather insisted on Christmas music in the car) and have been listening to Christmas music at home pretty much ever since, it shouldn’t be that hard to do, right?

There are, of course, plenty of very obvious songs I could include here. But where’s the fun in that – everyone’s already heard Slade, Band Aid, Wizzard and the Pogues (feat Kirsty McColl) more times than they probably care to mention. So, instead, I present here a bunch of less well-known Christmas songs which are floating my boat this festive season.

1. Pearl Jam – Let Me Sleep
Lifted from a 1991 fan club single, this anti-festive ditty is actually quite nostalgic at its heart. When you were a kid there really was something magical about Christmas, and now I’m getting to see that all over again, through the girls’ eyes.

2. Noel Gallagher – Merry Christmas Everybody
I’m pretty sure this was recorded for a Royle Family Christmas special back in the late 90s. I’m also sure my dad hated it when I played it, because it’s a bit more melancholy than the Slade original. But that’s its charm!

3. Manic Street Preachers – Ghost of Christmas
Another nostalgic one this, and one I suspect the Manics would never have dreamed of recording at their outset. I mean, it’s got saxophone and everything! No idea where the visuals in the below clip come from btw, pretty sure they’re nothing to do with the song itself.

4. Geraldine McQueen – Once Upon a Christmas Song
Is this obvious? I don’t know, but Peter Kay’s Christmas parody is certainly not one you’ll find on any commercial Christmas compilation, that’s for sure. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a decent tune, and one which definitely gets stuck in my head every time I hear it.

Bonus fact: I once saw Conleth Hill, the actor who played Geraldine’s mum on TV, in a Russian play about a suicide. He was very good, as was the play.

5. Lou Monte – Dominick the Donkey
Anyone who listened to the Chris Moyles Show will know this one, as it got played to death, in honour of newsreader Dominic Byrne. I think it might even have got into the Christmas charts a couple of years ago, presumably around the time we bought it. The only other time I’ve seen/heard it mentioned was by my cousin last year, just after he’d moved to New York, questioning if it was a real thing!

And speaking of the Real Thing (see what I did there?) this linky is all in aid of promoting Coca Cola’s Designated Driver programme, which you can find out more about by clicking on the link below.

Update: Only after I’d posted this did I discover Chris T-T has recorded a Christmas EP. I’ve seen Chris a few times now, and have written about how his brilliant Disobedience album inspired me to read AA Milne to Heather, so I’ll definitely be picking this new EP up. I’m pretty sure it would have made this list, had I done so in time!

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

I’ll ride the wave where it takes me

My love for Pearl Jam is no secret, not least because I’ve written about it before, so when I was recently challenged to put together a PJ starter mix I jumped at the chance. It’s not been an easy task, though, with 20 years and 9 studio albums to choose from. And that’s before taking into account b-sides, live albums etc.

Anyhow, I’ve managed to narrow things down to 16 tracks (I was aiming for 15, but didn’t quite make it) which I thought I’d share here – after all, I was going to write the notes anyway.

1. Release (live)
Pearl Jam’s reputation as a live band is formidable, so it makes sense to feature a few live tracks here. Release, often used as a show opener, was never a favourite song of mine, until I saw the performance in the recent Pearl Jam 20 movie. The setting (the stunning Arena di Verona), the lighting, the performance and even the rain all combined to make me really take notice of the song. It’s a favourite now.

2. Alive
An obvious choice, but how could I not include this? Semi-autobiographical (Eddie Vedder really did find out, in his teens, that “what [he] thought was [his] daddy” wasn’t) and with an anthemic chorus that’s not really as euphoric as it sounds, this is probably the song most folk think of when you mention Pearl Jam.

3. Daughter
Believe it or not, Ten (PJ’s debut album) kind of passed me by. Shocking I know. This, the lead single from second album Vs., was what hooked me first time around.

4. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
One of my absolute favourite PJ songs, and one I’ve written about before. The wordy title was a reaction to criticism of the titles given to other early songs, which were mostly single words.

5. Last Kiss
Originally a fan club single, this 1950s teen tragedy cover became PJ’s biggest mainstream success to date , reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999. Proceeds from the single went to a charity for Kosovan refugees.

6. Spin the Black Circle
Highlighting the band’s punk roots and love of vinyl, this is the band’s highest charting single in the UK to date, reaching #10 in 1994. The album from which it’s taken, Vitalogy, is a real mixed bag, containing not only some of my favourite PJ tracks, but some that are just unlistenable (I’m talking to you, Hey Foxymophandlemama!)

7. Given To Fly (live)
Another live version, this time from my first PJ show, Glasgow SECC in 2000. Midway through, Eddie can be heard asking if everyone is alright – a section of the crowd near the front (including me) had been knocked to the floor in a big pile of bodies. Weeks later, 9 fans died in a similar incident at Roskilde Festival. Chilling.

8. Do The Evolution
Following their initial rapid rise to fame, Pearl Jam made a concerted effort to drop back out of the limelight. Part of that was stopping making music videos in 1992. So it was a big deal when, six years later, they produced one for this song, working with comic book artist Todd McFarlane.

9. Wishlist
I imagine for a lot of people this is a throwaway piece of nothing, but I love the imagery employed. “I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house-keys on” is just beautiful, as far as I’m concerned.

10. Life Wasted
Never a band to shy away from politics, the George W Bush presidency provided a lot of fuel to PJ’s creative fire. It’s pretty obvious what this one, the opener to 2006’s self-titled “comeback” album, was about.

11. Just Breathe
Similar to a track from Eddie’s solo Into The Wild soundtrack album, this is another one of those tender moments that seem a million miles away from the early days. I think I’m right in saying that this is the first time a PJ song has featured strings.

12. Unthought Known
Something Pearl Jam does well is write songs that build and build… and something I really like is songs that build and build. Coincidence?

13. Jeremy
If this was a live set, we’d now be entering the encore(s). Another obvious choice, but one that simply couldn’t be excluded. Best 12-string bass intro ever?

14. Black (live, MTV Unplugged)
One of Ten’s many highlights, this was a song the band fought with their record company NOT to release as a single – and won! A gut-wrenching breakup song which is usually given a slightly stalker-ish edge live, with the addition of the “We belong together” tag.

15. Better Man
Eddie wrote this song when he was 15, and had performed it with an earlier band, but wasn’t convinced it was any good. Fortunately the rest of the band persuaded him that it was, and it became a fan favourite, with the opening verse often being sung just by the crowd.

16. Yellow Ledbetter (live)
Almost every show closes with this early b-side, so it seems appropriate to close this mix with a live version. If you can’t make out the words don’t worry – with the exception of “I don’t know if I was the boxer or the bag” (and even that’s changed at times) they’re rarely the same twice, and the official site says that lyrics are “Not available“.

 And that’s yer lot!

I shied away from including any songs from solo albums (Eddie’s Into the Wild soundtrack is definitely worth checking out) or side projects (Temple of the Dog being, perhaps, the most obvious) because it was hard enough picking 15 16 songs from the band’s own back catalogue that represent the breadth of their output. And hopefully one that leads to further investigation :)

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

30 songs: My God it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return

No, the title isn’t a reference to how long it is since my last post to this series (well, maybe a little bit!). Rather, it’s a line from today’s chosen song: Pearl Jam’s Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.

Pearl Jam seem to be one of those bands who inspire adoration and indifference in almost equal measure. A cornerstone of the early 90s grunge scene, they’re now pretty much the last man standing (reunions notwithstanding) with nine studio albums under their belt – a fact that often surprises people, who thought they’d long since followed their peers and given up.

Of course, that’s not entirely accidental – after a meteoric rise to fame (second album Vs, on which …Small Town appears, was the fastest ever selling album in the US) the band, and in particular singer Eddie Vedder, did their best to escape the limelight. One way they did this was by boycotting Ticketmaster venues in the US, severely limiting the number of shows they could play there. Another was by eschewing the grunge sound that had brought them to prominence, resulting in a series of diverse and experimental albums that alienated a lot of their early fans.

At this point, I have to hold my hands up, and say that I was one of those fans – 1994’s Vitalogy was actually the first PJ album I bought – home-taping never did kill music, did it? – and for a long time was the last. Yes there are some awesome tracks on there, but there is some absolute dross as well. Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me was sufficiently poor that I turned my back on the band altogether.

That all changed in 2000, when PJ played in Glasgow for only the second time in their career, the previous occasion having been in 1992 at the (original) Cathouse. Playing a mix of songs I knew and songs I didn’t, I rediscovered a band I’d given up for dead 6 years previously. In fact, the Pearl Jam live experience ignited a love of the band that hadn’t even existed first time around.

A year or so later, I travelled to London on business. The hotel I was staying in was a five minute walk from the Hard Rock Cafe, and I ended up having dinner in there one night. Across the road from the restaurant is a HRC shop, and below that is “The Vault” – a collection of Hard Rock’s most prized possessions. It’s only one room, but packed in there were some amazing artifacts from the entire history of rock (and roll) music – a cigarbox guitar made by Bo Diddley, Elvis’s karate suit, furniture from Hendrix’s London flat, Dylan’s hat, Lennon’s military tunic and a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Everywhere I turned were items that had belonged to musical legends.

Sitting quietly in the corner was an acoustic guitar. Taped to the side were the lyrics to …Small Town, handwritten by Eddie Vedder on what looked like toilet paper. And out of everything in that room, that guitar is the thing that touched me the most. Here was something that had belonged to someone I’d seen – Elvis, Dylan, Lennon and Hendrix are great and all, but it’s hard to think of them as real people, owning real things, because they’ve never been part of my reality. Whereas I’d seen Eddie just the previous year – he WAS a real person.

Which is why, out of all the songs I could have chosen to represent my favourite band, I’ve picked this one.

Tonight I’m going to see Pearl Jam Twenty, a Cameron Crowe directed film chronicling the band’s career (the “Twenty” refers to the 20 years that have elapsed since their debut album, Ten, was released). I know some of the stories from that 20 years, and have some idea what to expect. But there’s plenty that I don’t know, not least from my 6 years in the wilderness. A wilderness I don’t see myself returning to any time soon.

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!