Sit Back And Relax

Ergh, it’s just so dreary. The tune, I mean. ‘All the things you saiiiiiiiddddd’. The rest of the song is very upbeat and enthusiastic. We played it in the band, and it was maybe my first experience of exterior pressures dictating music choices, in that we kept playing it for ages. Teenager audiences love that bounce. Teenager audiences love that pause and then the sarcastic ‘honey’. At least we thought they did. Listening to it now it’s just so drab, I think. Drab and dreary.

I hate the sound of the guitar, it’s too shiny clean. But not like a brand new car, more like a clean tin. Imagine you’ve washed out the baked beans, and you’re just gazing into that tin.

The bridge, perhaps the best part, is stolen from an earlier song. I’m not judging, I mean if you think this one is bad try that one. Thank god the section was rescued from the wreckage. But it’s a bit like being rescued from your ruined house, and then being blamed for it having burned down, and then being left in the street, and you don’t like the street anymore, it being the blackened site of your ex-house.

It makes me feel weird, remembering myself turn my head to the left, sat at the drum kit in some pub, to drawl out the word ‘honey’. I think I used to think I was cool when I did that. I probably was, I guess. People in bands are cool. People in audiences don’t always judge as harshly as your future patronising self. Sometimes I would get compliments, having stepped down from the stage.

I just don’t like this song. I also think I can remember my bandmates not really liking it either. Like they knew my songwriting wasn’t really up to scratch, like they were plotting secretly. Do I remember some dispirited bass playing coming from the corner during rehearsals? I might do. The guitarist probably liked it. He liked playing bouncy guitar. He would bounce a bit on stage, with an extremely affable wide smile across his face at all times.

Anyway, I chose that picture because behind the lazy-teenager veneer of these lyrics is this strange paranoia, and the ominous spectre of capitalism:

“What’s wrong with my life?
I keep on counting all the days ahead”

This could be the lament of an office drone, tired of his daily grind. You might expect some lyrics about breaking free and focusing on real happiness, not ambition. But no! Actually he turns out to be a reluctant layabout, who gets nothing but snide judgment from his listener:

“What’s wrong with your life?
Well, you don’t have any money.
Maybe that’s because you made the decision
Not to work, honey.”

Such a prick! Why was I on the wrong side??

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We’re On Your Side

I had many of these as my standards changed from year to year, but this was definitely, at one point, ‘my first good song’. It was also my first song to properly use electric guitar, to properly use distortion, to properly try to ‘rock’, as it were.

And let’s be completely frank, it doesn’t sound great, does it? You wouldn’t hear it on the radio and turn to your friend and go, ‘ey, Sophie, this is pretty good isn’t it? We should look up who this band is and then buy their music in order to download it legally and then perhaps catch them at a summer festival, shouldn’t we? I might even fancy a t shirt.’

The singing is awful in places, and things go out of time, as is their wont. The guitar solo at the end attempts to use very few notes to disguise the fact that I can’t quite play the guitar, and ends up audibly confirming the fact that I can’t quite play the guitar. What else? Oh, AGAIN we have a song starting with almost nonsensical lyrics, a product of my technique of improvising words as I strummed the chord sequence the first few times.

But

Get to the second half of the first verse, and you might start liking the song just a little bit. Of all the recorded moments of my teenager-with-attitude mode of singing, the lines:

“Look at my picture, I drew it for you in my spare time,
It’s yours if you want it, but it’s fine”

Just work, I think. They sound knowing and sarcastic even as they admit immaturity. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, I mean they essentially have nothing, tone-wise, to do with many of the other lines, which seem to be offering much more genuine attempts at comfort to the listener in question. But they click for me.

Then we have the chorus, which is catchy. Sometimes I like to look down on music for being merely ‘catchy’, a lot of us do, don’t we? It’s catchy, so it sold out. It’s catchy, so they can’t sing, so they didn’t actually write it you know, oh verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus how dull.

Well, in this case, I had nowhere to sell out, having not sold at all, and yes I can’t sing but give me a break will you, and I did actually write it, not that I’m necessarily hugely proud of that. And yeah ok that structure does perfectly describe this song, but give me just one break please, will you?

The thing is, I’m not sure any piece of music I had written up until this point was catchy at all really. Oh, actually. But apart from that, and we should probably discount that one, I recognised after having produced this that it was a bit catchy. And I liked that. When you hear the bridge build, you do actually want to hear the chorus again. It sets you up nicely. Sure, the ensuing chorus is then ruined by the guitar solo, but in this life, we can’t have everything we want.

Also:

“Out of the screen and into the light”

What about that line these days. What with the youth? And the telephones?

The Christmas Song

The Christmas Song. Neither about, nor written around the time of, Christmas. A song designed to make young teenager friends jump up and down at underage venues, featuring lyrics suggesting mild disdain without saying much of anything, serious indie rock drumming, and the vigorous strumming of three chords.

The cornerstone of my first band’s repertoire up until the point we had songs that were any good, The Christmas Song sticks out in my memory like a sore nostalgic thumb. It is, and always was, terrible, but it had a bouncy energy that guaranteed it its coveted last place in the setlist for a year or so, and when I listen to it I can’t help but remember a few friends half-ironically going MadForIt, or my sister turning up to our empty gig venue with a huge brigade of 13 year olds and saving the day, or our girlfriends turning up to our first gig, at school Battle of the Bands, holding a banner with our name above them, and generally making so much noise that the judges had to give us 1st place.

These memories give the song a meaning that it rightfully shouldn’t have, being so shit. But what can you do?

The guitar solo is an extremely rare feature in any of my music, and exists here only because it isn’t me on guitar (my guitar skills were not really ‘solo’ grade – I provided the three bar chords and then got on with hitting the drums quite hard).

The guitarist was one of those musicians who loves to learn. He would practise sequences of blues licks to be incorporated into solos. He would focus on technique a lot. Are you getting my disparaging tone? I remember when we were working on the solo, he was going through his list of little flourishes that he’d learnt in his lessons and I just couldn’t understand why he was approaching improvising in that way. I felt too awkward to tell him he wasn’t channeling the spirit of blues. But then again, musicians like that often end up actually becoming good at things. My laissez-faire attitude was fun but would sometimes lead to three-chord compositions featuring first lines that I know for a fact had no meaning whatsoever.

The second version on the playlist (‘The Christmas Song 1’) is actually the original, and I include it only to demonstrate how much worse it could have been.

And below is a song by now-extinct The Fratellis, a key component of indie rock for two years. They used a very similar chord progression (did I steal it? I honestly can’t remember) before wisely switching to something more melodic for most of the song. I actually liked that album a lot.