After the ‘success’ of the Top 10 R.E.M. songs the other week, I was looking for a new challenge. I considered doing my favourite sporting Venezuelans, but fell a little short. The same with favourite ends in world cricket. The answer came to me during…I think a walk to the station. Like lightning, I was struck with the idea of a Top 10 Songs About Girls. Not necessarily about Girls (Elvis Ain’t Dead, for example, is about girls) but with girls’ names in the title. It’s a wide-ranging thing, but with notable high points. Hopefully you’ll be intrigued enough to listen to some old friends, maybe find some new ones. This is a list of my favourites. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write your own top ten and call me a foolish fool. Whichever. Roll on. Oh, and they’re in no ranking order, just the other they came to me.
• Annie Waits – Ben Folds.
Back when I was a younger man, I was unaware of Ben Folds. It seems anathema now, so much have I enjoyed his work. I was introduced to Ben Fold Five by a good friend of mine, but the first time it ever really hit home was on Rocking The Suburbs, of which this is the first song. As such, it always brings back memories of my friend.
Some friends drift in and out of your life – and that’s not a bad thing – and some are people you want to remain with forever; you can generally count them on your fingers, I suspect. This is one such friend. There are few people for whom I would travel the length of England to spend an evening with, but I have, and would again (should again, probably). Thinking of him now reminds me of all the things we could have been going to be, and all the things we’ve become ‘instead’; and thinking of him now makes me happy seeing what he has become. Friendship is important, and friends who make you feel good about yourself are even more so.
Thank you, then, for introducing me to Ben Folds. Thank you for everything else, too. Although we meet up far less often than I’d like, I think of you often, and always fondly. As such, the two will always be intrinsically linked for me, and I think that’s a good thing. That’s a good start – the first song about a girl being about a boy.
• Judy and the Dream of Horses – Belle and Sebastian.
Its fitting putting Belle and Sebastian here, because my friend and his wife are such big fans of the band. They’re a group I seem to enjoy in waves; I spend months not listening to their understated breathy pop, but then all of a sudden find myself missing it, like I’m homesick, and binge for a while. If You’re Feeling Sinister is a high watermark for me, I would say, and this song coming at the end takes me, almost literally back home, to the summer I was first listening to it, the bright red sleeve standing proud on the deck. It went with me as I walked – my most powerful mental image of this song is walking under this bridge, for some reason, in probably the last period I was ever really at home in Huddersfield; back when Huddersfield seemed big and the world seemed small. You lose that as you grow older. The place you grew up in feels smaller and smaller, and the opportunities outside grow vast. I shall have to walk down that way soon, past the Clough House, past the cricket club, past the motorway – reunite with a time and a place that used to feel a long way away but was only a short walk and now feels a long way away and is a lifetime ago.
• Kelly Watch The Stars – Air
And speaking of a lifetime ago, and things I used to do in
Huddersfield, brings me to Moon Safari by Air. Back in that other life, I used to frequent a second hand record shop called the Polar Bear – it’s now a Cartridge World – and listen to all manner of things at the behest of a man called Jon. He was a wise man – he introduced me to the Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement (though not at the same time). He introduced me to Kid Loco, but, perhaps more than that, he introduced me to Air. Another band that have been with me for many years (sixteen, I guess, seeing as Moon Safari came out in 1998) but one that I can’t remember being without, or can’t imagine being without.
This is the most charming cut on that first album of theirs I bought; a real head-nodding toe-tapper. Like Air, but a little more beat to it. I quite liked Sexy Boy, but this was the first of theirs I really GOT. It remains a fresh delight today.
• Rosalita – Bruce Springsteen.
I like Bruce Springsteen. Have done for a long time. My favourite album of his probably remains The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is the opposite end of the Springsteen-spectrum to Rosalita. I don’t think I need to explain the charm of it – there’s not so many songs that make me want to get up and dance, not many songs that I crack a smile instantly upon hearing. This is one such and, in a canon of songs about girls (and cars), is likely my favourite Springsteen song for just that reason. Ultimately, Rosalita’s fun. I like fun. I like Rosalita.
• Lisa, Magic A Porfa – Radio Luxembourg.
Can I stick with fun for a bit? I don’t speak Welsh, so most of this song is a mystery to me – I know it involves a girl called Lisa, but that’s about it. For some reasons it brings dragons to mind when I listen to it, but I don’t know they’re in there. It’s just a blast of the summery, sunny pop that Race Horses went on to produce but in a slightly more chaotic form. Top drawer stuff. Real spring in the step music.
• Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts – Bob Dylan.
An unusually co-operative Bob Dylan gives me two girls names. Blood On The Tracks is more than likely my favourite Dylan album; it offers joy, anger and amusement and, if you give it chance after Idiot Wind (which is an undoubted highlight) you get the rather lovely Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. It’s a long old jaunt through, but well worth effort, even if it’s a fairly incomprehensible – even by Dylan’s standards – romp through what appears to be a criminal activity of some sort. Dylan’s written loads of songs about women – Sara, Isis and Visions of Johanna leapt to mind – but there’s a lot of love songs in the canon, rather than the surreal story-telling for which he made his name. The sound of Blood on the Tracks is a delightful thing, and this – therefore – is the best kind of Dylan song with the best kind of Dylan sound; match made in heaven. Lovely old job.
• Donna and Blitzen – Badly Drawn Boy.
Every year, without fail, somebody tells me that Fairytale of New York should be my favourite Christmas song. Every year, without fail, I concede that it’s a good song, but not my favourite. Every year, without fail, somebody then flounces off disappointedly muttering something about me being an obscurist when I tell them that my favourite Christmas song is Donna and Blitzen by Badly Drawn Boy. Well, I’m not an obscurist, I just really like Donna and Blitzen. I like the original version, with its hushed ‘Merry Christmas’ from Damon over the beginning, and I like the slightly more twinkly re-make for About A Boy. I like the fact although obviously festive, it focuses on a specific part of a story, rather than being peace and goodwill to all men. So yes, its my favourite Christmas song. It might not be yours, but it doesn’t have to be. I don’t care.
• The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – The Pogues.
Shane McGowan may be many things. He may be few things. One thing he certainly is is the man who brought this song to a wider audience, an audience it deserved and in a performance that – still now – has the power to bring tears to my eyes. I’m a big Pogues fan. Few people have managed to dance quite so long and enthusiastically to Fiesta as I can and have, and I suspect few have listened to this, slightly more downbeat number, more often with a drink and the clouds of sadness above their heads. Almost unbearably sad as it progresses to the veterans’ parades, McGowan’s world-weary snarl fits it perfectly. If there was a world without war, it would be a better world. If there was a world wherein those who didn’t want war didn’t have to have war, it would be even better.
• The Thoughts of Mary Jane – Nick Drake.
Sit down a minute. Stop what you’re doing, find a bench somewhere, somewhere you can see the sun. Play the Thoughts of Mary Jane by Nick Drake. Let it wash over you, from its light flute-y intro to the hazy loss of Nick’s voice rolling throughout it. Such a delicate tune, it feels more Bryter Layter than Five Leaves Left, showing an indication of the development we would see between the two. It really does lap against the ears like a tide, and when it leaves, it leaves you like the sand – replenished, and refreshed, ready to face things again in future. Nick Drake offers much to many; this is towards the more beautiful end of his work – a real personal highpoint.
• Julia Says – Wet Wet Wet.
You’ll have to forgive for this, but it’s a song that I really enjoy from an album that I enjoy equally. It might not be hip, or cool, but the fact is that Wet Wet Wet’s Picture This is a set of songs from which I could choose any (except perhaps Love Is All Around, which is a little TOO slow and soppy) and be perfectly happy to hear on the radio; be it Somewhere Somehow, Don’t Want To Forgive Me Now, or this, Julia Says. At the end of the day, Marti Pellow can sing – he has a lovely, lovely voice and it’s a pleasure to hear it. Wet Wet Wet broke no boundaries, and were never the most dynamic of groups, but they played to their strengths and had a considerable one in Pellow’s voice. I’m not backing down, but equally don’t take it as an opportunity to play Wet Wet Wet whenever you see me.
Bubbling under….Cecilia (probably the Suggs version), Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl, Lola, Billie Jean, the Ballad of Cat Ballou (R.E.M.’s version), Sylvia Plath by Ryan Adams.