10 of the most criminally neglected songs by hugely successful artists

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Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi – Welcome To Heartbreak

Most of you probably weren’t aware of this, but did you know that celebrity impregnator and star of Keeping Up With The Kardashians Kanye West also has a rap career? It’s true! And very good at it he is too. It’s about time he received some recognition for it.

Welcome To Heartbreak comes from his much mocked 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak, which was followed by 2010’s universally adored My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I think the critics got it wrong. Any album which contains the masterpiece that is Love Lockdown is automatically better than any album which features a song that starts with the lyrics ‘one hand in the air, if you don’t really care’ (So Appalled) in my book.

It’s about time we gave 808s another chance, starting with this little treasure. It’s easy to see why fans might not have taken to this ode to mo’ money mo’ problems the first time around. Coming so soon after the 2008 global financial crisis, we weren’t ready to have our synthesised heartstrings plucked by a mega rich rapper moaning about having to leave a wedding ‘before they even cut the cake/welcome to heartbreak’ (although we all know that missing out on cake is the greatest tragedy of all). But in 2008 Kanye did have a lot to cry about. His mother had recently passed away following cosmetic surgery that went horribly wrong, and he had just broken up with his fiancée. All the cash in the world couldn’t bring his mother back to life. Money couldn’t buy him love (although please feel free to challenge that last statement in light of Kanye’s current romantic situation and disregard it completely).

See also: Monster; Roses; Runaway Love (with Justin Bieber)

Daft Punk – Aerodynamic

This genre-busting epic of strings, church bells and electric guitar solos would sound just as good heralding the new age of Atlantis or welcoming our Martian overlords as it does as a rap sample (in Slum Village’s Aerodynamic and Wiley’s Summertime). It’s the soundtrack to a life you’re not ready for yet.

See also: Tron: Legacy. Yes, the movie. You say “two hour long Daft Punk video” like that’s a bad thing.

Björk – All is Full of Love

The video, which features two large-breasted Björk cyborgs (cybjörks) snogging each other, has been on YouTube for over two years, and still has less than a million views. What is wrong with you people?

(The song isn’t half bad, either.)

See also: Isobel; Venus As A Boy; Hunter

Basement Jaxx featuring J. C. Chasez – Plug It In

Likewise, I would’ve thought that a video of one of the biggest pop stars of the 90s presiding over an explosion in a robotic love doll factory would’ve had more than 30,000 views, but what do I know? I’m not Queen of the Internet (yet).

See also: Scars; Cish Cash (with Siouxsie Sioux); Jump and Shout

Chemical Brothers – Swoon

This sparkling gem entered the UK charts at #100, before creeping up to the nosebleed-inducing heights of #85. Be careful up there boys! Make sure you’ve got plenty of oxygen and please don’t do too many drugs.

Sure, it’s little more than catchy hook repeated over and over and over again, but that didn’t stop Hey Boy Hey Girl (#3), Block Rocking Beats (#1) and It Began In Afrika-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka (#8) from becoming hits.

See also: the score they did for Hanna – an underrated soundtrack for an underrated movie.

Lady Gaga – Dance In The Dark

Much like its subject matter, a young woman who is too insecure to make love with the lights on, this exhilarating sonic romp needs to step out of the shadows of the more widely played power ballads that followed it (Marry The Night, Edge of Glory) and let its freak flag fly for the whole world to hear.

See also: The Fame; Speechless; Chillin’ featuring Wale

Beyoncé – Countdown

Lord knows why this lovestruck belter only made it to #77 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Illuminati conspiracy? The revenge of Sasha Fierce? The series of unflattering wigs she wears in the video?

See also: Fighting Temptations; Ring The Alarm; Video Phone featuring Lady Gaga

Drake – Loonies To Blow (A-Trak remix)

This one is a bit of a cheat because it’s an independent remix of a reasonably dull song, but this utterly chronic dancefloor tearaway is enough to make Amanda Bynes-level fangirls of us all. Bonus points for renaming it ‘Loonies To Blow’ after Canadian dollars in honour of Drake’s homeland.

Rihanna – Numb

Regardless whether you find her fascinating, infuriating or completely charming (or all three at the same time), Rihanna is an intriguing character. I find her most appealing when she succumbs to the dark side, as in this hypnotic ballad of slowly spiralling drops, distorted vocals and Marshall Mathers at the Slim Shadiest he’s been in years.

See also: Princess of China (with Coldplay); Jump, which samples Ginuwine’s Pony; that one with T.I. that sampled the ‘Numa Numa’ song (Live Your Life)

Amy Winehouse – F*** Me Pumps

Remember Amy not as a desperate addict who was hopelessly devoted to drink, drugs and dreadful men. Remember her as a feisty minx who sang this snarky little ditty about golddiggers, who told an interviewer that she’d ‘rather get cat AIDS’ than collaborate with middle of the road songstress Katie Melua, who had healthy curves and who looked, as my friend so perfectly put it, ‘really beautiful. Like a dinosaur, but a really beautiful dinosaur.’

See also: In My Bed; You Sent Me Flying; Cherry Wine (with Nas)

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The quest for the perfect holiday read

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Lunettes de soleil et livre fond plage exotique

Choosing a book to take on holiday with you is serious business. Without proper preparation and research, you might end up making a fatal error which could lead to emotional distress, divorce or even imprisonment. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Which is the best type of book to take on holiday?

A classic

See: Anything that you wish you had read in high school, or anything written in the last few years which has received a major literary award.

Pro: When else are you going to get the time to lose yourself in a great work of literature? How good will it feel to come back from holiday feeling as though you have used your time off work to truly achieve something?

Con: You might develop uncontrollable book envy as your friends devour one whizzy beach read after another as you battle through 975 pages of Anna Karenina, leading to slowly simmering resentment that will create cracks in the foundations of your friendship that will only deepen over time.

Something ‘light’

See: any chick lit or mass market thrillers which aren’t too strenuous on the old mind cogs.

Pro: What better time to give your brain a rest and enjoy life’s simpler pleasures?

Con: Define light? How do you know that your frothy and silly retro romp about three beautiful and morally flexible young friends trying to make it in Hollywood (Valley of the Dolls) won’t end in tragedy of Shakespearean proportions (and for real, Shakespeare could’ve learned a few things from Jacqueline Susann. If there is one thing his plays are missing, it’s really great wig-pulling fight scenes set in women’s toilets).

That book everyone’s talking about:

See: Gone Girl, The Dinner, Inferno, How To Be a Woman, How Should A Person Be?

Pro: It’s bound to be worth the hype, right?

Con: Sometimes books become hits that everyone wants to talk and write about because some people find them fist-shakingly rage-inducing. If someone you know is desperate to talk about one of these books, it could be to share their joy with others, or equally as likely to purge themselves of the horror of That Ending (yes The Dinner, I’m looking at you).

A book that is universally beloved

See: The Hunger Games, Good Omens, The Fault In Our Stars, The Book Thief, Ender’s Game

Pro: Well, surely you can’t go wrong? You know you will love this book. Everyone loves this book. It won’t make you angry. It won’t ruin your holiday. It won’t make you want to throw your Kindle into the sea.

Con: What if it’s too good? What if it’s so unputdownable that every hard-earned penny you have paid for your trip away has been in vain, as you eschew sightseeing and going to the beach in favour of spending seven straight days in District Twelve with Katniss?

A bonkbuster:

See: Fifty Shades of Grey, Bared To You, Hollywood Wives, Riders, Lace

Pro: Obvious.

Con: What if your real life partner fails to match up to Christian Grey? What if your eye starts to wander past the person that you came on holiday with, eventually leading to the irrevocable break-up of your relationship? What if you suddenly become a sex maniac and get thrown in a harsh foreign prison for public lewdness, and request to use your one phone call to get in touch with Jilly Cooper and ask her to bail you out because it’s all her fault?

The ultimate weird-off: US vs UK television shows

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You Americans may have your Robot Chickens and Renegade Angels, but we’ve got time-travelling hangman-pimps and men giving birth to giant eyeballs. Which nation shall emerge victorious as we pitch US and UK TV shows new and old against each other in the ultimate weird-off?

Round one: animated sketch show with pop culture parodies

US: Robot Chicken

What’s it about?: Highly irreverent childhood-ruining pop culture mash-ups from the twisted brain of Dr. Evil’s ginger son.

Random quote, out of context: ‘I’m Bill Clinton! I’m gonna push over this cow!’

UK: The Adam and Joe Show

What’s it about?: Created by, written by and starring Joe Cornish of directing Attack The Block fame and Adam Buxton of ‘being absolutely awesome and hilarious all of the time’ fame, this turn-of-the-millenium sketch show features dozens of film and TV parodies (including Snatch, American Beauty and Se7en) acted out by cute and cuddly toys.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Well, I once snogged my brother, and I’m a Princess Leiasbian.’

Winner: Robot Chicken – Adam and Joe’s parodies are too accurate to be truly strange.

Round two: retro gothic

US: The Heart She Holler

What’s it about?: It’s basically William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying with incest jokes.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Son, just because you grew up in a lifeless cavern with zero human contact until I died last week and you were released and taught to speak and put in charge of this holler, is no excuse for your shoddy mismanagement!’

UK: Hunderby

What’s it about? It’s basically Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with fart jokes.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Mistress Matilde is still abed, sir. She complained of vipers lashing her insides… Her bowel has still not spoken, sir, though I fancy I caught a whisper.’

Winner: The Heart She Holler

Round three: horror

US: American Horror Story

What’s it about?: Insane asylums. Serial killers. Ghosts. Aliens. Nazis. Demonic possessions. Nuns. Rubber gimps.

Random quote, out of context: ‘We’re all going to be together in the dark, watching The Sign of the Cross. A movie full of fire, sex, and the death of Christians. What fun.’

UK: Psychoville

What’s it about?: Insane asylums. Serial killers. Clowns with hooks for hands. Dwarves with psychokinetic powers. Christopher Biggins.

Random quote, out of context: ‘You killed her? What, cos she made a dwarf eat some cheese?’

Winner: American Horror Story

Round four: medical drama

US: Childrens Hospital

What’s it about?: Fast-paced parody exploring ethical medical dilemmas, like, can you perform surgery using only the healing power of laughter? Is it ok to fake your own death because you have too many emails? Is it morally wrong to provide a secret abortion to the wife of a right-wing, pro-life senator, when the foetus in question is a sixteen year old boy?

Random quote, out of context: ‘I’ve been peed on so many times I’d know if you’re a ghost.’

UK: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

What’s it about?: Much like Childrens, but the hospital was built over the gates of Hell (in Dagenham, Essex – where else would it be?)

Random quote, out of context: ‘As I’m sure you people are aware, Won Ton’s gamma radiation mumps program went west, and created a horny giant eye on legs.’

Winner: Darkplace

Round five: independent women

US: Strangers With Candy

What’s it about?: A 46 year old former prostitute and recovering drug addict returns to high school to put right what once went wrong. Every episode ends with mass dancing and everyone learning a valuable lesson (‘violence really isn’t the only way to resolve a conflict, but it’s the only way to win it’/’I don’t have to join the debate team to get people to pay attention to me, I just need to starve myself to the brink of death!’/’Drugs are for losers. Unless you use them to win. In that case, drugs are for winners!’/

Random quote, out of context: ‘I did things I wouldn’t force on a mule, and that includes things I forced on a mule.’

UK: Nighty Night

What’s it about?: The course of true love never did run smooth. Any love that is worth having is worth fighting for. When you fall in love with the married doctor who lives next door, sometimes you have to tell all your friends that your still-very-much-alive husband has died, start dating a rich simpleton who describes his personality as ‘Scottish’, organise a farewell coffee morning for said married doctor and his wife which centres around you pole dancing in their living room to Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, murder your husband, attempt to murder your vicar with poisoned Angel Delight for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, follow married doctor and his wife to the spiritual retreat where they have gone to save their marriage, pretend you are a therapist who works there called Floella Umbagabe, accidentally nearly kill the real Floella Umbagabe, pretend you are with child following sexual assault by married doctor’s twelve year old son, get pushed off a cliff by married doctor’s wife, land on top of married doctor and drag his unconscious body across the ocean in an inflatable rubber ring.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Hiya Cath, Hiya Don. It’s Jill. I know I’m not allowed to speak to you anymore, but I’m just phoning to say I’ve shot myself. Bye.’

Winner: Nighty Night

Round six: musical madness

US: Glee

What’s it about?: A brutal dystopian vision of an alternate reality where teenagers burst into song once every few minutes for no logical reason, no one ever learns anything – everyone has to be reminded every single week not to be completely awful to each other all the time (you know, just like that valuable lesson that they learned last week), and Lea Michelle does That Face. A lot.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Did you know that dolphins are just gay sharks?’

UK: The Mighty Boosh

What’s it about?: Two zoo keepers/band mates/clothes shop owners/frenemies go on a journey through time and space, meeting plenty of gorilla demons, green-skinned homicidal hitchhikers and sexually predatory half man/half woman/half fish Rick James doppelgangers along the way.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Cheese is a kind of meat/A tasty yellow beef/I milk it from my teat/But I try to be discrete/Oh cheese!/Oh cheese!’

Winner: Glee

Round seven: TV intellectuals

US: Dr. Steve Brule

What’s it about?: Little Stevie is something of a renaissance man. While primarily a medical doctor, he also knows a great deal about astronomy (the names of the planets are ‘Sun, Mercurus, Uranus, Water Planet, Plunto, and this one they didn’t have a name for it yet. It’s too far away. You can name it if you want. Name it Dorris, after my mom’), gastronomy (sushi is ‘just cat scraps’) and erotic dancing. He’s a hard-hitting interviewer who isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions (‘Did you ever invent a jet pack?’)

Random quote, out of context: ‘Some dads are not your dad.’

UK: Brian Butterfield

What’s it about?: Businessman. Entrepreneur. Businessman. Owner of a five star(/asterisk) hotel with a ‘prince-sized’ bed (although the pillows do contravene European safety regulation – after all, they are blocks of printer paper) and a celebrity lookalike agency (see below), whose lookalikes all very much resemble Brian Butterfield. He also invented a pre-cursor to the 5:2 Diet with the Butterfield Diet Plan. For six days a week, breakfast is only one cornflake, toasted with low fat spread, but on Saturday you can eat all the pork cylinders, garlic pudding and pints o’ cream you want.

Bad Space Kingelton johnsmichael jackman

Random quote, out of context: ‘Those aren’t stars, they’re asterisks, each one referring to a fault with the hotel – one of which is the lack of toilet facilities.’

Winner: Dr. Steve Brule

Round eight: gentlemanly pursuits

US: Loiter Squad

What’s it about?: It’s exactly how you would expect a sketch show starring a rap group who call themselves Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All Don’t Give A F*** Litter Life Bacon Boys Loiter Squad Butt F*** B**** N****s to be.

Random quote, out of context: ‘Sometimes the apple falls and attacks the tree.’

UK: Snuff Box

What’s it about?: Surreal sketch comedy framed by the adventures of two hangmen in the pursuit of the perfect pair of silver cowboy boots/each other’s fiancees/writing the world’s greatest pop song (if only bozos like Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie wouldn’t keep interrupting them). Also, Matt’s long-dead ancestor shows up occasionally, bringing a gaggle of Victorian prostitutes with him.

Winner: Snuff Box

Round nine: puppets

US: Wonder Showzen

What’s it about?: From the disclaimer at the beginning of every show: ‘WARNING: WONDER SHOWZEN CONTAINS OFFENSIVE, DESPICIBLE CONTENT THAT IS TOO CONTROVERSIAL AND TOO AWESOME FOR ACTUAL CHILDREN. THE STARK, UGLY, PROFOUND TRUTHS WONDER SHOWZEN EXPOSES MAY BE SOUL-CRUSHING TO THE WEAK OF SPIRIT. IF YOU ALLOW A CHILD TO WATCH THIS SHOW, YOU ARE A BAD PARENT OR GUARDIAN.’

Random quote, out of context: ‘We’re on an adventure, you’re not on our adventure. You’ll never have an adventure, cause you’re sitting on your couch like a loser. Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure… Smash your TV and have adventure.’

UK: Bo Selecta

What’s it about?: Does an insane Yorkshireman wearing a cheap rubber mask and an enormous pair of reading glasses pretending to be Scary Spice count as a puppet?

Random quote, out of context: ‘This is the living room, where I like to relax and sometimes stick my penis between my legs and pretend I’m a lady’.

Winner: Wonder Showzen

Round ten: just sheer, unadulterated, disturbing, brain-hurting weirdness

US: Xavier Renegade Angel

What’s it about?: God knows. Some sort of bird-man-thing with a snake for a hand tries to avenge his parents’ deaths?

Random quote, out of context: ‘WHAT DOTH LIFE?’

UK: Jam

What’s it about?: Imagine the strangest, most disgusting and taboo thing that you could ever think of, times it by a million, and imagine it slowed down x20 and filmed through CCTV, and that just about covers it.

Random quote, out of context: ‘When dancing, lost in techo trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez, then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly it dawns, you’re jazzing to the bleep tone of a life support machine that marks the steady fading of your day old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue flash road mash, stretchers, covered heads and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping you soon too will be freezer drawed. Then welcome. Welcome. In Jam, Jam, Jam, Jam, Jaaaaam.’

Winner: Xavier, (snake)hands down.

Overall winner: USA wins! That’s… something to be proud of, I guess?

Macklemore, Major Lazer and the importance of being earnest

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Macklemore (8465188669)
One of the highlights for me of watching Major Lazer in Bristol on Friday night, was when the DJ started playing Macklemore‘s Thrift Shop, and the crowd went wild. I was really surprised. I would have thought that most of the people who would go to a Major Lazer gig would be far to cool to completely lose it over a song that’s only a couple of swear words less poppy than Call Me Maybe.

After all, Macklemore and Major Lazer are very different: one is a super conscientious rapper who is trying to improve the world one beat at a time; the other is ‘a fictional cartoon character, who fought as a Jamaican commando and lost both arms in a secret zombie war in 1984. He fights vampires and various monsters, parties hard, and has a rocket-powered hoverboard.’ It’s really great dancehall music, but ultimately, it’s really great dancehall music made by a blonde guy who used to star in BlackBerry commercials, and it shows – to call it a pastiche wouldn’t be a stretch. My favourite Major Lazer song, Keep It Going Louder, has an official video directed by Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame, and it is essentially a parody of rnb/reggae/dancehall videos, featuring scantily clad women whose faces have been digitally altered to appear grotesque. It is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. It’s cartoonish, silly and fun, and doesn’t take itself, or the genre it’s modelling itself on, too seriously.

Such is the power of Thrift Shop. Of course, like anything popular and fun, the song has its detractors. In ‘Stop saying nice things about Macklemore’s Thrift Shop’ on Spin.com, Brandon Soderberg writes:

Probably shouldn’t have to explain this in 2013, but when you didn’t have to wear hand-me-down threads or thrift-shop clothes your whole life, there’s a novelty to wearing them in your 20s so you have some extra beer money. And hey, maybe you even feel like you’re getting one over on a world of American Apparel-wearers by spending $2.99 on an already-worn-in colored T-shirt… Macklemore’s embrace of the thrift shop is exclusively for wacky outfits to get him attention at parties, as well as something to lord over his peers in Gucci. He is, in the hierarchy of people poring over cheap-ass clothes in the Goodwill, only slightly above jerks who go there for Halloween outfits. At the top of this hierarchy, of course, are people who don’t have enough money to buy new clothes.

So far as donating to charity goes, money is money. Your $2.99 goes the same way towards helping support those in need whether you spent it on much-needed work clothes or ironic lols. If lording over his peers in Gucci and making your grandad’s clothes look incredible encourages his impressionable fans to shop at charity shops, that’s great. I think it’s wonderful that, during these dreadful economic times, you can go into a thrift shop with ten dollars and come out looking like your favourite rapper.

That’s one of my favourite things about Macklemore: anyone can join in the fun, with cheap clothes, moral messages that hit you over the head like a wolf on your noggin and pop culture references that even your nana could get. You don’t need a PhD in Overanalysing from the University of Critical Outrage to understand what he’s about. Homophobia is bad. Being addicted to drugs is bad. Pirate ships are awesome.

He has covered race (‘But we still owe ’em 40 acres, now we’ve stolen their 16 bars” from White Privilege), sexism (‘She said “We have a flame, your fire’s ignited with sound. Are you building the empire up, or using your fire to burn it down?'” from Contradiction), materialism (‘They told me to just do it. I listened to what that swoosh said’ from Wings), drugs (‘I’ve seen Oxycontin take three lives/I’ve seen cocaine bring out the demons inside’ from Otherside) and homophobia (‘If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me/Have you read the YouTube comments lately?/”Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily’ on Same Love).

Now that the nineties revival is in full swing (but is swing really the right word to describe the nineties? Full bop maybe? Full nod your head and kind of sway a bit) and everything but the fanny pack (or as we call them in England, bumbags – fanny means something very different here) is back in fashion, it seems like the right time for a pop star who is so certain and earnest in everything he says. He could have been a spokesrapper for D.A.R.E. I can imagine him rocking out the Bayside Diner as the credits begin to roll, as Zack, Kelly and the gang jiggle along out of synch with the music to shake off the stresses of having learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of caffeine pills or whatever. It’s as though he has spent the last decade and a half holed up in a cave playing Pogs (or off his noggin on syrup) and missed the point in history where we stopped being sure what we actually liked.

The dream of the nineties is alive in this one. Listen to one of his songs, close your eyes, and you are transported into a world where the best bands of your teenage years haven’t been dividing the past few years between lighting cigarettes with handfuls of $100 bills and fighting with their Playboy model ex-wives on Twitter; where not every politician you’ve ever believed in let you down; where you can hear a straight, white rapper talk earnestly about homophobia and racism without cringeing.

We’re nearly done with revivals now. Pretty soon we’ll be through with the nineties, and then there won’t be anything left to revive (unless we decide to start going way back in time and dress like Henry VIII and listen to Greensleeves or something). We’re bored of constantly harking back to classic songs and giving them sacred status, or enjoying bad ones ironically. It’s time for something fresh, and new, and different – music that catches you by surprise, shows that let you lose your self-consciousness for a couple of hours, and pop stars that make you feel like together, you could actually make a difference.