40Losing My Edge
Throughout LCD Soundsystem’s career, James Murphy cornered the electronic mid-life crisis market, and this was the first, explosively brilliant, burst of that. Inspired by the fact that the records he was DJ-ing with had become co-opted by others, Murphy sliced things with a large dollop of humour but also a sprinkling of tragedy. As he lists his timeline of Important Musical Events, People and Things, like some Brooklyn dwelling Victor Meldrew, the music builds from a fragmentary electro-clash buzz to a krautrock thumper before, yes, it reveals itself to be better, hipper, faster and bigger than anything that those pesky underlings who’ve given him such an inferiority complex in the song could have produced. (PE) How I Wrote 'Losing My Edge' James Murphy "When I was DJing, playing Can, Liquid Liquid, ESG, all that kind of stuff, I became kind of cool for a moment, which was a total anomaly. And when I heard other DJs playing similar music I was like: ‘Fuck! I’m out of a job! These are my records!’ But it was like someone had crept into my brain and said all these words that I hate. Did I make the records? Did I fuck! So, I started becoming horrified by my own attitude. I had this moment of glory though. People would use me to DJ just to get them cool. They’d be like ‘It’s the cool rock disco guy’ and this was really weird. And to be honest I was afraid that this new found coolness was going to go away and that’s where ‘Losing My Edge’ comes from. It is about being horrified by my own silliness. And then it became a wider thing about people who grip onto other people’s creations like they are their own. There is a lot of pathos in that character though because it’s born out of inadequacy and love." (ireallylovemusic.co.uk)
NME writers’ track of the year in 2009 saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs embrace sexy synth dancepop with as much enthusiasm and effortlessness as they had straight-up indie rock. The result was a track which can justifiably claim to be a ‘Heart Of Glass’ for the 21st century. Yes, it was that good. Only Blondie were never this smutty (hell, neither is Lady Gaga for that matter). When Karen O exhorts us to “shake it like a ladder to the sun” we don’t know what the hell she’s on about, but it still manages to sound like the filthiest thing in the world. (AW) How We Wrote 'Zero' Karen O "I think ['Zero' and 'Skeletons'] were pretty influential for the direction [of the album 'It's Blitz!'], because initially when they were written, I remember ‘Skeletons’ flicking a bit of a switch in my head regarding the possibilities of where we could go. And ‘Zero’ felt just like just another Yeah Yeah Yeahs kind of ‘ah!’ song, you know? I wasn’t thinking so much about the synth or guitar when it came to that one, but with ‘Skeletons’ I did because atmospherically it was just so… like, there was a quality about it that was really kind of moving and… I don’t know. I know that electronic music has been out there for a while, but it’s never really appealed to me for whatever reason, but then when I heard the landscape of ’Skeletons’, it really kind of flicked a switch and I thought: ‘Wow, what if we use more of that?’ Spatially, and how is that going to change the sound of things? So I guess they were influential, yes." (Clash)
What’s that you say? “Look at the shakies, what's with the blush?/Fresh off the plane in my fuzzy rush.” Something about a balding 18-year-old? Sorry, Caleb, would you mind explaining what the quaking ARSE you’re on about? Well, apparently the song’s sort of about bassist Jared Followill, who’d been thrust into rock stardom at a young age, though you’d never guess from Caleb’s vocal performance, sung with all the clarity of a man with gym socks stuffed in his cheeks.
But none of that matters, because the whole thing’s delivered with such vim and likeability. It’s the sound of youth: barreling, impatient, a little bit dumb. Kings Of Leon went on to sound much bigger and grander than this. But did they ever sound better? (LL)
Like so many great songs, it started life as a mistake: suffering from writers’ block, Chris Martin was sat at the piano trying to play George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ when he hit upon a chord that sounded “lovely”. ‘The Scientist’ grew from there - as simple and beautiful a piano ballad as you’ll ever hear. Like a lot of Coldplay songs, the lyrics dissolve into nonsense when you listen closely, but Martin has the knack of communicating on a more instinctive level. It’s telling that the most moving part of the song is wordless. It takes a certain kind of genius to reduce you to a wobble-lipped emotional wreck, just by going “Ooh-OOOOH-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.” (LL)
How I wrote 'The Scientist' "On the second album I was thinking there was something missing. I was in this really dark room in Liverpool, and there was a piano so old and out of tune. I really wanted to try and work out the George Harrison song 'Isn't It A Pity,' but I couldn't. Then this song came out at once. I said, 'Can you turn on the recorder?' The first time I sung it is what's out there." (Chris Martin).
36Hard To Explain
I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time: the number 88 bus from Truro to Falmouth, August 2001, sharing the walkman with my mate Guy. Those drums! The heavy, heavy guitar line that still somehow manages to sound like Johnny Marr. And Casablancas, during the bit where all the guitars go really high, "I'm not like them". It made rock 'n roll believable again, simple as. (MW)
Although it wasn’t the last thing he recorded before his death, this Nine Inch Nails cover has become accepted as The Man In Black’s swansong. Although his version of Trent Reznor’s song (with the line “I wear this crown of shit” changed to “crown of thorns” in order to remove profanity and reference Cash’s spirituality) is enormously affecting in its own right, the video, where Cash’s frailty is starkly evident (he and wife June, who also appears, both died that same year), is now rightly regarded as one of the best of all time. (AW) On His Cover Of 'Hurt' "I think 'Hurt' is the best anti-drug song I ever heard. It's a song about a man's pain and what we're capable of doing to ourselves and the possibility that we don't have to do that anymore. I could relate to that from the very beginning." (concertlivewire.com)
34Standing In The Way Of Control
Grounded by an about-to-explode bassline and a spinning guitar riff, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ was The Gossip’s glammy moment in the sun. Beth Ditto later revealed herself to be a dizzyingly charismatic addition to indie’s mothballed regulars, but at this very moment she was just a vocalist who oozed the sort of creamy, soul voice that seemed to have sprung from another time and universe. Despite the political nature of the lyrics, which were written with a sexuality specific agenda, they could brilliantly be applied universally. Naysayers would later accuse the band of having ‘just one song’. But, oh, what a brilliant song it was… (PE)
33Dog Days Are Over
Don’t blame a track for its ubiquity. There’s a reason every ad-buyer and TV soundtrack creative across the globe borrowed snippets of Florence’s true clarion call: it’s one of the most startling, original and simply powerful tracks in recent memory. Harp crescendos, drums you can clap along to, and of course Florence’s cathedral-lunged delivery at the heart – you’d be a little dead inside not to respond. From Skins to Slumdog Millionaire, Gossip Girl to Glee, across the UK, US, Canada, Australia and beyond, if you can judge a track by its airtime this probably trumps them all. (TC) How I Wrote 'Dog Days Are Over' Florence Welch "I really love the idea of making the totally mundane magical. A song like 'Dog Days Are Over' has got the line, "Washes away down the kitchen sink." I'm throwing that in there. 'Dog Days Are Over' was directly inspired by an art installation by the artist Ugo Rondinone. He's got an art installation on the side of this gallery in New York that just says, "Hell, Yes!" Ugo had an installation on the side of another building that said, "Dog Days Are Over." That would inspire me every time I rode my bike over Waterloo Bridge, and it essentially sparked the whole song. I've also got this book of Ed Ruscha paintings called, 'They Called Her Styrene'. All of his paintings are these hot phrases like, "Went out for cigarettes, never came back." Random phrases hold so much weight. If you string them together, you can create a picture and this emotion you never even knew they initially had. Even though they have no correlation to each other, you string them together in a song and it creates this beautiful poetry and this whole new meaning. People can attach their own emotions to it. It's like a riddle, but it's for yourself." (artistdirect.com)
Danger Mouse’s skitterish funk and Cee-Lo Green’s smooth soul vocal made for ridiculously compatible bedfellows, creating something that was simultaneously retro and modern. And whilst some of their later collaborations veered too far towards the cerebral, ‘Crazy’ was a three minute slice of effortless pop heaven. That the whole thing was a very real account of mental illness gave it a subversive edge, with Cee Lo singing that eternal refrain: “Does that make me crazy?” like the internal dialogue of the Indian Chief in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. (PE) How We Wrote 'Crazy' Danger Mouse "'Crazy' was one take, that was it. The first time [Cee-Lo] did that, he went out of body. I work with a lot of singers; one thing that always screws stuff up is trying to emulate a performance, but the first time you're plucking at a guitar, when you're coming up with it and it comes out, that's the only time it's real. 'Crazy' was out the first time it came out of his mouth; it's like he sang it on the mic and that's why it sounds the way it does, I think. I remember afterward he was like, 'What do you think of that, how was that' and I was like 'Ohhh, that was alright'." (Pitchfork)
Though ‘The Rat’has since become an albatross around The Walkmen’s neck, it’s unlikely that it hangs heavy in anyone’s record collection. Few songs capture the post-break-up knifepoint between rattled fury and enduring manic obsession better – one minute frontman Hamilton Leithauser spits “You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favour/You’ve got a nerve to be calling my number” before confessing that he’s doing exactly the same thing back: “Can’t you see me? I’m pounding on your door”. (LS) How We Recorded 'The Rat: On how it came together: Hamilton Leithauser "We were just screwin’ around. We threw some chords on it, I wrote the words in five minutes, and then we all started slammin’! (Rolling Stone) On how the song came out: Walter Martin: "We tried to record the song many times, and it just sounded horrible." Hamilton Leithauser: "It was bad, real bad." Walter: "So the record company said, 'Why don't you try going in with a producer?'So we did, and it doesn't sound right at all. I think the production for the rest of the album makes the music sound big and live. But 'The Rat' just sounds dense and solid, like a little ball. But it's fine." (Guardian)