Tuesday, 5 July 2011

My 10 Favourite Songs You’ve Never Heard Of

As someone who genuinely still thinks ‘Indie’ music is by definition rare and unknown, it’s fun to look at my itunes top played songs and realise that even I have some unknown diamonds in the rough.  The criteria for entry are fairly vague: if the artist has ever had a top 20 song then to be selected a track has to have never been released as a single, if not then it just can’t have reached the top 40.  If you think you can do better, or if any of these choices make you inexplicably angry, then post something in the comments.

A lot of people seem to see Fall Out Boy as a bit of a joke (see most of the band's Urban Dictionary entries, and their later albums have come in for an especially heavy beating.  Perhaps this is unsurprising, when the band made decisions like not releasing this as a single from their final studio album Folie À Deux.  Chock full of the brilliant/terrible lyrics that have always polarised fans/people who want to see them die painfully, this is definitely another marmite song.  However from the catchy-yet-macabre opening ‘If home is where the heart is, then we’re all just fucked’ to the ridiculous-yet-meaningful chorus ‘My mind is a safe / And if I keep it then we all get rich / My body is an orphanage / We take everyone in’, this a song that can both be sung along to in a crowd and pondered at home.

Listening to this song, it’s unsurprising it comes from the soundtrack to a film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet: the melancholic vocals mean that if it isn’t being played over a montage of despairing lovers then you feel honour bound to assemble those around you and form such a montage yourself.   The heart-breaking opening gives way to a slightly incongruously upbeat second half, but the song as a whole understatedly exudes a universally applicable sense of romantic tragedy.  Wow that sentence was depressing.

It seems like a back handed insult to say that Jack Johnson is the perfect music to fall asleep to, but anyone who has heard him will know exactly what that means.  It seems impossible to imagine the man playing a gig, as his music is perfectly designed for softly rippling out of headphones as you lie on a beach at night.  As such, this song about lying on a beach at night brings together form and content in a way most classic poets could only dream of.  The fact the lyrics are all in the past tense save for the loaded ‘The west winds often last too long / And when they calm down, nothing ever feels the same’ means that the song definitely has a sense of nostalgia, but nostalgia is a dish best served with relaxed guitar, soothing vocals and a lullaby.

With current musical trends moving endlessly towards R&B, Brandi Carlile provides a welcome break with some infectiously upbeat indie-country.  The lyrics seem to be detailing a folksy lesbian romance from middle-America, however Carlile says the song was actually written to her niece.  That fits in well with the childlike glee of the song, definitely the catchiest from a generally strong album which also features many growers.

Again it’s mystifying this wasn’t released as a single from The Fratellis first album Costello Music.  The opening manic drumbeat heralds a breakneck pace throughout which only gets quicker, if anything the vocals only slow the song down.  Lyrically the song isn’t the strongest, however the hints towards what make up the ‘mother’s nightmares’ fit in well with the song’s hectic vibe.  It was massively disappointing not to see this performed live in a generally average set at Reading Festival 2008, as the energy of the track would make it perfect for such a stage

This is a controversial entry, as thanks to its appearance in the film ‘P.S. I Love You’ and in a high profile Magners advertising campaign this song has probably been heard by more people than any other on this list, but judging by the tragic absence of any sort of ‘Chart Performance’ section on the song’s Wikipedia page, it seems clear that no one other than me actually went out and bought it.  The uninitiated (including me, prior to five minutes ago) might see much of the song’s power in the assumption this is a timeless Irish tune passed down by the bards for many centuries, sung to Galway Girls for many a year.  Unfortunately, it was in fact written in 2000 by ‘an American singer-songwriter known for his rock and Texas Country as well as his political views’.  Still, as one of the millions of people around the world with dubious Irish heritage, that only makes me love it more.

Seeing this Irish band perform live at Reading Festival last year was a bizarre experience: one of the muddiest weekends of my life was suddenly punctuated by a blonde woman in a full length pink ball gown screaming to her watching crowd (of about 12) to dance.  Marie Junior’s vocals manage to balance softer moments with the soaring chorus that seems designed for far bigger crowds.  The band are still yet to release an album, however if they do this soaring track will certainly be at the heart of it.

It seems something of a tragedy that Imogen Heap’s crazily original (and slightly mental) tune peaked at 125 in the UK chart, whereas Jason Derulo’s derivative ‘Whatcha Say’ which sampled it reached number 3 and went multi-platinum in four countries.  Heap claims the song is about both a painful break-up and George Bush, which makes about as much sense as ‘Hide and seek / Trains and sewing machines / Blood and tears / They were here first’.  Nonetheless the brilliant a capella vocal arrangement (something Heap excels at) gives the song a truly haunting feel, which is perhaps even added to by its ambiguous meaning.

She might be best known for infectious summer pop songs like ‘Pack Up’ and ‘Skinny Genes’, but a quick look at Eliza Doolittle’s Youtube Channel reveals a remarkable range of cover songs.  Of these, by far the most powerful is her stripped back cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.  Almost totally A Capella, Doolittle shows off her voice at its most raw: devoid of any possibility of auto-tune the very successful 23 year-old pop star somehow manages to give real emotion to this anthem for outcasts.  As yet the track can only be seen on Youtube, and it may never get a commercial release, however it certainly emphasises the range of talents that this otherwise generic pop star possesses.

Everyone has songs that pick up emotional resonance because of hearing them at a certain time in their life where it seems a songwriter has perfectly understood what you feel.  A lot of the time you then get over the moment of teen angst that prompted such soppy sentiments, but sometimes the song is powerful enough to stick around long after the memories fade.  This haunting ballad about a dead brother from a totally unknown Toronto-based pop punk band is one of those.  The chorus is generic enough to apply to any situation, but on its own would risk descending into melodrama.  It’s the details in the verses that really make the song stand out: ‘I remember the car you were last seen in / and the games we would play’.  

No comments:

Post a Comment