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Entries in Pink Floyd (3)

Saturday
Mar132010

Pink Floyd put their foot down

I love Pink Floyd. My favourite album of all time is their masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon. It is a stunning piece of work. And now, thanks to a legal victory by the band over their record company, EMI, I’m not going to be able to download individual tracks from it (or indeed any other Pink Floyd album).

Pink Floyd started this legal fight in order to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums”. In their view, this artistic integrity would have been fundamentally undermined had listeners been able to listen to tracks out of context from the original albums by downloading them individually.

Now, I sort of understand this reasoning. The album format is a wonderful thing, and Pink Floyd have some wonderful albums, where each track is a component part of a whole; tells part of a story; segues ingeniously into another song; and so on. When it works, it works beautifully, and it makes for a great listening experience where the album, in its entirety, really is the piece of art and the songs are the component parts. So to a degree, I buy the argument that by allowing users to pick and choose tracks to download, the album gets lost or forgotten about. Which, when this happens, is of course a great shame.

However, I still think this is a bad move by the band, mainly because it will serve to significantly reduce the reach of their music – and the likelihood of people hearing their albums (and enjoying the aforementioned artistic integrity) in the first place. My bet is that a 16-year-old who is curious about and new to Pink Floyd might take a punt on a track or two if they were downloadable from iTunes – but is far less likely to take the plunge and buy a whole album without sampling their music first. Thinking back to the way I got into Pink Floyd as a youngster, it was entirely the result of hearing individual tracks out of context from the albums: I’d go round to mates’ houses where I’d hear mix tapes featuring Pink Floyd songs that were plonked alongside an eclectic mix of other stuff. I would never have bought a copy of Dark Side of the Moon at all had it not been for those random encounters with Money or Time sitting uneasily next to Kinky Afro on an old cassette.

But regardless of whether the band’s legal win reduces the reach of their music, it leaves Pink Floyd in a position where they are odds with reality: legally they can control how people listen to their music, but in a practical sense, they can’t. This isn’t just about the MP3 era: since the cassette came along and home-taping took off in the 70s, listeners have had lot of control over how to listen to songs – in context, out of context, legally, illegally, whatever. Then the CD player arrived, and with it the ability to program song sequences or just hit ‘skip’ to rush past fillers on albums or hear good songs again. And if we’re honest about it, even the good old vinyl LP let you do that anyway, if you were prepared to physically look for the gaps in the grooves and slap the needle down on the song you wanted to hear. I certainly remember doing that when it came to some of the less-interesting Pink Floyd albums.

The download age has only reinforced this level of control: people may be forced to download Pink Floyd albums in their entirety now, but they will be downloading them onto technology which actively encourages out-of-context listening. Shuffle modes and playlist creation in my view, render the whole idea of artists prescribing how people should hear their music completely redundant. As an artist myself I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but it is a fact, and no amount of litigation can prevent this new-found listener control.

For me, however, the most persuasive argument against the ‘you-must-listen-to-our-albums-in-their-entirety stance’ comes from Pink Floyd themselves: if they are so insistent that every song must be heard in context, then why did they release no fewer than six compilation albums containing a mix of tracks taken from a whole bunch of different albums (some, like Money, even re-recorded especially for one compilation)?

If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have your pudding.

Saturday
May302009

Remembering the Roses

As the song goes, it was twenty years ago today, that Sgt Pepper taught the band - oh hang on, wrong album. Sorry. It was twenty years ago this month that The Stone Roses released their self-titled debut; and about thirteen years ago since I heard it for the first time. I was wandering fairly aimlessly around Clontarf in Dublin (worked up, if I recall correctly, about a girl who wasn't paying me sufficient attention) and I had a copy of the album, on cassette, in my cheapo walkman.

Despite the poor quality of my headphones (big fluorescent orange foam objects that I'd bought from a pound shop), as soon as I hit play, I knew the record was going to become the perfect soundtrack to that moment - and to that time in my life in general. Apologies for waxing lyrical here, but listening to it was like being let out of school early on a blisteringly hot summer's day; a first kiss; sagging off for a cheeky pint when you know you should be doing something officious. (See, I told you I was about to wax lyrical).

More simply put, it was a beautiful record. When it came out in 1989, its stunning melodies, jangly guitars, backwards tracks and close vocal harmonies must have represented an oasis (no pun intended) in the desert that was 1980s music. It was a return to decent record-making, and marked the advent of a 90s music scene - Britpop - which, whilst having a silly name, nonetheless brought with it better songs and hairdos than had been seen in a very long time.

And speaking of an oasis, The Stone Roses really set the tone for the 90s. The band that went on to dominate the decade, Oasis, were frequently likened to the Beatles - but any Stone Roses fan knew that in many respects, it was actually the Roses that were being ripped off - their look and Ian Brown's performance style in particular.

Oasis went on to outsell the Roses and become something of a national institution that the Roses never really were; but one thing Oasis never had, in my view, was the sense of mythology that surrounded the Roses. A lot of the great albums / bands are draped in this sense of mythology - to think of the classic Beatles, Pink Floyd or Velvet Underground albums is to immediately call to mind a tapestry of images, characters and stories that becomes interwoven and infused with the music itself and adds a sense of magic to it. It's a mythology that I think Oasis have strived for and tried to manufacture - watch that DVD about the making of their last album for a prime example of this - but have never been completely successful with. In contrast, The Stone Roses were a band that had this mystique / mythology in spades: Ian Brown's sullen stage act and almost whispered vocals; John Squire's Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork; lyrics that made dark and mysterious references to Christian myths.

"The Stone Roses" was the perfect name for the band and their first album; the juxtaposition of the hard and the soft in the title summed up the music perfectly. Their debut album was full of sunny music but also dark and enigmatic themes: when you pause to consider the lyrics of Made of Stone, for example, you realise that lurking underneath its gorgeous melody is a fantasy of killing off a lover.

20 years on, The Stone Roses is a record which still stands the test of time; it's regularly voted one of the top albums of all time in those polls that music magazines seem to feel the need to do every six months. It continues to inspire bands like Kasabian, Doves and Elbow. My own songwriting still references them a bit too (although not as much as when I was a teenager - you should have heard how ridiculous my efforts to copy Ian Brown's vocal style sounded).

It's a beautifully sunny day today, and I think I'm going to try to find the time to find a contraption, without big orange foam headphones, that will let me walk around the place listening to this album. Different city this time, but, for 40 minutes or so, probably the same feelings.

If you've got memories of the first time you heard The Stone Roses, I'd love to hear them - so do leave a comment. Cheers!


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Wednesday
Jun062007

Desert Island Discs

As you know, I'm currently writing and recording a lot of new material at the moment, and as a consequence, I'm listening to a lot of music, looking for stuff to rip off - I mean influence me.

In the midst of all this I've been thinking about what my Desert Island albums would be - the ten albums I couldn't live without on a er, desert island. And since this is the naughties, I thought I'd post them up here for people to comment on (or ridicule me with). It's impossibly hard to come up with a list. Having made one, I already want to change it (and probably will...)

Anyway, in no particular order:

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Well, this is on most of those greatest albums of all time lists...and I'm not going to dispute its greatness. It's got very dark themes but it's bloody funny at times - particularly when the guy singing 'Money' decides he needs a football team.

The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
At times it sounds like it was recorded in a shed but I love it. My favourite track is 'Sugar Spun Sister'. What a melody.

The Beatles - Abbey Road
This doesn't sound like it was recorded in a shed. It sounds like it was recorded in Abbey Road. I prefer side 2 to side 1, and it contains my favourite Beatles track, 'You Never Give Me Your Money' - a poignant description of the band breaking up.

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
Hard call whether tp put this on my top ten list or 'Hunky Dory' but I opted for this one because of the lyrics in 'Five Years'. They are hilarious, particularly the one that goes

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long / Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don't think you knew you were in this song

and the one about the cop kissing the feet of a priest and a gay guy getting sick at the sight of that.

The Stranglers - Rattus Norvegicus
This album is what I call 'chunky', with big fat drums and dirty guitars mixed with sublime organ playing. And it was recorded by the most musical punks ever. I don't think they were punks at all, I reckon they were just pretending because it was cool to be a punk back in 1977.

Paul McCartney - Band on the Run
The first of my 'uncool' choices, but it was a great return to form in terms of melodies and production for Paul McCartney, even if the lyrics about Sailor Sam leave a slightly yucky taste in the mouth. 'Mrs Vandebilt' is probably my favourite track, followed by '1985'.
Lou Reed - TransformerOkay, I'm cool again. Bit of Lou is always good for the cool stakes. Although this album is more camp than cool. I probably listen to this album more than most records...don't know why exactly, it just always seems to suit my mood. Which, given what I've written above, probably makes me out to be camp. Anyway, darlings, this is a great record and it's got Bowie and Ronson production all over it. Lovely.

John Lennon - Walls and Bridges
Despite being a massive Beatles fan, I only got a copy of this album last year. And it's great...sounds fantastic. A load of great session guys making John Lennon go funky. Favourite tracks are 'You Don't Know What You Got' and 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out'. Infinitely prefer this record it to 'Imagine'.

The Seahorses - Do it Yourself
This record was slated when it came out, which I guess makes it the second of my 'uncool' choices. I think everybody slagged it because they were pissed off that John Squire had left the Stone Roses. Admittedly, it does have some daft lyrics on it (about giant squids and Weetabix) but it's also got Squire's fantastic playing all over it, and it's produced by Tony Visconti (Bowie, Bolan et al). What's not to like?

Supergrass - Supergrass
In my estimation this is their best album - it's got some fantastic 70s sounds on it and it's slightly darker than some of their other stuff. Whilst I like Supergrass' sense of humour, sometimes they overdo it a bit and things get a bit silly. That's not to say the record lacks a bit of healthy silliness - that song about Jesus coming from outer space travelling in a second-hand car provides all that. But most importantly the album has some fantastic melodies on it. And big sideburns - you can hear them on most of the songs.