Mock the Weak

Back in 1983, when I was at secondary school, there was a General Election.

To provide some context, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher had swept to power in 1979. Labour were led by Michael Foot, portrayed by the press as a scruffy ultra-left threat to national security Communist (sound familiar?). The Social Democratic Party (SDP) had formed in 1981, but had not yet established itself as the third main party; that would take a rebranding or two before the name Liberal Democrats finally stuck.

The Falklands War Conflict had finished. Unemployment was high, but about to get higher. The Miners’ Strike was on the horizon.

My school, deep in the Tory homeland of Cambridgeshire (John Major was our MP, which gives you some idea) decided that they would hold a mock election, and my year was designated the year who would form the political parties to battle it out.

And so it was that one day in our English class (we didn’t have¬†a Politics class), we were randomly split into groups, asked to decide which political party we were going to be, and instructed to prepare a manifesto and speech which we would have to present to the rest of the year, who would then vote.

We could act as one of the established parties, in which case our manifesto had to accurately represent that of the party we were emulating. Or, we could make up our own party, party name, manifesto and speech.

The class were separated out into groups of four people, and it soon became very apparent in my group of wallflowers that the person who would have to stand up and make the speech was going to be me. Which led me to insist on complete artistic control, that I would have the final say over which party we were to represent, what was in our manifesto, and what we were going to say in our speech.

The other three in my group realised this was a perfect opportunity for them to do absolutely nothing, so basically left me to it. All they had to do was stand on stage behind me as I made my speech, look supportive, and remind me not to speak too fast.

And so, I decided we would be an all-new party, and wrote a manifesto and speech which was basically a satire of the Conservative Party’s. I can remember very little of it now; however,¬†since I wasn’t particularly politically engaged back then, at the age¬†of 13,¬† I¬†banked on very few of my year-mates having either watched or remembered¬†BBC sketch show ‘Not The Nine O’clock News’, pinched a few gags from that and padded it out with a few of my own in the¬†same vein. The only (stolen) joke I used that I can recall was one¬†about increasing the age one had to be to receive a pension, and axing benefits for the disabled, because it made sense to attack those who were unable or unlikely¬†to fight back. All strangely prescient in these days of Universal Credit, it seems.

On the day of the actual general election, my year trooped into the school hall, where each “party leader” took it¬†in turns to stand behind the lectern and deliver their¬†speech.

When it was my turn, I was terrified. I’d had to talk to large rooms full of people¬† before (at junior school, I was often given the role of Narrator in the school play because I could read), but never before (with one notable exception, which I’ll tell you about sometime) had I read out something I had written myself, even if much of it was plagiarised. My eyes never left¬†my A4 pad. I read at a frantic speed.¬†My fellow party members were lined up behind me. One of them, Robbie Watson, leant forwards and hissed “Slow down, mate” in my ear. I slowed down. And managed to get some laughs from the audience.

I left the stage, glowing with pride, back appreciatively slapped by my comrades.

We came second, losing by a handful of votes. To¬†the Conservatives, of course. I’m used to it by now.

But whilst I can’t recall much of the detail of the manifesto or speech, I’ve never forgotten the name I came up with for¬†my pretend political party: the Northern Irish Political Party to Lead the English.

Or, the N.I.P.P.L.E. Party, for short.

I imagine you can work out why I was reminded of that this week.

Here’s a song:

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R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend (Live “Tourfilm” Version)

Dear Theresa. Can I have my ¬£1 billion now please? I promise to support you.¬†Except on the occasions when I don’t want to.

More soon.

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Wem-ber-ley

It’s a big day for me today.

I’m off to Wembley Stadium for the first time ever, with my old mate Rich, to see my beloved Spurs play European Champions Real Madrid.

Until the away leg two weeks ago, I had no real hopes at all of us getting anything out of either game, but a frankly heroic draw away from home gives me just the slightest glimmer of hope that tonight may be something special.

At the very least, after tonight I will be able to say that I’ve seen one or all of the following (injuries permitting) play: Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Dele Alli, Harry Kane.

Two songs whose titles sum up how I feel today. Firstly, an obvious one:

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The Candyskins – Wembley

And then, from a much maligned, wrongly so in my opinion, album:

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R.E.M. – Hope

COYS as they say on that there Twitter.

If I go all quiet and moody after tonight, you’ll know why.

More soon.

Eponymous #1

When I last could be arsed to write The Chain, I mentioned that I sensed a new series of posts coming, based on a suggestion by George.

The source record was a track from what is commonly known as The Beatles’ White Album, but which is actually called “The Beatles”.

George pointed out that this was one of those rare things: an eponymous album which wasn’t the artiste’s debut album.

I gave another couple of examples (by the usual bed-fellows, ABBA and Metallica, in case you didn’t read it) and it got me thinking.

But thinking isn’t something I’m all that good at, so I decided to look at eponymous albums, irrespective of whether or not they were the first album or not.

(Props at this point¬†to Alex G, who also mentioned in passing that the track was from an eponymous album, but didn’t point out the oddity of it not being their first album.)

To compound my laziness, to¬†kick things off I’m going to cheat and look at an¬†album that isn’t named after the artiste providing the tunes at all. My blog, my rules. La La La La La can’t hear you.

I’ve talked before about how when an established artiste first piqued my interest, I would generally buy a “Best Of…” compilation to see what else I liked by them and what I should next buy by them.

Today’s choice source sort of fits that mould, but is a little different, in that by the time I bought this album, I already had their “Document” and “Green” albums safely tucked away on my racks (“Green” actually came out shortly after “Eponymous”, but it took a little while for today’s compilation to make it’s way to Rainbow Records in Pontypridd…).

To be honest, I could happily post every song from this album, but some self control is called for. So, as you will see from my selection errs towards their earlier material, which, back in 1988, with a Smiths-shaped void needing to replaced, I became borderline obsessed with. And with good reason:

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R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Version)

R.E.M. – Gardening at Night (Different Vocal Mix)

R.E.M. – Romance

R.E.M. – Fall On Me

And finally, of all the R.E.M. songs which I adore, this is the one that means the most to me, for reasons that I may explain sometime:

R.E.M. – (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Sometimes when I’m trying to decide what to post on some of these long-running series, I rule one out on the grounds that I must have posted it before.

Such is the case with tonight’s choice.

I read recently that it’s the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.’s “Automatic For The People” album this year. When I read that, I stopped for a moment. That can’t be right, can it?

So I thought back to where I was when I first heard “Drive”, the opening track and lead single from the album, and sure enough they’re not wrong. 1992 it was.

So I figured I’d post something from that album, but immediately decided against tonight’s choice on the aforementioned grounds: I simply¬†must have posted it here before.

But a quick sweep of previous posts revealed that not only has tonight’s song not featured in this series, it’s never featured on the blog at all.

Often, when I post a song by R.E.M. a conversation about what their finest record is. Consensus seems to be that it’s “Country Feedback”, and I’m certainly not going to argue with that, but I reckon this delicate song of¬†passion and¬†beauty must be a very close second:

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R.E.M. – Nightswimming

More soon.

Heard It On Film

Let me take you back. It’s 1997, and I’m smitten with the films of Danny Boyle.

Admittedly, at this point, there had only been two that he had directed (although he did crop up as Executive Producer on the¬†massively under-rated¬†“Twin Town” in 1997) – 1994’s “Shallow Grave” and, of course 1996’s “Trainspotting” – but if you’ve seen any of those – and if you haven’t, what are you doing here, go watch them immediately – then you’ll probably agree with me that they are great, great films.

And not just for the plots, or the ground-breaking artistic visionary style of the films,¬†but also for the soundtracks. Those films came out at around the same time as Tarantino’s first couple of movies, “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”, two films where the soundtrack played such an important role, it was¬†virtually an extra cast member.

Boyle’s movies are similarly blessed, and so it was that by the time of his third film, “A Life Less Ordinary”, acts were queuing up to contribute to the soundtrack: The Prodigy,¬†Faithless,¬†Sneaker Pimps, Alabama 3, some chap called Elvis Presley (although I suspect he may not have been queuing in person), The Cardigans, Underworld (of course) all appear.

It’s by far and away the best thing about the film which is not Boyle’s finest moments, but when the bar had been set so high by what has come before, you can forgive the odd blip.

And speaking of odd blips, here’s a song which first saw the light of day as part of that soundtrack, although it later got released as an edited single, and cropped up again on the deluxe reissue of “Odelay”. It’s also probably my favourite song in Beck’s marvellously varied back catalogue:

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Beck – Deadweight

“Deadweight” was nominated for Best Song from a Movie at the 1998 MTV Movie Awards.¬†It lost out to Will “Wicky Wicky Wild”¬†Smith’s godawful¬†“Men in Black”.

I know. Go figure, right?

There’s two other truly great tracks on there; firstly a different, more electronica¬†version of R.E.M.’s “Leave” than that which appears on their 1996 album “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”, which hinted at the direction they’d be taking soon, when drummer Bill Berry quit the band (starting the sad decline of the band over the next few albums):

R.E.M. – Leave

…and not forgetting the wonderful title track performed by Ash, displaying the talents of new member Charlotte Hatherley for the first time:

Ash – A Life Less Ordinary

Corking.

More soon.

‚ÄúIn the End, It Took Me a Dictionary to Find Out the Meaning of Unrequited‚ÄĚ #5

Another indisputable classic tonight, but a song so often misunderstood, seemingly because the title contains the word “religion”.

I’ll allow the singer and lyricist to explain:

Michael Stipe explains…

As for the song in question…Well, those of us who had been fans for a while were well aware of how great R.E.M. were; when we heard this, though, we knew that pretty soon, everyone else would know too:

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R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

And it still sounds as great today as it did way back in 1991.

More soon.

You’re Fired!

Bar my howl when the results came in, I haven’t really said much about the Trump administration.

And that’s because everything he does is pretty much above and beyond satire or comment.

But this week, Donald Trump fired James Comey, the head of the FBI.

Of course, this had nothing to do with any ongoing investigation into links between the Trump election campaign and the Russians.

And how do we know this?

Well, in two ways. Firstly, there’s the letter which was hand-delivered to Comey:

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There it is, in black and white. “Not under investigation”.

And then there was the official denials. This sacking was on the recommendation of Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General and was, obviously,¬†all to do with Comey’s announcement several days before the election that the FBI were re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email account useage. You know, that thing that gave Trump that extra leg-up to the White House. Of course it was.

Problem is, nobody told Donald.

Turns out, Donald had already made his mind up to fire Comey before those recommendations came in.

Now why would that be?

Feel free to install waterproof sheeting on your beds before answering that.

I’m just going to leave this here for you:

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R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend

More soon.