King of the Mountain: Ten Songs About Mountains. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay Become the First to Reach the Summit of Mount Everest. This Day in History, 29/05/1953.

1.  Kate Bush ‘King of the Mountain’

(from the album Aerial, 2005).

2.  Biffy Clyro ‘Mountains’

(from the album Only Revolutions, 2009).

3.  Bjork ‘The Modern Things’

(from the album Post, 1995).

4.  Ike & Tina Turner ‘River Deep – Mountain High’

(from the album River Deep – Mountain High, 1966).

5.  Inspiral Carpets ‘Biggest Mountain’

(from the Island Head EP, 1990).

6. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’

(from the album United, 1967).

7.  The Shamen ‘Move Any Mountain’

(from the album En-Tact, 1990).

8. Loretta Lynn ‘High On A Mountain Top’

(from the album Van Lear Rose, 2004).

9.  Super Furry Animals ‘Mountain People’

(from the album Radiator, 1997).

10. The Supernaturals ‘Everest’

(from the album A Tune A Day, 1998).

Ashtray Heart: Ten Songs About Smoking. The Labour Party Stub out Tobacco Sponsorship at Sports Events. This Day in History, 19/05/1997.

1.  Super Furry Animals ‘Smokin”

(from the Ice Hockey Hair EP, 1998).

2.  Placebo ‘Ashtray Heart’

(from the album Battle for the Sun, 2009).

3.  Arctic Monkeys ‘Cigarette Smoker Fiona’

(from the Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys? EP, 2006).

4.  Oasis ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’

(from the album Definitely Maybe, 1994).

5.  The Kinks ‘Harry Rag’

(from the album Something Else, 1967).

6.  Pink Floyd ‘Have A Cigar’

(from the album Wish You Were Here, 1975).

7.  Otis Redding ‘Cigarettes and Coffee’

(from the album The Soul Album, 1966).

8.  Urusei Yatsura ‘Plastic Ashtray’

(from the album We Are Urusei Yatsura, 1996).

9.  Hefner ‘The Hymn for the Cigarettes’

(from the album The Fidelity Wars, 1999).

10. Patsy Cline ‘Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray’

(from the album Patsy Cline, 1957).

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Ten Songs About Letters. The Penny Black Postage Stamp Becomes Valid for Use in Britain and Ireland. This Day in History, 06/05/1860.

1.  The Box Tops ‘The Letter’

(from the album The Letter, 1967).

2.  The Marvelettes ‘Please Mr Postman’

(from the album Please Mr Postman, 1961).

3.  Stevie Wonder ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’

(from the album Signed, Sealed & Delivered, 1970).

4.  Glen Campbell ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’

(from the album By the Time I Get to Phoenix, 1967).

5.  Elvis Presley ‘Return to Sender’

(from the album Girls! Girls! Girls!, 1962).

6.  Aztec Camera ‘We Could Send Letters’

(from the album High Land, Hard Rain, 1983).

7. Son House ‘Death Letter Blues’

(from the album Father of Folk Blues, 1965).

8.  REM ‘E-Bow The Letter’

(from the album New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996).

9.  Dexy’s Midnight Runners ‘There, There My Dear’

(from the album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, 1980).

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds ‘Love Letter’

(from the album No More Shall We Part, 2001).

The Love of Richard Nixon: An Historical Drama in Twenty Songs. Richard Nixon Announces The Release of Edited Transcripts of White House Tape Recordings Relating to the Watergate Scandal. This Day in History, 29/04/1974. / Richard Nixon Takes The Rap For The Watergate Scandal, 30/04/1973.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’

(from the album Lifeblood, 2004).

2.  Stevie Wonder ‘He’s Misstra Know-it-all’

(from the album Innervisions, 1973).

3.  Randy Newman ‘Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)’

(from the album Good Old Boys, 1974).

4.  The Undisputed Truth ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’

(from the album The Undisputed Truth, 1971).

5.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ‘Ohio’

(single A-side, 1970).

6.  Phil Ochs ‘How High’s The Watergate’

(from the album Live 1974, 1974).

7.  Neil Young ‘Campaigner’

(from the album Decade, 1977).

8.  Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

(from the album Second Helping, 1974).

9.  Frank Zappa ‘Son of Orange County / More Trouble Every Day’

(from the album Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974).

10. Elton John ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’

(from the album The Captain & The Kid, 2006).

11.  Curtis Mayfield ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’

(from the album Curtis, 1970).

12. David Bowie ‘Young Americans’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

13.  John Lennon ‘Gimme Some Truth’

(from the album Imagine, 1971).

14.  Gil Scott Heron / Brian Jackson ‘H²Ogate Blues’

(from the album Winter in America, 1974).

15.  Bill Horwitz ‘If I Had A Friend Like Rosemary Woods’

(from the album Lies Lies Lies, 1975).

16.  Robyn Hitchcock ‘1974’

(from the album A Star For Bram, 2000).

17.  James Taylor ‘Let It All Fall Down’

(from the album Walking Man, 1974).

18.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

19. Pink Floyd ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’

(from the album The Final Cut, 1983).

20.  Mono Puff ‘Nixon’s The One’

(from the album Unsupervised, 1996).

Song of the Day: Authors and Literature in Music (Day Six).

In 1973, days after completing work on the Pin Ups album, a collection of cover versions which officially marked the end of the Ziggy Stardust period, David Bowie set about the arduous task of creating a West End musical based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).  Several songs were written for this adventurous outing but when George Orwell’s widow refused him the rights, Bowie found himself with a set of material heavily influenced by the apocalyptic totalitarian themes of Nineteen Eighty Four and nothing to do with them.  This inspired Bowie to create his own nightmarish environment, Hunger City and the Diamond Dogs (1974) album was born.

Along with the obvious Orwellian influence, the first side of Diamond Dogs is also influenced by the cut up techniques of William Burroughs in Sweet Thing / Candidate / Sweet Thing (Reprise) and by A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess in the droog-like “Dogs” and in the resemblance of the Halloween Jack character to A Clockwork Orange’s lead character, Alex.  The writing style on the album is also reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic dysptopian feel of a number of works by JG Ballard, such as Crash (1973) and High Rise (1975).  Much of the second side of the resulting album focused purely on the songs which Bowie had written for his unrealised Nineteen Eighty-Four project:  We Are The Dead, 1984 and Big Brother.  Several other songs were written based around the Nineteen Eighty-Four theme, notably Dodo (AKA You Didn’t Hear It From Me).  Dodo was performed as part of a medley with 1984 from the then to be released Diamond Dogs album for Midnight Special on US TV in October 1973.  This performance of 1984 / Dodo is notable as it was a duet with Marianne Faithfull, who elected to wear a nun’s habit slashed at the back showing her derriere.

The song 1984 became the centrepiece of the second side of Diamond Dogs album and in the context of Bowie’s interpretation of the Nineteen Eighty-Four, is thought to represent the imprisonment of Winston Smith and his interrogation by O’Brien.  The lyrics bear a passing resemblance to the earlier All The Madmen from The Man Who Sold The World (1970), with both songs being about incarceration.  For example, in All The Madmen, Bowie sings “Day after day, they take some brain away” and in 1984, he sings “They’ll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air”.  There are a number of other Bowie songs which involve the theme of incarceration, see also The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud (from Space Oddity, 1969) and Scream Like A Baby (from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, 1980).  The theme of incarceration in Nineteen Eighty-Four is of obvious interest to Bowie, having already written around the same theme several times previously.  His interest in the theme may come from his Half-Brother Terry Burns’ incarceration in various mental health institutions and his family’s various battles with mental illness.

With it’s Orwell inspired lyrics coupled with the disco-funk feel of the music, obviously inspired by Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft (1971), 1984 is the strongest cut of all the songs Bowie wrote for his Nineteen Eighty-Four project.  Musically, the song was an indication of what to expect from Bowie’s ‘plastic soul’ period.  Of the other songs specifically written for the aborted Nineteen Eighty-Four Project, the dark and eerie sounding We Are The Dead takes it’s title from a line spoken by Winston Smith to his girlfriend, Julia, before their imprisonment by the Thought Police and finds the characters worrying of repercussions following their illicit affair and the insistent and slightly unnerving Big Brother is based upon the character in Orwell’s book, returning Bowie to the idea of the “Super God” or “Homo Superior” featured in earlier songs such as The Supermen from The Man Who Sold The World (1970) and Oh! You Pretty Things from Hunky Dory (1971).  Bowie’s fascination with supermen, whether in terms of his alter-egos, mythical figures, legend, philosophy (mainly due to his interest in Nietzsche, see particularly The Supermen) or novels would eventually culminate in Bowie’s flirtation with Nazism two years later.  1984 shows Bowie’s obsession with power and absolute control as well as those affected by it.   He also shows fascination for the schizophrenic manner in which its abuses are encouraged.

On Diamond Dogs, Bowie makes the most of Orwell’s widow’s reluctance to allow his musical based on Nineteen Eighty Four by using Orwell’s concept of dystopian post-apocalyptic hell to create his own nightmarish vision.  Whilst obviously showing direct lyrical homage by Nineteen Eighteen Four, Bowie’s song 1984, together with it’s We Are The Dead and Big Brother counterparts, also follows the themes in Bowie’s own work.  Just as Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four was evocative of the post World War Two era in which it was written, 1984 and the Diamond Dogs album as a whole is evocative of the time in which it was written.  In the UK, it was an era one of three day weeks, power cuts, price hikes, food shortages and threat of IRA attacks.  The apocalypse that Bowie spoke of earlier songs such as Five Years seemed to be coming to pass.  For the previous few years, Bowie had also strongly believed that World War Three was imminent, as suggested on Aladdin Sane (1973) where “(1913 – 1938 – ?)” followed the title.  The first two years refer to the years before the two World Wars broke out and finds Bowie questioning when the Third World War will start.  History is pointing in one direction, it is there in the tea leaves and it is there on TV:  “Beware the savage jaw of 1984”.

I Have A Dream: Ten Songs Inspired By Martin Luther King Jr and the Black Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr Assassinated On This Day, 1968.

1.  Marvin Gaye ‘Abraham, Martin and John’

(from the album That’s The Way Love Is, 1970)

2.  U2 ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’

(from the album The Unforgettable Fire, 1984).

3.  The Impressions ‘People Get Ready’

(from the album People Get Ready, 1965).

4.  Public Enemy ‘By The Time I Get To Arizona’

(from the album Apocalypse 91 … The Enemy Strikes Back, 1991).

5.  Lambchop ‘Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr’

(from the album Oh (Ohio), 2008)

6.  Nina Simone ‘Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)’

(from the album Nuff Said!, 1968).

7.  Billie Holiday ‘Strange Fruit’

(B-side of the single Fine and Mellow, 1939).

8.  James Brown ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’

(from the album Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, 1968).

9.  Primal Scream ‘Star’

(from the album Vanishing Point, 1997).

10. Gil Scott-Heron ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’

(from the album Pieces of A Man, 1971).

Song Of The Day: Authors and Literature in Music (Day Three).

“Not Savior from on High deliver, No trust have we in prince or peer, But in our strong arm to deliver”. -Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy

Burn It Down, the incendiary opening track to the band’s magnificent and visionary 1980 debut album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels started out life as Dance Stance, the band’s debut single from the previous year.  Reworked and revitalised for the debut album, the song now featured an opening of Kevin Rowland searching (perhaps for ‘the young soul rebels’) on his radio.  Through the static and fuzz laid a collage of snippets from songs from the last decade such as Holidays In The Sun by The Sex Pistols, Rat Race by The Specials and Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple followed by the battle cry of “Oh, for God’s sake burn it down!”

Following the inflammatory opening denouncing the music scene of the last decade and a call to arms to forget what went before and just as Kevin Rowland states on the album’s closing track, There There My Dear, “welcome the new soul vision”, Rowland taps into his Irish-Catholic roots by making reference to an array of Irish playwrights and writers and tells of the ignorance towards the Irish.   In total, Burn It Down references 14 Irish literary figures: Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neil, Edna O’Brien, Lawrence Stern, Sean Kavanaugh, Sean McCann, Benedict Keilly, Jimmy Hiney, Frank O’Connor and Catherine Rhine.  Rowland told The Guardian in 1980:

“I was sick of hearing anti-Irish prejudice all the time from really thick people and the lyrics just spilled out of me.  I had this biography of Brendan Behan and on the back it said: ‘Some say Behan has the potency of Oscar Wilde …’ and listed all these other great writers:  Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw and so on.  I’d heard of them – that was all – but thought: ‘I’ll put them in!’  I don’t think I was ever claiming to have actually read them.  I was saying:  ‘If Irish people are so thick, how come they’ve produced all these great writers”.

The lyrical attack against ignorance towards Irish people by name checking the greats of Irish literature was complimented by the album sleeve featuring a Belfast Catholic boy carrying his belongings after moving from his home during The Troubles, a time in which this ill feeling was more apparent than ever.  The band’s image of the time, that of the New York docker, could be seen to reflect the immigration of the Irish to America, where most of the band’s soul influence derived from.  Incidentally, Brendan Behan, the influence of whom kick-started the writing of Burn It Down, famously lived in New York’s Chelsea Hotel in the early 1960’s.   The band’s Irish influence was taken one step further with the sound and image adopted on the band’s second album, Too-Rye-Ay (1982).  As Kevin Rowland explained in the BBC’s Young Guns Go For It documentary, “I had a need in me to find a way to say, ‘I’m Irish and I’m not shit’”.