A lovely and busy April for me. New ladies, new jobs, new horizons to hit, new songs written, another boring Passover and, as I post this Twenty, an FA Cup Semi-final involving Watford.
I’ve written the Twenty annotations before the match, on the afternoon of April 24, based on songs I have heard as I put together a football newspaper. If you want a copy, send us your address and I’ll get one out to you. Contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or on Twitter @jonnybrick.
A quick note. Prince made none of his music available through Spotify so, although I have listened to Prince since he passed away, no Prince song makes it in. Let’s get into the Twenty!
20 Rihanna ft Drake – Work. It did it, it reached the Hey Ya threshold, the number of times necessary for a popular song to become a favourite. It’s more than just an audio meme (‘work-work-work-work-work!’) and it has been the most popular song in the States for nine weeks, thus closing each one of the seven Popular Song radio shows – mixcloud.com/blastocast – so far.
19 Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids. Thirty years on, they are still arch, still poppy and still entirely their own genre. Chris and Neil return with Super, the latest collection, and this is the one picked out by interviewers. Must explore the LP.
18 Kimya Dawson – I Like Giants. She’s a cult performer with a fanbase of misfits, and is the topic of discussion in the April Opportunity Inbox podcast. ‘I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye’ is a superb lyric, sung over the top of twee instrumentation that sounds gentle and quotidian. A lovely person who has overcome many personal issues, I am a Kimya convert and encourage you to dip into her catalogue.
17 Mayer Hawthorne – The Only One. Listening back to Mayer’s stuff before checking out his new album, this track leapt out from his 2013 LP Where Does This Door Go along with Backseat Lover. It’s funky and poppy, like Prince; it’s well-sung and slinky, like Prince. In fact it is evidence of how totally a man can be influenced by the production values and grooves of Prince’s music. Listen to Mayer if you want a great take on pop and funk, and get your head nodding to this. More from him later in the Twenty.
16 Steve Balsamo – As Soon as I Can. Steve was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and played in Les Miserables for a long time, but in 2002 he was pushed into the pop direction with the album All I Am, released by Columbia. He had hits, appeared on TV and played live too, and it is fab to listen back to the album, which sounds like an early-2000s pop album (think Will Young or Ronan Keating). This one jumped out, with sweet strings, when I was working on a Friday afternoon. My friend Laura is a huge fan, as am I.
15 Hayley Tucker – Cold Side of the Bed. Laura is a trained soprano. Her friend Hayley has vainly tried to make a name as a singer-songwriter which, in this day and age, demands a great deal of patience and a great voice. A three-track EP is on Spotify, and I dutifully listened, impressed with her tone and her writing. This song, a perfect midtempo dance, is better than a lot of Paloma and as good as the best of Corinne Bailey Rae. I love the chord progression (A to G to E) in the chorus too.
14 Bleached – Keep On Keeping On. Remember rock music? Loud guitars and sass and attitude? Bleached are a rock’n’roll band in the tradition of all female-fronted rock bands. The production is astonishing on this track, the clapalong chorus supreme and the album one of the Opportunity Inbox Albums of the Year in waiting. Hear if it makes the cut (SPOILER: it will!) in the June edition of the podcast.
13 Sam Palladio – Shine. Poor Gunnar Scott, off of the TV show Nashville, is always down on his luck. A songwriter and a friend of Scarlett, his ex-girlfriend, Gunnar has a lovely voice and a lovely face. Sam Palladio, a songwriter and good friend of someone I met at the Country2Country festival in March 2016, sings Shine, a song from Season 1 of the TV show with a soft drum backing, a nice chiming riff and some sultry chords.
12 Weezer – King of the World. You know Weezer? This sounds like them. Multiple harmonies, a punching bass line, some woahing and above all a nasal killer pop vocal from Rivers Cuomo. Chopsticks and atom bombs feature in the verses, and the chorus is one of the best of the hundred great ones Weezer have written. Keep Fishing and Buddy Holly are both in my Top 100 tunes of ever!
11 Striking Matches, Chaley Rose, Jonnie Jackson and Sam Palladio – I Ain’t Leaving without your Love. Striking Matches are a guy and a girl writing good country-tinged pop, lending many of them to the TV show Nashville. This one, a featured song in series 2, is gorgeous, a meet-cute with a melody. ‘Under the downtown neon lights, that’s where you caught my eye.’ Sam and Chaley and Jonnie sing on the live version alongside the pair, and flesh out the harmonies.
10 Ben Watt – Gradually. Interviewed by Si and Bri for the Sodajerker podcast, Ben comes across as charming. He is Mr Tracy Thorn, and has just put out his third solo LP Fever Dream. Critically acclaimed, Ben is a consistently excellent writer of pop songs; he wrote Missing for Everything But the Girl, the band he and Tracy used to be in (they may reform but that day is a long way in the future), and put out a song called Forget from his last LP Hendra. As for Gradually, it follows the pattern of the songs on Hendra, midtempo, with great instrumentation and moments which explode quietly. Quiet Explosion, that’d be a good songtitle…
9 Mull Historical Society – Peculiar. Colin Macintyre is a supremely underrated talent who is also a master of quiet explosions. He opened his last tour with this song, from his This Is Hope LP of the middle of last decade. I spoke to him for 45 minutes this fortnight about new album Dear Satellite, of which more later, but his back catalogue is full of fun songs with great melodies. This one is a narrative song that reminds me of Andrew Gold’s Lonely Boy.
8 Jason Aldean – Lights Come On. One of those country stars I know is big but would struggle to name more than one song, Jason has a new record out this year, and this is the lead single. It’s a rock song in all but name, a perfect opening song of a setlist for his ‘six-string circus’. It’s a very contemporary song, and Jason is someone who would be brilliant playing in Europe to crowds used to Foo Fighters and Muse. I wonder if this has been planned…
7 Royal Blood – Little Monster. Meanwhile, in rock news, I spent an hour or so one morning this fortnight going through past performances on Later…with Jools Holland. With a chunky riff, a pedal that brings the bass up an octave and a great sound, Royal Blood will hopefully be back in autumn with album two. From album one that hit the top in 2014, I love this one, which has made its way onto the ‘Modern Rock Classics’ playlist alongside songs by Wilco, Arctic Monkeys, Doves, Bloc Party and several ‘the’ bands like Coral, Libertines and Fratellis.
6 Skepta – Shutdown. Nominated for an Ivor Novello Award, this is one of the most important songs of the decade. Not just because Skepta is mates with Drake the human meme, but because the British act, with ‘no label, no A-list songs’ as he sings here, has grafted and worked his way up, starting from the bottom. Now he’s here, he is playing Glastonbury in June, is about to crack America (his sister is a DJ on the Apple Beats Radio service, his brother JME is also a top British act) and is getting white folk to sing along to a song that is equal parts career advice and equal parts brag. Stunning.
5 Steve Balsamo – Sugar for the Soul. The man who is now half of Balsamo Deighton had a pop career in the 2000s for which he apologised to me when I met him in March 2016. I still love the way this song explodes in the chorus, and I wish the new band luck as they continue to tour their recent LP Unfolding.
4 Judee Sill – Jesus was a Cross Maker. Bob Harris turned 70 this fortnight and marked it with a three-hour celebration. Within the show was an interview and session with the marvellous Graham Nash, who picked this song to play. I think I knew of it, but I didn’t realise how gentle the vocal was.
3 Carrie Underwood – Church Bells. A modern standard with a story in the verses and one hell of a chorus. Carrie is writing top pop songs with a country twang, and this one is about a strong girl whose man mysteriously dies in the third verse after beating her up in the second. The key to the song is the chorus where the bells are ‘ringing, ringing’ and the choir is ‘singing, singing’. Great imagery, great banjo licks and a wonderful vocal.
2 Mull Historical Society – Try to be You. Paul McCartney would be proud of this, I told Colin Macintyre when I spoke to him for Blastocyst.org.uk this fortnight. It shimmers, with great production from a man who worked with Amy Winehouse and a superbly syncopated chorus. It was my song of the first week of the fortnight, but that is sometimes not good enough to top the fortnights…
1 Mayer Hawthorne – Love Like That. I love this singer. A former DJ he incorporates the way of the setlist into tracking albums. His latest Man About Town came out this month, the first since 2013. It’s 33 minutes long and contains gem after gem, produced like Quincy Jones and tailormade for the discotheque. This song was premiered on Jimmy Kimmel’s show and with some style it hastened its way to the summit of the Twenty, where it stayed for ten days. Is there a better song than this? That is what I ask when I listen to songs for the Twenty, and every time I hear this addictive endorphin rush of a pop song I sing along. Unison vocals led by Mayer (not his real name, alas!) get me chanting and clapping and dancing (shoulder-shimmies!). One of the songs of the year already.