Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Saturday List #106 - Ten Timeless songs

Image result for joan armatrading love and affection
The song that started this!
This particular list was inspired by a fourfar on the Robert Elms show a month ago. The fourfar was tracks by the top four (actually it was five) British singers. One of the selected tracks was  "Love and Affection" by Joan Armatrading. It is perhaps the most beautiful track ever written by a British artist (can you think of a more beautiful track?).  The other thing which struck me is just how timeless it sounded.

It got me to think, what other songs have stood the test of time so well? What other songs come on the radio and don't sound like they've been dug out of a dusty archive. Robert Elms returned to the subject a couple of weeks later, with a comment that music which "doesn't groove" doesn't stand the test of time as well as music with a bit of a funky feel. This got me really thinking. So I spent the next few weeks compiling my list. Now of course I have my own personal tastes and prejudices, however I think this is a pretty robust list.

Here's why I chose the tracks and here's the playlist

1. Joan Armatrading - Love and Affection. I had to kick off the list with this as Joan got the list going. This really is one song that as long as people pick up acoustic guitars and write brilliant songs will always sound as if it was written yesterday.

 2. Louis Armstrong - We have all the time in the world. This was written over 45 years ago. Oddly it wasn't really recognised as a great song at the time. Like many truly great songs, it was only when it was reprised in the 90's that we came to love it as the gem that it is. It was originally written by John Barry for the Bond film On her Majesty's Secret Service. I hadn't realised, but Armstrong was too ill to play the trumpet and only did the vocals. It is proof that a great song, a great vocal performance and high production values will always stand the test of time.

3. Joni Mitchell - Cold Blue Steel and Sweet fire. I chose the live version, as it is my favourite. This is from the 1973 album Miles of Aisles. If you are not familiar with the works of Joni Mitchell, I'd start here. I really think the sax performance makes it. It is a very dark song. Whilst Mitchell songs like Woodstock and Big Yellow Taxi are anchored in the 1960's, this is very much a song that could have been written in just about any decade of the modern musical era.

4. The Clash - London Calling. Arguably London's finest punk rock band. This is their signature tune and their masterpiece. Unlike most of the output of the punk era, this stands the test of time extraordinarily well. I suspect that all Londoners under 60 would recognise this as something of an anthem. It is one of those songs that wherever I am in the world, be it Neasden or New York, it always brings me home. We all "Live by the river" in our minds!

5. T Rex - 20th Century Boy. I have always loved T Rex. One may I suppose question how a song called "20th Century Boy" can ever be deemed timeless, but from the first chord, this song has a quality which sets it apart from everything else released at the same time. It sounds so vibrant. The backing vocals really lift it and Bolan is at his best. If this had never been released and never been heard and Bolan had never been a star, I truly believe that if this was released today, everyone would simply say "Wow, who is this, it's great".

6. David Bowie - Golden Years. Like Punk, much of Bowie's work, brilliant though it is, sounds of its time to my ears. I love it none the less. This song has always been different. It doesn't sound like a song recorded in the mid 1970's. This was from that strange period between punk and glam. Bowie often looked like he was from another planet, this song sounded like it. Not in the way Space Oddity achieved. This was simply a brilliant stand out track on a great album, with a completely timeless feel. I originally bought this album on an 8 track. I'd often just listen to this track and TVC15 over and over.

7.Amy Winehouse - Back to Black. I suspect that in 30 years, this will be one of the songs that someone making the same list again will include. Amy Winehouse died tragically young. This song, to me manages to sound as if it was recorded in the 1950's, the 1960's and yesterday at the same time. You could put this in just about any party playlist and it would sound great.

8. Prince Buster - Whine and Grine. Although for many, Ska is a music associated with the late 1960's and the revival of the early 1980's, this is such a timeless and exciting track. For me it is like a great wine, that just gets better. It wasn't a stand out track at the time of release, but whilst much Ska now sounds dated, this could not sound more contemporary.

9. The Steve Miller Band - The Joker. I was driving through London recently and this was played on the radio. Released in 1970, by arch hippy Steve Miller, it should sound like a museum piece, but it doesn't. It is a simple song, but it is warm and funny. It has been sampled by rapppers and the like. Whilst 99.9% of US hippy music (Grateful Dead, Airplane, etc) sounds of its time, this track, I guess due to its simplicity an d unpretentiousness, stands up well.

10. Fairport Convention - Meet on The Ledge. Now if I'd been putting this list together a month ago, this track wouldn't have crossed my mind. I like the Fairports and I own this album, but I doubt I've played it for 20 years. So why did I choose it and how could I justify putting it on a list of timeless tracks? Well I was having a liquid lunch with a friend in the Artillery Arms near Blackfriars recently and the guy behind the bar was playing a playlist and on it popped. I was reminded of just what a great track it is. I listened to it again, when putting the list together and thought that it was perhaps a great anthem for 2016, with the loss of so many great icons. I suspect it will always be a great and timeless track. Unlike many such tracks, it is both hopeful and reflective.

So here's the playlist. Enjoy!

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