When I was back at university, one of my fellow students would spend every lecture religiously writing out track listings for new mix-tapes. The margins on his ruled A4 would be a mess of titles, but he was a master of it. I’ve still got one of the tapes he recorded for me - it’s a good one. A good mix brought you kudos - just like a perfect mix given to a loved one would say more than a box of Milk Tray ever would.
And so this is what got me thinking. It’s a shame really, because these days in our somewhat disposable era of MP3s and burning CDs, we rarely ever have to think of this any more. Drag and drop a couple of tracks into iTunes or your favourite generic music application and everything is calculated for you. However, I recently had a task which came close to the mix-tape - some mix-cds. The idea was to get the perfect mix of music into two hours of disks. It was a fun activity which me and the wife spent plenty of time discussing until we had a final track listing that we were happy with.
My mind turned to other compilations, there’s lots of good ones about. LateNightTales excels in the art of the compilation. Some have taken absolutely months in the making and are an audiophiles dream - but what about one of my own, one that says something about me?
That’s not an easy task. If you’re like me, you have hundreds of CDs. To select just ten or so tracks has taken me ages - and if you asked me to do the same thing again next week, you’d find the track listing to be different. So, consider the ten tracks of my mix-tape as a snapshot of the moment. If you look at the bottom of this post, you’ll see a little music player (courtesy of mixpod.com). With any luck, you should be able to listen to it.
The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build A Home
I discovered The Cinematic Orchestra about five years ago on a LateNightTales album, but it wasn’t until I heard Ma Fleur that I became hooked on what I would consider a classic, but to most people would be unknown. I suspect that you’ve heard this track already, but haven’t realised it. A bit like Moby’s album, Play, the contents have been used on all sorts of TV programmes and adverts, which whilst being an endorsement of just how good it is does seem a bit of a shame that it’s been made so mainstream when it sounds so deeply personal.
There are not many songs out there that at first play make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, but this is one of them. It takes me back to the early days of meeting my wife and new beginnings. It reminds me of late-night drives, self-discovery and being in love. The whole album is full of nostalgic sentimental beauty, but without an inch of cliché. The vocal depth, piano and orchestral interludes remind you that this isn’t Coldplay under another name, thank God.
Whilst I’ve recommended To Build A Home, it’s best listened to as part of the complete album - you can easily pick it up for a fiver.
Midlake - Roscoe
This song was recently covered by Ellie Goulding, but her version isn’t a patch on this. This is one of those tracks that I originally heard remixed, as part of the classic Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve compilation, a great remix album that I got from Amazon for a couple of quid. I can’t help but sing along. Yes, me - a person that doesn’t sing.
The track has a laid-back, almost plodding feel to it - but I think perhaps that the beat is intentional, representative of the struggle of life years ago. Does the lead sound a bit like Thom Yorke? Maybe. Perhaps I’m doing this chap a disservice because the album, The Trials Of Van Occupanther, has a little more going for it than that.
Sébastien Tellier - La Ritournelle
I can’t even remember when I discovered this, but I do remember that when I heard it the first time, I put it on repeat for an eternity. If you ever wanted a sing that felt uplifting, happy and optimistic, this would be one of them. An initial listening may lead you to think that the piano loop is a bit over-worked, but actually you realise it’s nothing of the sort. The orchestral accompaniment and vocals just add to it perfectly and turn it into something special. When I listen, images of summer sun go through my mind. Another track that puts a smile on my face and gets me singing - in private, at least! This is eight minutes of bliss.
Groove Armada - History (Feat. Will Young)
I file this under “guilty pleasures”. I’m no Will Young fan, but on this track his lyrical style is just right. The album Black Light Is something of an homage to the eighties and this track is the best on the album. It’s moody, tuneful pop that sticks in your head - like early Depeche Mode. The entire album is something of a departure from their usual chilled dance beats, but a pleasant one. I can’t help but think of Bronski Beat or The Communards when I hear Will’s voice - or perhaps I’m just showing my age. Everyone should have a bit of pop in their collection.This fits the bill nicely.
Badly Drawn Boy - Promises
I’ve been a Badly Drawn Boy fan for years. It all started when I first got The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, but this is the track that will stick in my memory. This is another one of those tracks that I initially discovered on a remix album and then investigated the original. The lyrics also have something of a personal ring to me, which I guess is why it seems fitting to suggest it for an album that’s an accurate representation of me. Don’t read too much into that, though...
Kate Bush - The Man With The Child In His Eyes
I remember back in the day when Kate Bush performed Wuthering Heights on Top Of The Pops over thirty years ago. My god, that makes me feel old. My parents were fans and introduced me to Never For Ever a couple years later. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped listening to her. In my teenage years, my best friend and I knew all the words and weirdness to Hounds of Love, which we would avidly perform, complete with grim reaper-esque sounding voices. Ahhhh, a teenage youth well spent, eh?
I belatedly bought Aerial a few years back and rate it as one of the best albums of all time. However thinking back, one song of them all is the greatest and that’s The Man With The Child In His Eyes. This song goes to prove that writing lyrics is a craft, such that without music, this would still function as poetry - and there’s not many songs that fall into that category. I don’t think it’s a surprise it won an Ivor Novello award.
The Wedding Present - Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)
The song that makes me think back to my late teenage years, when I had a major hunger for new music. In the evenings, I’d make a point of listening to John Peel and his Festive Fifty, which inevitably would contain about ten Wedding Present tracks. My friends were the same. We would thirst for the obscure, trying our best to discover new artists before anybody else. I could sing the praises of John Peel for an eternity - his enthusiasm for all music was infectious and led my peer group to do all sorts of things, one being to walk into our nearby WH Smiths-type shop and ask for the most obscure titles that could ordered just so that we could hear the poor assistant behind the counter stumble through the names. The Wedding Present were one of our artists. I still have a copy of Come Up and See Me on an old C60, recorded back in 1990. It still plays and still puts a smile on my face - well, when I can find something that plays cassettes!
BT - See You On The Other Side
This was a late discovery. I’ve been aware of some of BT’s work, but I was just never aware of what an absolute gem the album This Binary Universe is. It’s electronica, written by a true musician. All the tracks have multiple levels of complexity to them and I still have odd moments when I’ll listen to it and find a new layer. It’s best listened to through a good pair of full-ear headphones.
The album seems to have had a limited pressing, and it came with a DVD. The only copies I’ve found seem to come from the U.S. Due to it’s rarity, it’s entirely possible that you’ll pay a very large sum of money to get your hands on a copy. I got mine relatively cheaply after a couple months of trawling and it’s expensive for a reason. The album is probably one of the best dance albums of the last decade. It was hard to settle on just one track for this mix, because they all could have been contenders, but this one is a personal favourite - and I’d recommend you watch the music video if you can. It’s a bit like watching an acid-induced version of the iTunes visualiser.
Shuggie Otis - Stawberry Letter 23
I first heard this in Tokyo of all places, back in about 2004. I bought an iPod in Akihabara and this was one of the first tracks I loaded on it. I remember walking down the main section of Ginza with this as my soundtrack and for some reason, it just seemed to fit so well. Images of Tokyo stick in my head when I hear this tune, which is perhaps a bit odd given that this track was written in the late seventies (and I was about five). Still, it makes me think of good times...
Terry Callier - You Goin' Miss Your Candyman
My appreciation of blues never got very far, really. I could tolerate a bit of John Lee Hooker but that was my limit. Then I discovered this, which I recently described to my wife once as, “freakin’ awesome” - because it is. The guitar makes you want to bob your head in appreciation and the vocals just make you want to scream in accompaniment. This is a record with soul.
And if you don’t agree, then you evidently don’t have a pulse - which is ironic because I reckon this would be one hell of a track for a funeral. Maybe I’ll have it for mine.
There’s a little player below, should you want to have a listen. I’ve done the digital equivalent of a mix-tape and arranged them into a convenient playlist, courtesy of mixpod.com. I guess that even if you decide my “Desert Island Selection” is complete bobbins, it has at least given you a little bit of insight into what makes me tick.