The Armageddon Playlist

The ICBMs have been launched. This is it – the End of the World – so what would you like to watch or listen to in the few minutes before a massive EMP wipes out all electronic communication?

There is an urban legend that Ted Turner, founder of CNN, planned to capture this demographic with a pre-Apocalypse video to be played as the last broadcast on his channel, before the bombs fell. It turns out to be true, as reported in the Guardian, and you can see the video here.

Well, what do you think? I think it’s the expression of everything that made a nuclear war possible – sentimental jingoism, aided and abetted by a military band, to convince patriotic Americans that their sacrifice was worth the cause of defeating communism. Appropriating Nearer My God to Thee, famously played by the ship’s band on the Titanic, is particularly cynical. The iceberg was a blameless force of nature, nuclear brinkmanship a calculated political decision.

So what else might we while away the minutes with? Tom Lehrer, who gave up satire when real life began stealing his best lines, brought us this.

See? We’re all in this together. On the other hand, communal spirit sounds suspiciously like communism, so perhaps we shouldn’t go with that. What’s needed is some old time religion, conflating Jesus with the atom bomb.

For myself, the song that’s most associated with the end of the world is Waltzing Matilda. That’s because of Stanley Kramer’s powerful yet understated 1959 film about nuclear annihilation, On the Beach. Nuclear war in the the Northern hemisphere has wiped out all human life, but Australia is unscathed. Unfortunately, radiation is drifting into the Southern hemisphere and Australia waits to see if it will survive. It doesn’t. Everybody dies.

Waltzing Matilda threads its way through the soundtrack, in many different tones and arrangements, as a haunting refrain to the inevitable death of the human race. Here’s the opening scene.

And here’s the final scene.

What’s more sad than a song with no-one left to sing or dance to it?

The Vile Stuff, by Richard Dawson (not to be confused with Dawkins)

Richard Dawson

I was listening to Late Junction on Radio 3 last night. Max Reinhardt had on a guest musician I’d never heard of before – Richard Dawson – who chose the night’s tracks. He also played live some of his own music.

It sounds like he’s extensively mined his Newcastle youth for material. I was much taken by this track – The Vile Stuff – the story of a school trip, during which someone smuggled in alcohol, and mayhem ensued.

Auntie Beeb Knows Best: Songs Banned by the BBC

1191592_f520Please visit the source of this image for an excellent blog about censorship.

BBC4 recently broadcast a documentary about BBC censorship, Britain’s Most Dangerous Songs: Listen to the Banned. All in our own best interests, of course, as a kindly moral guardian. Looking back with hindsight, their reasons now seem a little threadbare, tending towards the maintenance of the social and political status quo. Here’s a full list of songs banned by the BBC.

This isn’t a review, but I do want to post videos of the songs that interest me most.

I’ve always liked George Formby, a serial offender in the 1930s with his cheeky innuendo, outrageous double-entendres and rampant ukelele. Not only did he offend the middle class Home Counties audience catered to by the BBC, he had the audacity to be northern.

Here he is with his Little Stick of Blackpool Rock.

Louis Armstrong’s cover of Mack the Knife, from The Threepenny Opera was banned in 1956 for its portrayal of the serial killer, MacHeath. I actually prefer the film version, but Armstrong’s cover made the song a popular success, and it is good.

I remember seeing the The Shangri-Las on television, with Leader of the Pack, banned in 1965. The song had teenage rebellion, motorbikes, sudden death, against a backdrop of violence between mods and rockers at British seaside resorts – no wonder the BBC hated it.

The BBC were particularly clueless about the songs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, missing the drug references in everything except A Day in the Life, banned in 1967.

And now for something completely different – the Sex Pistol’s vicious assault on the monarchy in the year of the Silver Jubilee, 1977. At least that’s how the BBC saw it.

And finally to the latest furore from April last year when Margaret Thatcher died, her name so reviled in certain parts of the UK that street parties were held to celebrate the event, even while the Establishment gave her a state funeral. I was one of the people cheering.

A media campaign had been planned as early 2007 to send Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead to the top of the pop charts. It succeeded. This time the BBC didn’t ban the song outright. They played only the first 5 seconds.

Here is the clip from the Wizard of Oz.

One Cup or Two?

You can keep your Kants and Heideggers, your Platos and Spinozas, the whole high-falutin’ philosophical crew. When it comes to life’s mundane mysteries, they’re no use at all. As well as being permanently pissed, according to the Pythons.

I give you instead an everyday philosopher, John Shuttleworth, Sheffield singer/songwriter and pigeon-fancier. Armed only with a Hammond organ, he sings of the simple conundrums we all face. Here is the one cup or two dilemma. Tea, of course.

We’ve all been there.

John Shuttleworth is actually a character of Graham Fellows, who also gives voice to John’s wife, Mary, and his next door neighbour and sole agent, Ken Worthington. Fellows started as Jilted John, a teenager dumped by his girlfriend. He sent a demo tape to the legendary John Peel Show, and ended up on Top of the Pops.

But it’s the later incarnation of John Shuttleworth who’s lasted. To close this post, lest I witter on forever, is the saga of John’s attempt to enter a song in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Chaps in Dresses

Spot the difference between Conchita Wurst, currently being reviled for offending Russian prejudices sensibilities and…

Conchita Wurst
…some of Putin’s chums.

Vladimir_Putin_with_bishops_of_Russian_Orthodox_ChurchMoscow has banned a parade in honour of the Austrian winner of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest on the grounds that “it would provoke clashes between ‘gays and their opponents'”. Heartwarming to see the authorities are mindful of the danger to gay Russians from a homophobic society, or even those who champion the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

I usually avoid the Eurovision Song Contest, but here is Conchita Wurst’s winning number. If it gets Putin’s knickers in a twist, then it gets my vote.

A Star Is Born

I don’t usually pay any attention to dreck like Britain’s Got Talent or the X Factor, but this Dutch singer on Holland’s Got Talent confounded all my expectations. Almira Willighagen, aged 9, taught herself to sing opera from YouTube videos. I wouldn’t have believed that voice came from a child – you can see the jaws dropping. The judges were talking of a new Maria Callas. She starts singing at 2:45 minutes into the clip, but it’s worth watching from the beginning just to get a sense of this extraordinary girl.

If she’s this good from copying YouTube clips, her voice will be brilliant after proper training. Opera companies must be falling over themselves to sign her up.

Lou Reed 1942-2013

Some musicians are so much bound up with your life that when they die it’s like losing an old friend. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground formed my musical tastes, showed how dangerous, sexy, and alluring life could be. I saw him live as well, at a concert in Seattle in in the noughties.

So here’s a song to remember him by, a Kurt Weill classic, and a memento mori to enjoy life and appreciate my friends and family.

And here’s the rest of the 1994 album, September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill.

Thanks for everything, Lou.