Episode 15 - 'Festive 20' 2017, Tracks 20-11

From 1978 to 2004 there was one end-of-year ritual I anticipated with more fervour than any other: John Peel's Festive Fifty. We now know that list-loving males are to be pitied, if not condemned, but for me it offered a musical heuristic. Others might use the pop charts as a useful short cut, for me The Festive Fifty served the same purpose.

For those unfamiliar, each year, using nothing other than a handwritten ledger, and for some reason collating the task single-handedly, the iconic English DJ would ask listeners for their top three tracks of the year. Then, at the end of December, over 5 nights, he would play a 'Festive 50' in descending order.

Peel developed a love-hate relationship with his Frankenstein over the years. His main objection was that listeners ignored the highways and byways he'd introduced into his show over the year, the happy hip-hop, the deep dub, and time and again voted for "white boys with guitars". There was certainly some truth in the accusation. But it was at least the best type of white boy with guitar music. And over the years, certainly, more variety crept in.

There are some differences with this Festive 20. First, it's curated by Sombrero Fallout, not the product of a democratic vote. It's how Trump would run things. Secondly, we have attempted to spread the musical genres around, and also balanced genders and, to a limited extent, countries as well. Thirdly, we have day jobs and haven't listened to remotely enough music this year. Inevitably the Senior Sombrerite (me) and Junior Sombrerite (Scott) have relied on curation themselves, and there will be all manner of tracks that should be included but aren't, simply because we've never heard them.

But if nothing else, here's a helpful rejoinder to those who believe nobody writes them like they used to, and tracks 20-11. Tracks 10-1 follow in the next podcast:- 

20. Broken Social Scene - Halfway home

19. The xx - I dare you

18. Idles - Well done

17. St Etienne - Take it all in

16. Mountain Goats - Andrew Eldritch is moving back to Leeds

15. The National - Guilty Party

14. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Rattlesnake

13. Juana Molina - Paraguaya

12. The Clientele - Everyone You Meet

11.  St Vincent - New York

Episode 14 - A merry little alternative Christmas

There's something about Christmas that can make even the most hardened of garage bands relent. The Sex Pistols always reckoned the best gig they ever did was Christmas Day in the afternoon when they played a children's party. Freed from the requirements of acting cool, they just enjoyed themselves. They just were themselves.

Perhaps that's the thing. For happy, well-adjusted types the thought of returning to the bosom of your family where it all began is an enticing prospect. You sense that Julian Casablancas, the archetype of New York cool, actually means it when he sings I Wish it Was Christmas Today. That cynical old rock chick Chrissie Hynde wants her partner to be with her at Christmas of all times with the Pretenders' 2000 miles. Less surprisingly, Christian alt-rockers Low sound horrified when they sing "it wasn't like Christmas at all", on Just Like Christmas.

But for others the Yuletide season is all about the fear and loathing. The titles say it all really. Thank God it's not Christmas (Sparks). That was the worst Christmas ever (Sufjan Stevens). Merry Christmas (I don't want to fight tonight) (The Ramones). Christmas will break your heart (LCD Soundsystem). Ominously, So much wine (The Handsome Family) and Under the stairs (De Rosa). Brutally, Christmas is cancelled (The Long Blondes).

But I'm also reminded of a journalist who returned home to his house in Essex for the season. Every Christmas Day his family and the one from down the street he'd grown up with shared a sherry together in the morning. That family was the Albans and there was Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, just about the biggest group in Britain at the time, making small talk with various aunts and uncles. He exchanged strained smiles with the icon of Britpop, dressed in a colourful jumper featuring reindeer, from the opposite side of the suburban drawing room.

That's the spirit. Best summed up by Half Man Half Biscuit: It's cliched to be cynical at Christmas. Tracklist:-

I was born on Christmas Day, St Etienne

Just like Christmas, Low

Frosty the Snowman, Cocteau Twins

That was the worst Christmas ever, Sufjan Stevens

Merry Christmas, Mark Kozelek

Santa Claus, The Sonics

Merry Christmas (I don't want to fight tonight), The Ramones

Thank God it's not Christmas, Sparks

It's cliched to be cynical at Christmas, Half Man Half Biscuit 

So much wine, The Handsome Family

Under the stairs, De Rosa

I wish it was Christmas today, Julian Casablancas

Christmas will break your heart, LCD Soundsystem

Christmas is cancelled, The Long Blondes

2000 miles, The Pretenders


Episode 13 - LA / Hollywood

There isn't really a definitive song about L.A. Plenty exist. But no definitive statement. No New York, New York, no 'Chicago'. No By the time I get to Phoenix even.

However there are more songs about the city than perhaps any other. It's that mix of sun / sex / shore / skyline contrasted with motel / murder / money / madness. And the overall vibe that this is a pitiless city. That behind the American mask of Can Do, everyone is simply in it for themselves. "This town is crazy. Nobody cares." as Beck sang on Lost Cause.

But, typical of the schizophrenic attitude artists have to the city, the most relentlessly upbeat on this episode is Beck's Que onda, guero? - an Hispanic tribute to the hometown LA suburb of his childhood, the vegetable man and the mariachi bands. Even Warren G's braggadocio G-Funk tribute to being mugged has the sunny SoCal vibe you can hum along to even if you're stuck in traffic on a rainy Wednesday morning.

There's LA and there's Hollywood. The gap between those who make it and all those who arrive wide-eyed and innocent off the bus from the midwest is the stuff of LA mythology. Father John Misty does a great modern take with Fun Times in Babylon, but for me the classic celluloid tribute is a song from my own childhood - 10cc's Somewhere in Hollywood.   

I've always been intimidated by the cynical hollowness behind the relentless sunshine in LA. Driving down the west coast We headed off into the desert, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. I sort of regret that now. One day I'll make it back and have a look round the town. Tracklist:-

Los Angeles, Frank Black 

Regulate, Warren G 

Que Onda Guero, Beck

Let me back in, Rilo Kiley

LA Woman, The Doors

Pacific Coast Highway, Sonic Youth 

LA, The Fall

Celluloid Heroes, The Kinks

Somewhere in Hollywood, 10cc

Funtimes in Babylon, Father John Misty

Electrolite, REM