Traditionally, at this time of year, bloggers get all misty-eyed and start waxing retrospective about the year's cultural crop. In fact — and I've made no attempt to verify this — a cursory browse through my archives suggests that I invented the genre back in 2001.
Looking back at that list, however, suggests some fairly dubious decisions were made. As good as they were, two best-of compilations have no place in a review of the year; and I might as well have curtailed the films list at number three. Clearly, a better method is needed. And, with the undoubted purchase of the year being my iPod, I do believe I have one. Herewith, the twenty-five (is that overkill? Then skip ahead some!) most played songs of (the latter part of) 2004:
25. Miniskirt, by The Sleepy Jackson. Hooray for hypothetical gender-bending lyrics!
24. P.S. You Rock My World, by Eels. It's paradoxical that the sweetest song ever written should include a funeral and guns, but there you go. I've loved this ever since I got into them, back in 2000.
23. Lounger, by Dogs Die in Hot Cars. The first DDiHC song on the list (there will be more).
22. Our Mutual Friend, by The Divine Comedy. After Regeneration, things didn't look good for Neil Hannon. And, whilst this year's album doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of their earlier output, this tragically-bathetic ballad is a stand-out track. Hmm, I didn't really sell it, did I? Read the lyrics....
21. Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've), by The Buzzcocks. Oh come on, now! It's a classic, and "shouldn't've" is such a wonderful contraction....
20. Dirty Dream Number Two, by Belle & Sebastian. This is a song for the start of journeys, the first song on my CD player as I left Reading by train last year, and every subsequent trip. The 44 bus on Clarkston Road isn't quite as romantic as a sleek train gliding across fields, but it's good enough for me.
19. Do You Remember The First Time, by Pulp. This song is more about 2004 than 1994 to me, being entirely reminiscent of my visit to Nottingham, where it played in the excellent Cookie Club.
18. Mile End, by Pulp. If you think I wangled the play count to juxtapose the two Pulp songs, you'd be a very cynical — but ultimately correct — person. This one's music-hall Pulp, from the Trainspotting soundtrack, and not on any of their other albums, alas.
17. Night Falls Like A Grand Piano, by The Sixths. The only member of the cast of Gregory's Girl represented in the list is Claire P. Grogan, in her accompanying role on this song. Unfortunately, my collection of John Gordon Sinclair records is somewhat sparser.
16. Paul Newman's Eyes, by Dogs Die in Hot Cars. For this lyric alone: "Here come somemovies/ With dialogue so cool/ Why did they never tell me to speak like that/ At primary school?" Ace!
15. Big City Takeover, by Dogs Die in Hot Cars. An early DDiHC track, which isn't on the album, I downloaded this after hearing I Love You 'Cause I Have To (the song which got me into them, upon seeing it on MTV2 in summer). I don't want to say too much about it, for reasons that will become clear later.
14. Golden Touch, by Razorlight. One, quite frankly, couldn't avoid this song during the summer, and why should one have tried to? It was this that I hummed on the walk to work each day, and I stand by it. (Well, not hummed: I wouldn't want to look like some random crazy. But it was in my head....)
13. All These Things I've Done, by The Killers. The influence of MTV2 on this list is made all the more bizarre by the fact that I don't have cable or satellite TV at home. Nevertheless, it was whilst watching the same in my adopted Surrey pad, that I developed a taste for this one. I mean, look at it, he's striding manfully down the street and all these people are throwing their arms around him. I know I wish that was me.
12. Colours, by The Frank and Walters. I first heard of the Franks through their cover of Cemetry Gates on the mid-nineties tribute CD, The Smiths Is Dead. Piqued, I've now got four of their albums, and this is my favourite of their songs, guaranteed to bring a smile to my face.
11. Son of a Gun, by The Vaselines. I admit, I was never really into Nirvana. So, when Jack mentioned them as one of Scotland's greatest bands, I felt that I should find out what I had been missing. Though the rest of their oeuvre hasn't gripped me in quite the same way, the simple cheeriness of this song (not to mention the fact I can play it on the guitar...) means it hasn't been far from my playlist in the last few months.
A break before the top ten, I hear you ask? Perhaps you'd a cup of tea. I'll be here when you get back....
10. Needles in My Eyes, by The Beta Band. This is probably one of the most downbeat songs on the list, and I'm not sure I would even call it my favourite Beta Band song. There is, however, one lyric that captivates me: "Last night it was so good/ I felt like crying." When it plays, I don't hear it right the first time — I find myself rewinding (on a iPod... how quaint!) over and over until every word sinks in to my brain. I don't want to get too maudlin, but have you ever had the best time, but instead of enjoying it, you feel remorse because it might never happen again?
9. Your Cover's Blown, by Belle & Sebastian. Up goes the tempo, for the opening track on the Books EP. I can't believe I overlooked this one when I bought the EP originally: it's an epic of Bohemian Rhapsody proportions, whilst also being the song of 2004 most likely to make me stand up and dance like a crazy loon. Just you watch.
8. Float On, by Modest Mouse. The odd thing about this inclusion is that I only appropriated it in the last fortnight. Already, I've played it over forty times. Sometimes on single-track repeat. I realise that this probably isn't healthy. I saw lots of adverts for the Modest Mouse album — Good News for People Who Love Bad News — on that stalwart of alternative music, MTV2. A half-hearted downloading effort turned up various record industry-sanctioned tracks of silence, and it seemed like this song didn't want to be heard. Well I showed it. I showed it good. (Honourable mentions go to the rest of the tracks on the album: might even be one worth buying....)
7. You Know I Couldn't Last, by Morrissey. You Are The Quarry is the first Morrissey release since I became a fan in 2001. I'd heard some of the new material far in advance of its release, thanks to the wonders of Janice Long and the internet, and tracks such as I Like You and The World Is Full of Crashing Bores are particularly good. But it is this, the final track on the album, that really stands out. A traditional Morrissey rant, in the mode of The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get, it rails against just about everything, making it the Morrissey we know and love. Containing the triplet, "Promos/ God knows/ Oh!" and being in compound time (a digression we might save for later) further ensure the position of this song.
6. Hounds of Love, by The Futureheads. Having heard good things about them (not to mention seeing the Decent Days and Nights video every day throughout summer), I picked up a copy of The Futureheads eponymous debut whilst passing through Gatwick Airport. I popped it on the iPod, listened to the first few tracks, thought "this is quite good," and promptly forgot all about it. Then, come The Zutons' triumphal Barrowlands gig, at which our lads were the support, their music came down into the crowd and gave me a good-natured slap about the face. Though the best song they have written is, in my opinion, the droll Robot, this cover of a Kate Bush song is the pinnacle of the album.
5. Pastimes and Lifestyles, by Dogs Die in Hot Cars. The penultimate DDiHC song, and an unusual entrant. You see, Pastimes and Lifestyles is just the same song as Big City Takeover, with half of the words changed. When I bought the album, and heard what had been done to my hitherto favourite song of theirs, I was torn. Liking the new version was like cheating on the old version, and this played on my conscience no end. Fortunately, I realised that Pastimes and Lifestyles is far more coherent, even if the lead-in to the chorus isn't quite as good, and so I embraced it.
4. Hold Me Now, by The Polyphonic Spree. This one genuinely surprises me. I liked Soldier Girl, from their previous album, but I could never get over the sinister robes thing. That said, once again, the video hooked me. The fact that it features them prancing around various London landmarks that I had visited just the day before I saw the video probably has something to do with it. Still, I'd concede that it's probably the most rubbish song on the list.
3. Settle Down, by The Ordinary Boys. When I first saw publicity for The Ordinary Boys, I must admit that I dismissed them as a bunch of chavs. Then I discovered that Talk Talk Talk and Week In Week Out are witty, catchy songs. So, when I found the album in the Guildford branch of Tesco, I popped it in my basket with the two frozen pizzas for £3, and took it home for a listen. Why, then, is Settle Down the song that received most play? I'd suggest it's for the opening line to the chorus — "Stop throwing insults/ And crockery around" — since, after all, puns rule. Or it could be the voguish hat-tip to Radio 2. Either way, I'll let you know how they get on when I go to see them at the Barrowlands in February.
2. Theme from an Imaginary Film, by Blur. The most obscure track on the list. How many of you were aware of this B-side to the rather famouser Parklife? I went through a phase in the late nineties (the glory days of Missing Records) of buying second-hand Blur singles. And Disc 1 of Parklife is the jewel in my collection (as opposed to the rather more expensive Sunday Sunday whose A-side promised so much, but whose B-sides delivered so little). The title track, Supa Shoppa (cf. Lot 105 and The Debt Collector) and Theme from an Imaginary Film comprise a thoroughly beneficial way to spend ten minutes. As for the song in question, it's a harpsichord-infused slice of Blur whimsy. And it includes the word "arse".
1. Modern Women, by Dogs Die in Hot Cars. I love this song. Yet, unlike virtually every song that has preceded it, I have great difficulty in describing why. There's a chord change, three minutes and eight seconds into the song, and just after the final lyric. I don't know why, but I really like it. Its sound makes the hairs on my arm stand on end. There's no funny lyric that I can quote, nor can I think up a witty comment to accompany it (not unlike the 24 preceding, I hear you cry). Therefore, I can only beseech you to get a copy for yourself, and listen to it. And apologise for the anti-climax.
Well, with four of my top twenty-five songs, and the top place, you'd think Dogs Die in Hot Cars (and their debut album, Please Describe Yourself) would be my favourites of the year. And yet I'm not so sure — where are Franz Ferdinand? The Zutons? Both their 2004s have been triumphs, and I've thoroughly enjoyed their releases. Having had a quiet year, a single representation for Belle & Sebastian is to be understood, but only one Morrissey song? Madness, considering that he's on the best form he's seen for years.
So, the method is imperfect. It's generated inches of copy, but I hope it's also turned up some interesting songs, with which to enrich your musical experience. Do feel free to use the comments to slate this selection, point out any more glaring omissions, or to detail your own selections. But do keep the length down....