Best tunes of 1991: #1 James “Sit down”

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Okay. I have likely stretched this list out longer than it needed to be, given that I started counting down these tunes well over a year and a half ago. And well, for those of you who have frequented these pages in the just over two years since I started this blog and know that I am something of a James fanatic, this post might seem somewhat anticlimactic. And yet at the same time, this song placing at number one for 1991 may still come as somewhat of a surprise.

“Sit down” was originally released as a single in 1989 but in that seven minute long form, it didn’t take a big piece out of the music sales pie. The song was later re-recorded to a shorter length, with some editing in the lyrics, and re-released in 1991. This is the version that I first heard, being my first ever exposure to the band, coming to me like many of the songs on this list, in the form of the video recorded off of CityLimits. This is the version that many people know best, definitely making a bigger mark with the buying public, and placing one spot short of number one in the UK singles charts in 1991. Neither version appeared on the original track listing of their 1990 album “Gold mother” but the re-recorded “Sit down” was included when the album was released in North America as “James” with a new cover, the white flower insignia on blue backdrop. And though this has ultimately become my favourite James tune, I actually had to go searching for the original to remember what it even sounded like in my research for writing this post.

So yes, for me, this tune is 1991 at its best. The re-recording is definitely punchier, tighter, and more succinct than the original, perhaps influenced by the acid house dance and psychedelia prevalent at the time with their fellow Mancunians. Frontman Tim Booth was certainly a willing and able dancer for the music they created, just watch the video for a hint of his ecstatic moves. And there is depth here as well. But I’m not just talking about the multiple layers of sound that the band’s players create, though that definitely contributes to the majestic beauty of their music. Nay, it’s Booth’s recognizable vocals and his lyrics that set the band apart from their peers.

“If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.”

“Sit down”, for its danceable beats and upbeat melody, seems to be a song about those lowest moments in your life when you feel like you’re all alone, Booth sounding like he’s coming from a place of experience and wanting to assure us all that, if nothing else, he’s there for us all. But it’s not just Tim, no, the whole band, sliding guitars and the punished drum kit and all. It’s a song my wife Victoria loves, just as much as I do, perhaps her favourite by the band as well. I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’m wrong. However, we’ve definitely sung along together the following lines, while driving in the car, just hanging around, or wherever we’re hearing it.

“Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me”

Yep. I think I could listen to this song forever.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #12 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “The death of you and me”

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One of the earliest posts on my old blog, Music Insanity, was some initial thoughts on this tune, “The death of you and me.” It was the first single off Noel Gallagher’s first album of recorded material that wasn’t released under the Oasis name. And I was pretty excited because, as I wrote at the time, my first thought after hearing that he was leaving Oasis was: “God, I hope he releases some solo material!”

As great a frontman as his younger brother Liam was and is, I was always certain that Noel was the more talented of the Gallagher siblings. He was definitely the more gifted as a songwriter and I would argue that he has a better voice. It’s not for no reason that of all Oasis’s songs, I always preferred the ones on which Noel took the microphone for himself (“The masterpiece”, “Don’t look back in anger”). Don’t get me wrong. Liam has a great voice and he certainly had the stance and the swagger down but Noel didn’t need any of that.

A few months before the release of “The death of you and me”, the leftovers of Oasis had released their own first collection of new material without Noel under the moniker, Beady Eye. And although there were some good songs on “Different gear, still speeding” (e.g., “The roller” and “The beat goes on”), I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with their album. As my friend Andrew Rodriguez so eloquently put it, at the album’s best parts “they simply sound like Oasis”. It was as if they changed their name just to signify a break from their Oasis past but in reality, were still so deeply mired in it. Beady Eye would go on to release another album (and another disappointment) before calling it quits in 2014.

Liam finally hit the mark with a solo album, “As you were”, in 2017 but Noel Gallagher, on the other hand, hasn’t ever really looked back, just continued doing his thing with his new band The High Flying Birds. I remember seeing Noel and the band perform live in 2016, the set a mixture of his solo work off the group’s first two records and some of the songs he wrote in the Oasis days, having the whole crowd in his hands, and me thinking to myself, “It doesn’t at all look like he needs an Oasis reunion”.

And well, “The death of you and me” is the single that started it off. There’s no mistaking that it’s Noel but it doesn’t sound like an Oasis re-hash. Yes, some of the Oasis hallmarks are there (the violin backing and the anthemic chorus) but he has infused a carnival/sideshow theme into the song (also reflected in the video) that would have never appeared on an Oasis album. The song is also instantly likeable, something lacking in many of the songs on the Beady Eye albums and also on much of Oasis’s later material. I guess what I’m saying is that if I were to compare: I’d say it sounds more “What’s the story” than “Dig out your soul”. As a lead off single, “The death of you and me” definitely did its job. After hearing it, I was looking forward to the rest of the self-titled album and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2002: #29 Primal Scream “Miss Lucifer”

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Primal Scream’s “Loaded” as my third favourite tune of 1991. That particular ditty turned me on to the Primals and then, after buying and listening to “Screamadelica”, I quickly grew obsessed.

I got to see them live in 1994, when they opened for Depeche Mode at Kingswood Music Theatre, a show I saw with my friend Tim, my eventual wife Victoria, and her cousin Rosa. By this time, Primal Scream were touring “Give up but don’t give out”, a blues-rock hippie jam that I didn’t love quite as much as its predecessor but that had some great, great tunes. After that album didn’t perform quite as well critically or commercially, the band regrouped and dropped “Vanishing point” on all of us in 1997. I survived that bomb but 2000’s “XTRMNTR” almost killed me. In its wake, a handful of years needed to be taken before I was ready to dip my toe back in, eventually doing so with “Riot city blues” in 2006.

So yeah, I completely missed their 2003 album “Evil heat” upon its release. I only got to it after I warmed to the next few albums, building a lasting love rather than the meteoric lust and infatuation I suffered with “Screamadelica”. And only then was I able to revisit their back catalogue without such a black demeanour. I still don’t think it’s their best work but after the maelstrom that was “XTRMNTR”, Bobbie Gillespie and his cohorts really needed a bridge album and in that, “Evil heat” was successful.

“Miss Lucifer” is one of the album’s hot spots, the first single released off it, and it’s a real dancefloor razer. Don’t go looking for any witty or deep lyrics here because you’ll find none. It’s your typical femme fatale/evil woman motif and warning. It’s the drone and angry beat that’s special here, hoofing it like Saturday night’s leftovers from Prodigy’s Friday rave and tumble. Gillespie whispers and hisses and spits venom before getting to the chorus and turning admonitions into invitations to “shake it baby”, over and over and over again.

It’s not “Loaded” but it’s a trip nonetheless.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.