On Repeat – five songs that will help you prepare for Christmas whilst also doing absolutely nothing to improve your festive cheer and have nothing to do with Yuletide in any way.
Burning Down the House – Talking Heads (1983)
Being a child of the 90s/00s the version of this song that I have heard the most (OK, at all) was the Tom Jones/the Cardigans version from 2003 (no judgies). I maintain that it is a perfectly good cover version and I have a lot of love for the Jones (I’ve seen him live, so back off). But honestly, I now get what this song is about.
The whole song has an amazing sound that in 1983 must have been even more distinct, before a whole host of post-New Wave bands did their best to ruin the genre. It sounds a lot like a robot being pushed down a very long staircase whilst all the other machines chant over the top of it. The song was written off-the-cuff as part of a jam session and it has that improvised, joyous feel throughout. In it’s own time the single was something of a flop outside of the US and Canada, so I think that the time has definitely come to play it loud and play it proud.
Best lyric: ‘Dreams walking in broad daylight’. I don’t know why, but it is.
Orange Sky – Alexi Murdoch (2002)
If Murdoch had sat down to write a song that was perfect for soundtracks, then he succeeded. Released as part of his debut, independent release EP ‘Four Songs’ it has appeared in Garden State, Ladder 49, the O.C. Dawson’s Creek, Prison Break, House, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty, not to mention numerous adverts and probably other T.V. shows that people haven’t bothered to include in sites picked up by Google searches.
Gentle, understated, beautiful. The song is deliberately aiming its fingers right at your heartstrings whilst also doing something to uplift you just a little bit. It is one of those songs that is not difficult to write, but that is tricky to execute well and it makes the list simply because it contains roughly 4 minutes of loveliness.
Best lyric: ‘In your love, my salvation lies’.
Have a Lucky Day – Morphine (1993)
Alt-rock, jazz fusion at its best. It has a real Lou Reed ‘Goodnight and Thank You’ vibe but played underwater and backwards. The song appears on the 1993 album ‘Good’ but to experience it’s full power I would recommend listening to the live 1994 broadcast which can be found on ‘B-Sides and Otherwise’. Where the album recording can feel a little too understated, particularly in the vocals, the live performance is hard and loud, like being punched in the ears by Miles Davis on crack.
The ‘have a lucky day’ refrain which starts as the hook that pulls you in gains power when placed in the context of the other lyrics, a man who is losing it all but is convincing himself that he’s still got it and it will all be OK, like a reverse of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘the Raven’.
Best lyric: ‘Now I’m down a little, in fact I’m down a lot, I’m on a roller coaster ride that I can’t stop’.
Autumn Sweater – Yo La Tengo (1997)
From the album ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’, there is a strong heartbeat permeating the track. 90s Indie was all about the floating, almost speaking vocals and the high tone of Kaplan’s voice wonderfully compliments the durgy, murkiness of the music. ‘Autumn Sweater’ is the perfect litmus for the rest of the album, a mongrel mix of indie, electronic and trip-hop, krautrock undertones.
The lyrics are sometimes harrowing, beginning ‘When I heard a knock at the door, I couldn’t catch my breath. Is it too late to call this off?’ The mystery of what it is that that narrator is hiding from or regretting remains unsolved, but there is the slightest hint that this is the end of a relationship or soon after and the fuzzy, surreal moments in which you meet someone for the first time after ‘the end’.
Best lyric: ‘we could slip away, oh wouldn’t that be better?’
Priest – William Crighton (2016)
I. Love. This. Song. Folky, Americana vibes of the kind that make it on to the soundtrack of every edgy crime drama on American television. Gospel-style backing vocals, great lyrics. But most importantly from Crighton himself a haunting and harrowing vocal that places each of your hairs individually on end.
The song follows a fleeing murderer in the planning, execution and escape. The lyrics are defiant and obstinate, there are no regrets in the criminal we follow. Simply a desire that if he is caught he dies where he is, in the place that he loves. The composition of the chorus is a punch in the stomach, Crighton using the full range of his voice to create highs and lows through talk of salvation and holy blood. It’s a cracker.
Best lyric: ‘Let ’em come if they catch up to me, I will die in the place I love’