Halfway point: Top 10 albums of 2019 so far (#1 – #5)

 

 

 

 

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Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood 

Natalie Mering (who goes by the name Weyes Blood) describes her new album in the press notes as Enya meets Bob Seger. The first 5-6 tracks of her ten song album are especially beautiful, creating an ethereal atmosphere that exudes a calm yet introspective mood, with lyrics that feel both personal and universal. Besides the great songwriting, what stands out the most is the lovely vocal performance, she reminds me of Aimee Mann and I mean that as a compliment. On the song Andromeda she sounds like Karen Carpenter. The weakest moments are Picture Me Better and the second half of Mirror Forever where the songwriting became a bit bland, and the closing instrumental felt slightly undercooked with its sudden fade out ending, but minor complaints on what is easily my favorite album of 2019 so far. I could imagine Titanic Rising becoming a classic that is listened to 50 years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen
Dance-Pop, Synthpop. Catchy choruses, especially on tracks such as Now That I Found You, Julien, and The Sound. Happy Not Knowing could be a leftover from the E·MO·TION sessions.
A relaxing, modern pop release for carefree days. I could imagine would be fun to listen to over the summer months. My favorite lyrics are on Too Much, possibly a warning against excess and an autobiographical revelation. Dedicated is probably her most consistent effort from start to finish, in comparison to the filler on her previous, somewhat patchy albums.
The tribal chant on For Sure deserved to be on the tracklist. Same applies for self-love anthem Party for One, which oddly is merely a bonus track.
I sense Jepsen is still chasing the mega chorus of Call Me Maybe and the singer may never top it in terms of impact. But she proved her doubters wrong by making a strong album.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery by The Comet Is Coming
I rarely listen to jazz, and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this instrumental album. There’s a nice variation, and takes you on a cosmic journey as if you are drifting through space, veering from outlandish(Because the End Is Really the Beginning), sinister(Birth of Creation), euphoric(Summon the Fire), menacing(Blood of the Past), hurried(Super Zodiac), hypnotic(Unity), to peaceful(The Universe Wakes Up). Yet on another day my experiences might be totally different as you can’t pinpoint the mood. The LP concludes with an uninhibited saxophone solo, Shabaka Hutchings’ sax parts throughout are stunning.
Spoken word artist Kate Tempest turns up in a surprising guest appearance, talking about distrust in politicians and enslavement in current societal tenancies.
If I had to point to a weakness, it’s the placement of Summon the Fire and Blood of the Past right after each other, these two tracks are pretty similar instrumentally, so putting them farther apart might have been a better choice. The reason I’m not giving a higher score is due to a few slightly bland moments on the second half.
The musicians ought to be hired to do a sci-fi soundtrack such as Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the End by The Cranberries 

I’m by no means a Cranberries expert, this is allegedly their final album and very sad such an iconic, beautiful voice has left us. You could say the circumstances that these are some of her last recordings gave the music an extra dimension. I genuinely teared up on a few occasions which is rare for me. Lead single All Over Now is the catchiest albeit the song is a bit disposable. The best section of the album could be tracks 3-5. Wake Me When It’s Over is a reminder of what O’Riordan is capable of vocally. I like the tranquil A Place I Know with its Cure-esque guitar. The touching Catch Me If You Can describes suffering and the need for escape, the song made even more heartbreaking in the context of how the singer died. The haunting ballad In The End is very affecting and the “whoa-oh-oh-oh” backing vocal elevated the song considerably. A mixed bag and there is some filler yet the album managed to do its job by hitting me emotionally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ladytron by Ladytron
Synth-pop/indie rock. The first half dozen tracks are gold while the record stumbles on the inferior second half. But good to have them back! Nice chill out music to put on in the background. Helen Marnie’s vocal is magical.

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

 

Halfway Point: Top 10 albums of 2019 so far (#6 – #10)

 

 

 

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The Book of Traps and Lessons by Kate Tempest
Widely regarded as the UK’s leading spoken word poet, Kate Tempest returns with a new solo album. The collection is a mix of personal and political.
Thirsty & Keep Moving Don’t Move are about a lesbian encounter, Kate’s sensory overload, and overpopulation. Brown Eyed Man details the psychological repercussions of racism. On Three Sided Coin she talks about British imperialism, climate change and demon leaders.
I Trap You reveals Kate’s desire to be both free and in a relationship at the same time, and on All Humans Too Late she calls out internet trolls.
Album highlight Hold Your Own is probably the most inspiring and immediately relatable, with its focus on what is important in life, and the emptiness of consumerism and masquerade. Firesmoke is an ode to a female partner with arguably the album’s most seductive beat. Holy Elixir, another highlight, has a sinister, psychedelic mood, part historical throwback and part conversation with a fortune teller lady of sorts (or is it an imaginary voice in Kate’s head?) who claims protesting is useless because nobody listens. Closer People’s Faces features a discreet piano, hinting at the Brexit farce in the UK, a plea for change, and, similar to the theme of Hold Your Own, encouraging salvation through nature and authentic human connections.
The lyrics are persuasive, and more confessional than previously, but isn’t a big step forward as the political messages seem to be variations of things we have heard her say before. Despite having Rick Rubin on board as producer, a lesser album compared to the ambitious storytelling and haunting beats on her 2014 and 2016 records. But a lesser Kate Tempest album is still better than most releases in 2019. As another RYM reviewer alluded to, there are killer lines on the opening half dozen tracks, such as the chilling “seven billion humans” section. I read somewhere she scaled back the production so her words are at the forefront and easier to hear. She slowed down her delivery as well which I welcome. The second half of the album is stronger and more accessible. Hold Your Own, Holy Elixir, Firesmoke & People’s Faces sound like proper songs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Western Stars by Bruce Springsteen

A cinematic, nostalgic album about the American West. Some very good tracks (The Wayfarer, Western Stars, Hello Sunshine, Moonlight Motel) while other moments feel musically one-dimensional (Tucson Train) or cloying (Sundown, There Goes My Miracle). The album has a sense of play-acting, by design no doubt, with Springsteen disguised as characters. The real man is hidden but of course if you want to know about him the autobiography is not far away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Secret of Letting Go by Lamb
I love Lamb and nice to have new music from them. The first half (tracks 1-5) of the 2019 album is not their best work, hurt by so-so lyrics, and a tinny production on Bulletproof and the title track. The single Armageddon Awaits is decent but the shift from quiet to loud is a bit jarring. However these initial tracks grew on me with further listens.
The atmospheric second half (tracks 6-11) I found more replayable, and reminiscent of the group’s earlier sound. I like the vocal performance on Imperial Measures while album highlight Deep Delirium impresses, a dazzling instrumental. One Hand Clapping is an assured closer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Office Politics by The Divine Comedy

This review is of the 16 track standard edition. A deluxe version exists with 31 tracks. The album’s concept is similar to the satirical Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times (1936), but obviously set in different eras. Witty songwriting with darker undertones, critical of contemporary life.
Lead single Queuejumper has a spring in its step with lyrics about getting ahead even when jumping the queue is morally wrong.
The title track describes our politically correct times, if you step out of line you get fired. Harder to hide inappropriate behavior with social media. I was wondering while listening if Hannon has actually worked in an office environment or merely researched how things are.
Second single Norman and Norma suggests wife Norma was unfairly fired after maternity leave. Absolutely Obsolete is about a relationship where the husband feels replaced by his wife’s pornography app but in broader terms is about technology making workers obsolete.
Infernal Machines goes for a dystopian mood and wouldn’t have been out of place on a John Grant solo album.
You’ll Never Work in This Town Again is about machines taking the jobs of people, and algorithms (Netflix, YouTube) advising us what to do next, stripping us of imagination.
Psychological Evaluation finds the singer questioned by a computer about his well being and hints at a sadness that a machine (probably due to budget cuts in a firm) is taking the place of a real conversation.
The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale is a self-indulgent track about buying synthesizers.
The ballad A Feather in Your Cap has a nice synth outro, describing disappointment over a short fling with hope of more.
I’m a Stranger Here could be about a character mixing with younger crowds and feeling out of place.
A theme seems to be nostalgia for how things once were, most evident in Dark Days Are Here Again.
Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company arguably is a jingle and becomes tiresome.
Opportunity Knox speaks for itself while After the Lord Mayor’s Show contemplates how fun is followed by work.
The closer When the Working Day Is Done (a homage to Nick Drake’s Day is Done ?) is one of my personal favorites from the record with a beautiful orchestral outro, exploring the routine of going home after work and the hollowness of an unfulfilling job.

To sum up, I don’t know if I’d play the album often, sixteen tracks is a bit of a mouthful. Many songs are good but not great. Does have relatable lyrics and those who have worked in an office might connect the most. I wouldn’t call it laugh out loud funny but at times mildly amusing. Thematically Neil Hannon is not reinventing the wheel, but with his own spin on technology and the work space. A good album although I’m (on first listen) not feeling drawn to it emotionally. Perhaps that will happen on further plays. Based on the artwork, I was hoping for some fun office anecdotes and banter between co-workers, and there really isn’t any, which is a pity. The emphasis appears to be on “politics” over “office”. Probably needed to be more personalized for me to fall in love with it. The stories, aside from Norman and Norma, feel generalized rather than unique.
Then again, maybe I missed the point, as an article described the LP as “a (sort of) concept album with an overarching theme about the depersonalised nature of work and modern life”.
According to a recent interview: “Part of the reason for making this a double album is to keep some of the weirdness”, Hannon says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Line by Jenny Lewis
The opening five tracks have distinctive melodies, good songwriting and fine vocal performances by Jenny Lewis. I like the rock sound, thumping drums, piano, and closing guitar solo on Red Bull & Hennessy. The lyrics suggest freedom and the open road. Another stand out is Heads Gonna Roll which goes in a country/Americana direction. The Beck collaboration Do Si Do is beautiful too.
The quality dips significantly in the second half with some weak lyrics and skippable songs.
Singer-songwriter Lewis has spared no expense and is supported on the album by Beck, Ringo Starr, Don Was (bass player of the 1980s funk-rock band Was Not Was), Benmont Tench (keyboardist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), respected session drummer Jim Keltner, and under-fire singer-songwriter Ryan Adams.

 

 

 

 

What do you think of these picks? What are your favorites of 2019? As always, comments are welcome. Next week, I’ll post my top 5 albums of the year so far.

 

10 ways to improve Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition

 

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The Stanley Kubrick exhibition (which travels around the world to different cities) does a lot right and the attendance in London at the Design Museum was high even on a non-holiday week day when I visited. So they probably figure they don’t need to do much except display the exhibits with info signs and film fans will come in droves. But for a filmmaker who was known for his creativity and groundbreaking techniques, I couldn’t help noticing how uncreative and conventional the exhibition was in Kensington. It seemed like the souvenir shop had more imagination than the museum itself! Perhaps there are reasons for the lack of interactive elements, in not wanting to diminish the importance of Kubrick’s legacy with child-like, entertaining “fun stuff”, budget concerns, and so on. Sure, the films aren’t for children, yet does it all have to be super serious? What I remember fondly from museums I’ve been to are when I get to be a participator. There are a few buttons you can press to listen to audio and visuals, so it’s not completely uninteractive. I have a degree from the Royal School of Library and Information Science and have studied how to engage visitors and create eye-catching spaces in libraries. Below are ten suggestions for making the Stanley Kubrick exhibition more participatory:

 

 

 

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1.)
Allow the visitors to dress up in a replica ape suit from 2001: A Space Odyssey or as Alex from Clockwork Orange (including a fake eye lash) with a photo opportunity. You could have outfits from various movies available to try on.

 

 

 

 


2.)
Create a voice manipulator microphone that allows you to speak so your words sound like a Hal 9000. Or make a Hal 9000 replica where you can push buttons and he speaks lines from the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3.)
A broken door that visitors can put their head through and take a picture or smart phone video in the style of the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene in The Shining

 

 

 

 

 

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4.)
Do Kubrick arcade games exist? If so, put them in the museum so everyone can try them. Or create a virtual reality simulator where you walk around the overlook maze or drive on the carpet in the overlook hotel as Danny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5.)
Recreate the typewriter scene from The Shining by letting visitors type out the quote “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Or think up an alternative quote of your own. Or if you are into drawing, fill out the colors on The Shining carpet with crayons and paper or use your imagination to create a new color pattern or carpet design. Hang the best new designs up on the museum wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


6.)
Make a video montage of films and art that were inspired by Kubrick’s work to show what impact he has had on the new generation. Buttons to press to hear audio of Kubrick’s favorite music and see clips of his favorite films.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7.)
Have a glass of milk at the Clockwork Orange milk bar

 

 

 

 

 

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8.)
Opportunity to write down what you think happens after the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This book of interpretations could be viewed by future museum visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9.)
Make the exhibition more personal and reveal things about Kubrick the man. Include clips of his wife, collaborators, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10.)
Recreate the war room from Dr. Strangelove with chairs you can sit in. Or a space where you can “ride” the atomic bomb with the scene from the movie on a continuous loop in the background. Let visitors replace Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb with new, absurd film titles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Films of the month: May + UK holiday

 

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My trip to the UK went well, though the journey out was unintentionally stressful as power in my house decided to malfunction, a thunder storm switched off the electricity, so I had to rush to the airport once I had cleaned up the water from the freezer and figured out the issue.

Very lucky with the weather as was dry and 20 degrees for all four days in England. The UK is known for rainy weather and there wasn’t any! On our first day we saw the historical Roman Villa in Bignor, West Sussex. Very quiet place in the middle of nowhere. The main attraction was a well-preserved mosaic floor. You can see the long hall in the image below. A small part of the flooring looked as if it had reacted badly to the air and humidity. The woman in the ticket office said they were aware of this and were protecting the rest with some kind of special detergent. The four heads (below) represent the four seasons, around a head of Medusa. The third image depicts winter. The area offered good conditions for agriculture for the Romans.

 

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After lunch, drove to the south coast to Bognor Regis. We played crazy golf near the Pier and walked by the sea. At the end of the Pier there were a bunch of love locks/padlocks attached, a sweet tradition. Bognor is a seaside town that has stayed almost the same for decades and frozen in time. Near the mini-golf course, there was a fortune teller in a small hut, I felt sorry for her as nobody looked interested in her business.

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Next day, I had planned a trip to London. Decided to go at non-peak times (arriving 11am and leaving after 7.30pm) to save on the price of the train ticket. My companion and I decided on a day travel card which besides the train allows unlimited use of the underground and buses in the city.

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We had booked a guided tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. There wasn’t a whole lot to “tour” but the guide was friendly, well-informed, and had a sense of humor. The most surprising was her informal clothes as she looked like a punk in her spare time. We concluded the Globe visit by sitting in on a rehearsal of The Merry Wives of Windsor with the actors pulling a heavy basket down some steps. Good acting as the basket was likely empty.

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Heading over the Millennium Bridge, took the tube from St Paul’s Underground to Notting Hill Gate. From there, a short tube ride to Kensington where I had booked tickets for the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum. Unexpectedly, the layout was thematic and non-chronological. You view the exhibits and there are audio and video clips. Not the most inventive or interactive exhibition. I expected a bit more considering the 5 star reviews, but I did get to see my first Oscar statuette in person which was cool. The only Academy Award Kubrick won was for special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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concept drawings for A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
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masks from Eyes Wide Shut
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costumes from Barry Lyndon
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Hal 9000 computer

 

 

Other exhibits included the maze, typewriter and Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s The Shining with notes. The milk bar and orange vehicle from Clockwork Orange, futuristic chairs, an ape suit, and Kubrick’s letter to Arthur C. Clarke where he airs his enthusiasm for collaborating on an upcoming 1968 space movie.

Interestingly, also included was material about Kubrick’s unfinished films (Napoleon, Aryan Papers). In the upstairs area of the museum there were photos from Kubrick’s pre-movie days when he was a street photographer. The gift shop in the Design Museum was every Kubrick fan’s wet dream! I bought a pin with a Hal9000 quote for £1.

I didn’t learn a ton but fun to see these movie props up close. The concept art was the most fascinating to me. What I took away from the exhibition is how Kubrick managed to collaborate with some very talented people such as Ken Adam. His war room design is an amazing set which is displayed in miniature (see below) while the likes of Roy Carnon, Harry Lange, and Richard McKenna were responsible for concept drawings on 2001: A Space Odyssey, the circular space ship, ape landscape (see both below) . These talented men don’t always get the credit they deserve so was nice they got to have their concepts displayed with their names attached. Sure, Kubrick is the director, but he needed a team.

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By the time we finished our legs were pretty tired from standing, so went to a restaurant nearby on Kensington High St called Nandos (a South African chain). Known for their chicken, I bought a veggie burger. I like their special chilli sauce which you could add yourself from a bottle.
A number of London bookshops stay open until 9 or 10 in the evening so that gave us time to visit Foyles though I thought the Book & Comic Exchange in Notting Hill had more charm with second hand items and dust balls on the floor. Foyles is great for selection and was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookshop. There wasn’t time to visit Fopp but hopefully next time. On this holiday, I only had a day in London. Below are the books/dvds/magazines I bought. Apropos the blog banner image, I was tempted to go for an Abbey Road Beatles T-shirt in a shop window.

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The following day, a trip to Battle (yes a town called Battle), near Hastings. Allegedly the site of the famous battle of Hastings in 1066. The museum is pretty small but you can see the Abby ruins which William the Conqueror constructed. Apparently William also was responsible for having the Tower of London built, and these structures helped cement his legacy. The battle field in Battle (there is dispute as to where it actually is) sometimes features mock reenactments.

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The battle field by the Abby ruins

Also visited Box Hill (named after the boxwood plant) and Denbies Wine Estate. They use heaters in the winter to keep the vineyard from becoming too cold. Bought a bottle of Zigzag red wine costing £11. Wasn’t super impressed by the taste and maybe I’m hard to please. You probably need to spend double or triple for quality wine. The zig zag name is (as said on the bottle) derived from the winding road at nearby Box Hill, used by cyclists during the 2012 Olympics. I became slightly car sick driving up! Took time to see the graveyard where my grandparents are buried, and drove to Beachy Head and saw the impressive view of the sea. I did take pictures of people as well, I just prefer to keep those private and not have them turn up in google searches.

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Films:

 

 

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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Rewatch. Based on the Italian director’s own life, a love letter to the old movie houses, and the joy of watching cinema with an audience, before the era of TV. A touching story with an ending that can bring a tear to your eye. The parts set during childhood are very charming, especially the unforgettable warm friendship between the boy and his substitute father. The shorter version makes a bigger impact emotionally. It’s sentimental but not in an off-putting way.
9/10

 

 

 

 

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Django (1966) (Sergio Corbucci)

Rewatch. Sergio Corbucci’s westerns inspired Tarantino. The death count is pretty high and the violence extreme, but you keep watching, to find out what will happen next. The suspenseful story contains striking visuals, an enigmatic lead character, and the main theme is fantastic. There’s a sense of danger in that anyone could die at any moment. Everything is so on point that I barely noticed the iffy dubbing.
9/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Me and My Kid Brother (aka Mig og Min Lillebror) (1967)

Goofy yet sweet. Lovable characters with Dirch Passer perfectly cast as the clumsy younger brother. I wouldn’t be surprised if the role was written specifically with him in mind. The parts filmed in Copenhagen were the funniest where the duo are out of their depth, stumbling around. The sort of Danish comedy that doesn’t get made anymore. There’s also a sadness, intended or not, about the ending on the fictional island of Bomø. Two sequels exist, continuing the adventures of the brothers.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

older songs discoveries: May

 

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The Eve of the War by Jeff Wayne (1978)
(Wayne’s science fiction concept album is a retelling of the story of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. This track mixes a variety of genres including spoken word, orchestral and disco.  In 2018, was named the 32nd best-selling studio album of all-time in the UK)

 

 

 

Straight Up by Paula Abdul (1988)
She rose to fame as a choreographer and the music video showcases her dance moves. A catchy pop tune that was featured in her greatest hits medley at the recent 2019 Billboard Music Awards)

 

 

 

No Way by Freak Power (1999)
(A lesser known single from Norman Cook/Fat Boy Slim. Thanks Rol)

 

 

 

Magnu by Hawkwind (1975)
(Mentioned by Joolz in his walking tour of Notting Hill )

 

 

 

Stand! by Sly & The Family Stone (1969)
(The lyrics are a call for its listeners to “stand” up for themselves, their communities, and what they believe in)

 

 

 

Patches by Clarence Carter (1970)
(A great song about overcoming the death of a close one)

 

 

 

Is She Really Going Out with Him by Joe Jackson (1979)
(His best known hit. Reminiscent of Elvis Costello)

 

 

 

Back Stabbers by The O’Jays (1972) 

 

 

 

When Will I See You Again by The Three Degrees (1973)

 

 

 

Never Can Say Goodbye by Jackson 5 (1971)

 

 

Word to the Badd!! by Jermaine Jackson (1991)

 

 
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy (classical) (1894)
(Technically not a song but a a symphonic poem for orchestra.  I’m including anyway because so beautiful)

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome