The Forever Songs Pt.3
Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pts. 1-5 – Pink Floyd (1975)
So, this song is linked to a really specific memory for me, but that memory is going to make me sound like a class A douchebag, so we are going to just try and suck it up for the moment. Let’s just say I was in Medellin (yes, I found myself don’t worry and yes, I have the jumper to prove it). It was the number one city on my list of places to go, so naturally when we arrived it was a huge deal, but we arrived well into the night. I was in the taxi and couldn’t land on anything, so I just put my whole library on shuffle, which I rarely do, and this song popped up. I remember downloading it when I was really young and it was the cornerstone of the songs in your library that you just never really listen to, but I let it play out. It was quite literally the best 13 minutes of my life. I was driving around this incredible exotic city that was towering over me in a mesmerising array of bright lights and bustle, and this song was just absolutely blowing my mind. It’s the only song in my life that I have finished and thought, this could quite literally be the best song ever made. It’s 13 minutes, and no second is wasted with musical indulgence or excess that overstays it’s welcome. The first few minutes are basically a landscape of hushed anticipation. There is nothing in the foreground of the mix, but no part of me wanted to skip or turn it off, because there is an aura of epic-ness that lingers in the silence. Then the guitar breaks the breathy atmosphere, it acts as a scout for the barrage that’s about to come, warming up the listener whilst simultaneously being a warning shot. Around the 4-minute mark the guitar is joined by an army of increasingly loud and rigid drums that eventually explode in perhaps the most cathartic and rewarding musical break of the 1970’s, and the whole song is underway. Its boundlessly rich, perfectly layered prog rock bliss. The lead guitar takes you on a wild run around the instrumental as if it’s finally found it’s home, and then exits as a lone horn begins to weave over the track. When the long awaited vocals finally chime in they calm the track initially, as the lyrics talk of ex bandmate Syd Barret and his wavering sanity, and then the euphoria is thrusted back into the song as the harmonised voices scream “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. Not only are the lyrics excellent, but they are personal and emotionally charged, as the story behind them is truly tragic. Once this has washed over you and you think this opus has no more to give, in the final minute the song grants you one last wish, switching up its tempo in a seamless drum transition. The horns speed and smoothen on their way out creating almost a swing that tips you into the realm of intoxication. I have gone on, but for good reason. This song is spectacular.
The Message – Nas (1996)
The gift and the curse of Nas’ “Illmatic” is actually quite damaging for Nas. Yes 1994’s “Illmatic” is heralded by many as the best hip hop album ever created, and for good reason, BUT that doesn’t justify a disregard for his albums that followed. People say, “he never topped Illmatic”, that’s because you can’t? Your favourite rapper hasn’t “topped Illmatic” so how the hell is he expected to? That’s like expecting Michael Jackson to “top Thriller”. He couldn’t because it’s a cultural juggernaut that took on a whole life of it’s own, as did Illmatic. It transcends being just a great album. This is relevant because “It Was Written”, Nas’ sophomore attempt is an excellent album that get overlooked by some because its “not Illmatic”. But this song is the perfect example of why Nas’ decision to make a departure from Illmatic was so clever. This song is the introduction to one of the most anticipated sophomore albums in hip hop history, and it’s everything it needed to be. The Trackmaster’s production is cleaner which proved controversial with die hards, but you cannot deny the perfection in the “Sting” sample and the tone that sets for the track. The snare hits like a bullet, and Nas comes in sounding more experience, more mature and more comfortable than he did on Illmatic. Illmatic showcases some of the best rapping ever laid down, and part of it’s charm is it’s youthful energy, but “The Message” depicts a Nas whose aware of his greatness and can exercise a shocking degree of effortlessness. His flows, lyricism and beat selection are at an all time high on this track, and it’s a pleasure to listen to.
Why Are There Boundaries – FKJ (2017)
Multi-instrumentalism is one of the coolest and most impressive skills to acquire, and no one executes this with the finesse of French native FKJ. This whole album is an absolute sonic wonderland that flexes amazing instrumentation ranging from horns, to piano to jazz guitar. “Why Are There Boundaries” is the album closer and is probably the only track that follows a relatively linear song structure. The other songs on here feel almost like immaculately produced instrumentals that start and end with very little structure, but that’s where the beauty lies. This song is the most sombre on an album full of tracks built for summer road trips, and its captivatingly gorgeous. A deep, sober and slow drum line kicks in alongside a warm jazz guitar that slides and riffs freely over the top of the track. FKJ utilizes a minimalistic and blunt approach to his lyricism, exploring the concept of boundaries and the lack of explanation that surrounds their purpose. But for me, the production and the guitar work on this track is what makes it a timeless essential, to be able to play so beautifully in tune with the rest of the track, whilst protecting it’s loose and emotional feeling is staggering.
Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan (1965)
Bruce Springsteen described the snare shot at the beginning of this song as something that “sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind”. I can’t really talk on this song as absolutely everyone in music has articulated something more poignant about the significance of this song, and I wasn’t around in the sixties to experience the seismic nature of this record. But, I can tell you that I adore this song, and that snare shot gets me every time, so I can only imagine what it was like to hear this song for the first time in 1965. This song just sounds so rejoiceful and busy, almost as if it knows that there’s before this song, and after this song, and never the two shall meet. This is a song that leaves a mark in time. It’s a cultural force, an electric Bob Dylan taking control over the musical course of the 1960’s and proving to the world that music will always find ways to innovate and evolve. There’s a feeling every single time he shouts “how does it feel” that brings chills to me every time as you just let the track consume you. A classic if ever there was one.
King Of The Rodeo – Kings Of Leon (2004)
Ah, Kings Of Leon. My guilty pleasure. They have fallen massively in the midpoint of their career into the bland, commercial soft rock outfit we know them as today, but please despite the murderous Pitchfork reviews, believe me when I say the first half of their output is great. They started as marketing themselves as the “Southern Strokes” and whilst their music wasn’t ground-breaking, it was brimming with country character and charm. Caleb Followill’s slurred, drunk and inflected delivery alongside the bluesy country rock guitar was an endearing combination that made for two quite eccentric and left of field albums, the antithesis of what they stand for today. “Aha Shake Heartbreak” is the perfect combination of their musical makeup and “King of the Rodeo” is just to me, the best song on the album. Its barn dance urgency gives the song a resounding atmosphere, whilst the tight guitar playing, and the deep clap percussion solidifies the chorus as one of their best. Not too much to say about this song other than, well, I love it.
Time: Donut Of The Heart – J Dilla (2006)
When it comes to musical production, Dilla is the best. I have written my own piece on Dilla and his music so I will attempt to keep this swift. But Dilla’s one of my favourite artists of all time, and it’s for one reason only: feeling. He was a wizard with his MPC, and the crème de la crème of producers out there will be humbled at the mention of his name, they will then proceed to explain why he was a prodigy in every sense of the word. But for me it’s the feeling. His off kilter, funky beats that embraced human error induced an emotion and life into his instrumentals that other artists simply don’t have. In a rare interview, the lowkey and humble Dilla explains that at the end of the day he works to have his listeners feeling exactly how he’s feeling. He speaks through his music, and there is no better example of that then with his magnus opus instrumental album “Donuts”. Without delving too far into the backstory, he made Donuts on his death bed, with a portable record player, an MPC, in a hospital bedroom. And it’s one of the best musical expression I have ever heard. He died three days after it was released, but “Donuts” acting as his way of communicating his feelings with the world, without words, but with rhythms. This song is probably my favourite off “Donuts”, simply because it’s uplifting and tear inducing at the same time. This song feel’s like his send off, and whilst the album closer steals the show for devastation, I think this is the better song as there is an upbeat-ness to it that encapsulates his presence perfectly. He doesn’t overdo the chops, but the song has an emotion to it, a farewell quality, and every time it’s played the listener is reminded that his music is eternal, and it can never die.
Love Yourz – J. Cole (2014)
Despite all the J. Cole debating that battles on through social media as people argue “IS HE OVERRATED OR UNDERRATED”, I love this album. When I was really getting into hip hop this was one of my go-to albums, purely because it’s accessible and there is a degree of substance and introspection to it that I really enjoyed. I have probably played this album more than most on this list, and whilst I am not quite as enamoured with it as I originally was, this song was important to me when I was younger. It’s a classic J. Cole motivational track based around the premise that no life is better than yours, and that constantly reaching for what’s on the other side of the line in a state of envy debilitates your ability to be truly happy. Whilst the message can be interpreted as slightly on the nose, it’s still a beautiful sentiment and the way Cole builds the track to me was truly moving. The production is very Kanye inspired and soulful, with slow dramatic drums that give the graceful string section room to breathe. It’s a simple beat, but it’s one of Cole’s best. The lyricism is short and sweet, consisting of two swift verses packed full of simple but important messages of self-love, and placing value on the things in life that will reward you emotionally. To me, the song just has a great vibe, the production is beautiful, the message is poignant, and the rapping is great which constituted a song that was always a comfort to me when I was younger. The song inspired me to dive deeper into Hip Hop.
Song Cry – Jay Z (2001)
I remember Jay Z was one of the first rappers I ever heard. I used to borrow my sisters iPod nano and wander around the house listening to “Empire State Of Mind” on repeat. So when it was my time, and I got the iPod Touch (aka freedom) (aka the best thing Apple have ever released) I downloaded the entire of “Blueprint 3” and happily lived my life thinking that Jay Z had one album and it was great! (It isn’t). Then a few years later I went back and listened to the original Blueprint and thank god I did, because it gave me a lot of perspective on BP3, and it was also incredible. Today, Jay Z’s decision to give the soulful hip hop route a run still stands as his best. Without that he wouldn’t have stumbled upon a young Kanye West, and we wouldn’t have the soulful anthems that this album blessed us with. However, my favourite by a country mile is “Song Cry”, produced by Just Blaze. This beat is everything. It’s so rich, so soulful and so emotional that even without Jay Z its already one of the best songs on here. The vocal performance in the first few seconds instantly demands attention, getting support from a glamourous backdrop of fluttering pianos and a glistening that sounds like Tinkerbell’s wand. A vulnerable Jay Z comes in with “I can’t see em coming down my eyes, so I gotta make the song cry”, and before you have had long enough to bask in this sea of sound, the beat falls through the floor like a tear drop hitting the ground. It’s a mirage of thumping bass, glitzy pianos, hand claps and soulful vocals that transcends powerful. To top it off the hardened Tony Soprano – like masquerade that Jay Z has adopted for the previous tracks has cracked, and surface is showing. His lyrics confront a relationship that was tarnished by fame and money, and the song seems to be acting as his coping mechanism, a therapy of sorts. From a time where mainstream hip hop was all about street hardened bars, Jay’s emotional lyricism was a moment:
“I can understand why you want a divorce now / Though I can't let you know it, pride won't let me show it / Pretend to be heroic, that's just one to grow with”
Still Beating – Mac DeMarco (2017)
This is just a great song. Simple.
A slight departure from his trademark goofy alternative rock sound, this album had a lot more emphasis on acoustic guitar, and softer production. The whole album is pretty and personal, but this song is just so addictive. It has a really intoxicating rhythm to it, and the acoustic riff is very simple, but just so hypnotic. The song flows so well that you don’t even really hear the layers as your listening. Its sometimes easy to forget about the electric guitar that fills out the verses, or the bass riding along underneath because the subtleties work to give the track a seamless, and relaxed feel. Another element to this song’s allure is Mac DeMarco’s blunt lyricism. He seems to find a common ground between blunt and beautiful, as he never says too much, or embellishes, but the words always come across as wholeheartedly genuine.
Ottolenghi – Loyle Carner (2019)
This song’s does something that I just don’t understand at all. This is one of the newest songs on this list, yet it gives me such strong nostalgia, and a sentimental feeling of home that I don’t get with new songs (obviously). Maybe it’s because I was living at home when it came out, but this song always takes me back to when it was first released, without fail. There is a homely atmosphere to this song, I remember the singles cover had him sat on a train, and Loyle usually uses his music to depict intimate details of his home and his family life giving him a clear factor of relatability. That all may work to give me this sentimentality about coming back home. The song itself is stunning. The song starts with the distant crackles of vinyl static, and then some spacey and warm piano chords begin to ascend out of the static, sounding as though they are being played below the surface of the sea. Loyle comes in with his trademark lowkey delivery, but with an added purpose to his vocals, as he talks of his experiences with other people on this singular train journey. As he does so the beat drops, bringing strings with it to enrichen the track even further, before cascading into the Jordan Rakei hook. As I’m writing this it is becoming perhaps a little clearer as to why the song makes me think of home, Jordan opens the elegant chorus with “Born and raised..” after all. This song is just perfect to me, it’s a flawless piece of quintessentially intimate music, with a blessed chorus, and buttery beat.