On a Monday, when there are still three weeks until the holidays, you need a happy song. Fortunately, The Drifters are here to oblige.
On a Monday, when there are still three weeks until the holidays, you need a happy song. Fortunately, The Drifters are here to oblige.
What do you think is the most famous Christmas song in the world? I don’t know the answer, but if White Christmas isn’t the most famous, it is definitely the Christmas song with the most recorded versions: so many that this year’s musical advent calendar will consist of twenty-four different recordings, and I’ll still have to leave some good ones out. If you think that sounds repetitive, just wait. (Plus, don’t tell me you wouldn’t be happy to listen to White Christmas once a day throughout December even if it was always the same version.)
Of course, Bing had to go first or last, and since there’s no surprise if I leave him for Christmas Eve, we get to enjoy him today. Happy Advent!
“So, are we going to Africa?”
“Nah, we can’t afford that.”
“Oh, OK. How about filming in a studio that’s set up to look like Africa?”
“Nah, we can’t afford that.”
“OK. Well…hey, I’ve got a globe, shall we use that?”
“Good idea. Does anyone know any black people?”
“I know a black maths teacher.”
“Sweet. And I’ve got part of a wooden zebra. Also, I think we should film in a library.”
“Right! And one of us could…maybe…find a book? About…Africa?”
“Dude, you are on fire today. So, I’ll go into a library and find a book about Africa. Twice.”
“Sure. And then let’s all stand on the book, only this time the book should be really big. Like, massive. And then what?”
“I was thinking maybe we could…pile a whole bunch of things on top of each other, then knock them over. You know, because of Africa?”
“Awesome. Let’s film that a few times.”
“Yep, it’s too good to only do once. Hey, Dave, have you finished writing the lyrics yet?”
“Nearly – I got one of those fridge poetry sets and, get this, turned the words upside down and then picked them out at random. I know, pretty cool, right? But I’ve got this line about Kilimanjaro and I want to come up with a really great simile. What’s a good thing to compare a mountain to?”
“Ooh, tough one. I reckon…another mountain?”
“Brilliant. It’s going to make “Serengeti” scan a bit weirdly, but nobody’ll notice.”
“And then at the end, shall we set everything on fire?”
“You’re a genius. This is going to be the best pop video ever.”
So you know when something is super-funny, and you laugh till you cry, and then you go and have another look a day or a week later, and all it does is make you half-smile? And then you try to take yourself by surprise, to sneak up on yourself so that you can recreate your original reaction, but it doesn’t work and you end up feeling a bit dissatisfied?
But! You also know when something makes you laugh the first time you see it, and then you laugh even more each time? Today, we are talking about those things, the ones that are as funny now as they were when they first took you by surprise. Here’s my list, to brighten up my tired and hungover Friday, but I want to know yours too. To make it extra exciting, I am going to count them down in reverse order:
As a bonus, because it doesn’t make me laugh, exactly, but it does make me very happy indeed, I have also just watched the first Where The Hell Is Matt? video, and now I think you should watch it too:
Happy Friday, internet!
I’ve always thought that the Pet Shop Boys’ version of Always On My Mind was better than Elvis’s, which in turn was better than Willie Nelson’s. However, repeated listening of this playlist has recently led me to question this view. Elvis and the PSBs are flashier, but Willie’s the only one who sounds like he means it. If you wanted a version to make you cry, and why wouldn’t you, it would definitely be his:
So then I decided maybe it went Willie>PSBs>Elvis, but – but! – Elvis’s has just the best drumming ever, throughout and especially at 2:43:
But, obviously, the Pet Shop Boys can’t be last, because their version is one of the best songs in the whole world ever. I can’t hear that first zing of the Electrobang (or Orchestra Hit, as I’m told it’s really called) without wanting to get up and dance, much like these people are:
So I don’t know any more. Maybe, and this goes very much against my grain, I like them all the same amount. But if you have a favourite please let me know.
Earlier in the summer, I confidently declared on Twitter that I was going to support teams from all four English leagues and all four Scottish leagues this season. After a certain amount of back-and-forth with interested parties (“If your SPL team’s not Hibs we can’t be friends any more”), I came up with two lists, which looked like this:
HOWEVER. A few weeks into the season, I find that I do not have the capacity to genuinely support eight sides at once. The commitment involved in following eight lots of Twitter accounts and eight sets of results is more than I care to give while I still have to find time to do things like eat and go to work. So I am revising my plans accordingly. I will support ONE English team and ONE Scottish team with all my heart and soul, and the rest of them will go on a list of “teams I look out for when I remember”. The English team is obvious and uncontroversial, but I may lose a friend with my choice of Scottish team, because I had a meeting in Glasgow last week, and the jolly, rogueish group of men I was with asked me whether I was Celtic or Rangers, and I knew at once that the correct answer was “Partick Thistle”, and as it turned out I was right and the rest of the meeting went swimmingly. So my Scottish team is Partick Thistle, with apologies to all my Edinburgh friends.
The rest of the sides listed above are hereby demoted to casual lovers, there when I need them but not a permanent fixture, with the exception of Hibs from whom I’m afraid I have to withdraw all support now that I’m a Thistle fan. Sorry.
I am alive and bursting with things to write about just as soon as I get the time, but while you’re waiting here is a piece in Mostly Film where a bunch of people including me write about their favourite holiday films. Actually, I’m not certain that the one I chose is my favourite holiday film, but I had more to say about it than I did about my secret real favourite, which is Cocktail. And if you need more cheering up on this greyish Monday morning, here are the Beach Boys in all their eighties glory:
Radio is just about the best thing in the world. It’s free, it’s made brilliantly well on the cheap by people who love it, it’s the original social medium (we were doing phone-ins, requests and community events before the web existed), you can do it while cooking or running or commuting, and – even though some stations and presenters boast listeners in their millions – it’s still the most intimate and immediate medium of all.
With the advent of on-demand listening and the explosion in ways to get hold of audio content radio has more competition than ever, but it’s still doing what it does better than anyone else does it, and it is still uniquely placed to deliver an experience that your Spotifys and Last.fms can’t get anywhere near – a personally-curated listening experience hosted by a trusted, human, person; the opportunity to be introduced to music you might never have heard about otherwise, to become an active part of a community both virtual and real, to have a friendly voice accompanying you as you drive through the night or fight insomnia. Radio is just about the best thing in the world.
So in case you are not a radio listener, or in case you are one of those radio listeners who sticks devotedly to the same station at all times, I have put together a listening guide for a day’s worth of radio featuring some of my favourite programmes, as well as some ways to get more from radio than you do today. Even if you just try one of these shows, I think you’ll be glad you did.
I have listened to just about every London-based FM station first thing in the morning over the years; starting in the eighties with Capital, then moving on to KISS, XFM, Magic and Virgin Radio (now Absolute) before eventually settling down to Radio 4′s Today programme, which I endured for several years before deciding I didn’t need to be made that angry that early in the day. So these days, to keep my blood pressure down, I start the day with Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show (6.30-9.30am), which has enough news and sport to keep me interested, but is also funny and chatty and has songs. It’s the biggest breakfast show in the country, and in this case nine million people aren’t wrong.
This is the one I’m most excited about sharing with you, because unless you are a cab driver you may never have spent much time listening to LBC, but James O’Brien (10am-1pm) is just simply the best broadcaster I have ever heard – thoughtful, interested, not afraid of silence or of awkward moments. He starts each show with a fifteen-minute monologue on the subject of the day, and listening to him talk on, seemingly unscripted, never gets old (he would, I am sure, do very well on Just A Minute). Then he goes on to host the only phone-in show I know in which people’s opinions are genuinely changed as the conversation develops. He is the very opposite of a shock jock, and he should be on twenty-four hours a day.
I know we haven’t had much music yet but bear with me, because for your grown-up Radio 4 shot of news World At One (1-1.45pm) is a far better and less hysterical bet than the Today programme.
Absolute, Virgin as was, competes with Magic as the station whose musical tastes most closely match my own, but Absolute is (it pains me to say) a little bit cooler, and Andy Bush (1pm-5pm) is a good and funny presenter. They promise no song repeats between 10am and 5pm, so you can while away the afternoon knowing you won’t be subjected to the same Taylor Swift song once an hour.
…but if Magic is more your bag, then the time to listen is 5pm to 8pm when Angie Greaves, one of the UKs only standalone woman presenters (we are mostly on the radio as sidekicks, sadly), presents a mixture of music and features through which her warm personality shimmers at all times.
We haven’t had any classical music yet, and if you’d like to add some to the mix then switch over to Radio 3 in the evenings for Live In Concert (times vary), which this week features live performances of works by Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Britten, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak, among others.
I’m going to offer you a choice here, depending on your mood. On XFM John Kennedy’s Exposure (10am-1pm) is the station’s showcase for new music and the closest it gets to the XFM of old. Over on Planet Rock, though, the mighty Alice Cooper hosts three hours of rock classics interspersed with interviews and anecdotes. I’m not always a fan of celebrity radio presenters, but Alice is an inspired choice.
Should you be awake between 1am and breakfast time, the World Service is the place to be. The calm, unfrantic style of presentation – which I assume arises from the fact that many listeners don’t have English as a first language – is very soothing, and the station’s remit allows it to cover stories which you simply wouldn’t get anywhere else.
These are the shows which don’t fit into my prescribed day of radio listening, but which you should listen to anyway.
KISSTORY (11am-12pm) is KISS’s old-school hour. There’s nothing like hearing the dancefloor classics of your youth to liven up a dull morning.
The Archers (R4, 1pm and 7pm). You may be able to get into it: I still haven’t managed it, but I continue to try, because the people I know who love it love it SO MUCH. I have learned the names of at least four characters, so perhaps I’m getting there.
Radio 4′s comedy slot at 6.30pm is very much a mixed bag, but if you haven’t ever listened to Just A Minute or I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue then you must certainly remedy that very quickly.
Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review on 5Live (times vary) is a once-a week affair, and I’m never sure when it’s on, but that’s OK because instead of listening live I download the podcast, which has extra bits, and listen to it later in the week.
And, brilliantly, now more than ever you can listen at a different time from when something is broadcast, so you never need miss anything, and you can download podcasts and listen to them offline, and you can listen online or via mobile apps so that you no longer need to be in Glasgow to listen to Clyde 1 or in Manchester to listen to Key 103, or even in the US to listen to NPR: my favourite podcast, other than Kermode and Mayo, is Click and Clack’s Car Talk, which – being a US phone-in show about cars – doesn’t on paper sound like something I should enjoy, but actually I really, really do.
You can also listen online via aggregator services like TuneIn – which is a bit of a confusing mess, but gives you access to thousands of radio stations from all over the world – and UK Radioplayer – which works beautifully and gives you access to all UK radio stations from one place, so it’s the perfect starting point for your day of radio discovery. Now, get listening.
On the desk in front of me is a bottle of pills, labelled “digestive enzyme complex”. They are the only visible reminder of one of my less impressive moments: the time I went to a homeopath as a last, desperate resort when I was suffering from terrible heartburn that the usual meds didn’t seem to touch. He charged me £80 for the appointment, during which he wired me up to a machine which he said would pinpoint the cause of the problem, and I seem to recall having to pay another £15 for the tablets – tablets which, I discovered days afterwards, cost £6 at the health food shop on Farringdon Road. (The cause of the problem was apparently mobile phones, incidentally. I expect it usually is.)
Of course, none of it made any difference, and eventually the original prescription of Omeprazole did the trick. But looking at that bottle of pills just now, I started to think “what’s the most money I’ve ever wasted on something I didn’t need, want or use?” That trip to the homeopath is up there, but other candidates include:
Together they represent about a thousand pounds’ worth of waste. That’s terrible! Except that there is a converse phenomenon, which is things which I have bought that have turned out to be worth way more than I spent on them. Things like:
So overall, I think I’m in credit. Which means it’s time to buy some new shoes from Vivienne Westwood! Right?
*I know that makes me sound like a retired member of the clergy. It’s not that I NEVER have more fun at the weekend than when I do the crossword, it’s just that the rest of the weekend is variable, whereas the crossword is guaranteed.
I always have a couple of books on the go – one on the Kindle; one flesh-and-blood, in case I need to read in the bath. Usually they’re two completely different sorts of book: I will often read trashy, disposable stuff on the Kindle so as not to (a) waste shelf space and (b) have anyone know that I’m reading it. But just now my Kindle book is Within A Budding Grove and my real-life book is 1982, Janine and I am switching between the two more or less indiscriminately, and it occurs to me that they are weirdly similar.
I mean, sure, one is a French, hundred-year-old exploration of young love, loss and grief and one is a Scottish, thirty-year-old sexual fantasy, but both take place in the minds of lonely old men lying feverishly in bed, and both are characterised by an obsessive, fetishistic obsession with detail for its own sake. One is about memory and one about invention, but both have the feeling of a dream, because none of what is described is happening at first-hand.
Nicholson Baker and Primo Levi, two of my favourite writers in the world, both write in compulsive, time-slowing detail, so I should be congratulating myself on a happy pair of choices, only I have just discovered from reading that Wikipedia page that À la recherche du temps perdu IS UNFINISHED, which is something I feel like I should have known about before I committed to its 4,215 pages. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the ride.