Thursday, 17 December 2009

Fuck You I Won't Buy What You Tell Me

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Right. It's clearly the biggest music story right now, so let's all come together to answer that burning question: "Ought we buy Killing in the Name (again) in order to keep some baby-faced chap with a nice voice off the Christmas number one spot?" It's not easy to answer, there are convincing arguments both ways, which I'm going to try and tackle sensibly and then let you draw your own conclusions because, after all, fuck me you won't do what I tell ya. The main argument from the doubters seems to take one of two forms: either that Cowell owns shares in Sony BMG, which in turn owns Rage's back catalogue or that Killing in the Name is a song written in protest at the Los Angeles Police Department's treatment of black citizens in Los Angeles. The problem with this argument is this, as I see it: the choice of the song is pretty much immaterial (or at least arbitrary) in this equation. It could just as easily be Fly Me to the Moon, the point is more about what it's not. It's not X Factor. And for people who are concerned about Cowell making money out of the counter-campaign I have some news; you may need to sit down. Nasty people own shares in every large record company you can name. Someone with no discernable talent always makes money out of the music industry. Look at Pete Doherty...
I'm sorry, I digress. Rage are a band that have a long history of flying in the face of the established order, and this is presumably why the campaigners chose this song. Then there's the false nostalgia idea: Christmas number ones were rubbish, even before X Factor came along. Highlights of recent years might include Mr Blobby, Bob the Builder, any number of Stock-Aitkin-Waterman schmultz ballads… Going a little further back, there's Rolf Harris's 'Two Little Boys', the last number one of the sixties (that'll come up in a pub quiz some day, and when it does you owe me a pint). Again though, the date is largely arbitrary. It could be mid-June and there would still be a campaign. It just so happens that this could be a double whammy: beating X Factor and getting a decent song to number one at Christmas. Incidentally, I've never heard this year's X Factor single. I've also never been to the Arctic, but I know it's cold. See where I'm going with this?

Then there's the history angle: this is of course not by any means the first time a band or movement has sought to subvert the pop charts to prove a point. God Save the Queen should by all rights have made the top spot in 1977, to clash with the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. In a step unprecedented either before or since the chart compilers took the decision to discount sales from independent record stores. Even with the majority of its audience so brutally ostracised, the record still made number two on the official charts: "pipped" by Rod Stewart. Oh the irony. More recently there's the Manics, who went in with an audacious punt to be the first band in chart history to go straight in at number one and then go straight back out of the top forty the next week. The record (Masses Against the Classes) went straight in at number one but sadly only managed to "un-peak" at number 39. And this is all before we get to last year's Clash of the Cohen Covers. But when it comes right down to it, the charts are about democracy. Josef Heller is quoted as saying that in a democracy we get the government we deserve. The charts are a good illustration of democracy amongst music buyers. The difference here is that you have to put your hand in your pocket to vote. But there is the opportunity here to make some kind of statement, to score a victory for music over manufactured pap. Substance over style. Product over promotion. And now that all of Rage's cut from the sales is being donated to charity, there's very little reason not to stump up your hard-earned reddies in the name of all that is proper about music. If you really feel strongly about the X Factor and Cowell's supposed strangle-hold on music, buy the song whether you like it, whether you own it already, because we get the music we deserve as well. I'm off to spend 79p on a song I already own. Viva la revolution!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Album of the Decade - Neon Bible

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It took a predictably long time to come to a decision about the best album of the decade, but in the end it turned out to be easy. Having (even more predictably) made a list of all the albums in my collection released these ten years past and then ruthlessly whittled them down to 25, I began an almost-obsessive programme of listening and re-listening. It soon became clear that the idea of Neon Bible as album of the decade would brook no argument in my brain, and I am as powerless to resist its bombast now as I was when I first heard it.

Neon Bible is an album made in the last years of Bush Jr's ill-fated second term. Shortly after political commentators had dusted down the phrase "lame duck president" and as the race for the democratic and republican candidates moved into full swing, Arcade Fire quietly released their second masterpiece with some creative viral marketing, which all served to add little-needed mystique to an album that had already begun to raise eyebrows.

After the phenomenal success of Funeral, and the hellish touring schedule that followed, Arcade Fire did what any band in their position would do: took a few weeks off, wrote some new material and bought a church. In a move that sounded dangerously concept-albumy, the band purchsed the building with the idea that it would be converted into a studio in which they would record their second record. But time, tide and musical genius wait for no man and the songs for the new record were becoming more real every day, and so the refurbishment work became a part of the recording process, with instruments and equipment fitting in around the scaffolding. By the end of the recording sessions, the work on the building was completed in a fantastic symbiosis that had led to a sound you simply couldn't get any other way. Never knowingly overworked, the band members also allegedly made a deal to learn a new instrument each and to play it on the record. If all musicians were this committed there would be no cracks for Simon Cowell to exploit.

As an ardent atheist, it is no exageration to say that my first encounter with Arcade Fire (their headline set at Latitude 2007) was the closest I will ever come to a religious experience. The thing about a band with 17 members on stage, all of whom play about twenty instruments each, is that at any one time you can have a band, a choir, a circus, an orchestra or any and all of the above. The enormity of the sound is something that there is no way of describing to those who've not experienced it. Percussion instrumets are treated with the scant respect that makes them sound best, string sections appear from nowehere and voices scream in a seemingly never-ending spiral of music. The crowd stand with arms aloft in the manner of the world's muddiest baptist congregation. It really is the most all-
encompassing musical experience I have ever had.

Returning to the album itself, the theme of religion is something that typifies many of the songs crammed into this long-player. Win Butler studied "scriptual interpretation" as a young man and his theories about the place of the church in modern sociey and attitude are strong throughout. Consider as an example the track Intervention, surely the most acerbic commentry on religion's potential to cause conflict since Bob Dylan's With God on Our Side. Elsewhere, the unease of a nation in moral conflict comes across on tracks like Windowsill and Black Mirror, the former in particular describing the disaffection of the younger generation with the policies of their government. Antichrist Television Blues, which is of course most definitely not about Joe Simpson, is a song that simultaneously damns and pities the pushy father figure driven by desperately wanting to make his daughter into a star-cum-cash-cow to escape a menial existence in a dead end job. The abrupt ending of the song leaves the final words hanging in the air. It comes as little surprise that Butler's favourite film is Terry Gilliam's Brazil, this abrupt halt mirroring the dark and disturbing final shot of this movie.

All this of course is set to some of the most incredible music . The drive of tracks like Keep the Car Running and and the final segments of The Well and the Lighthouse are unparalleled anywhere, and the calmer songs like Ocean of Noise and the title track punctuate and pace the album superbly, giving one just enough time to recover from one onslaught before the next begins. The opening to No Cars Go, with it's soaring violins and shouts will forever conjure images in my brain of Cristiano Ronaldo's lightening feet, so often was it used for Match of the Day montages. The church organ is a massively underused instrument in popular music. As with all great pieces of music, be it classical or popular, the ending ties up and defines the album:
My Body is a Cage bringing the sweeping political and theological scope of the record into a starkly introspective and insecure track, with a crescendo that could shake the foundations of any civilisation. And as the Bush administration passed into history, this album serves as a lasting testament that bad times breed the best music, and that great albums really do describe the times in which they appear.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Band of the Decade - Arctic Monkeys

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sat on the sofa in a student flat in Cardiff, working hard on my Masters dissertation by turning half an ounce of nature's finest into thin grey smoke and splitting headaches. In the background, one of the two awful free music channels offered on Freeview to poverty-laden students plays terrible pop music. It barely impacts. Then a voice says: "We're Arctic Monkeys, don't believe the 'ype". It's impossible to convey it in writing, but it was more than sufficient to drag my attention from the laptop screen.

As statements of intent go, "Don't believe the hype" is up there with The Manics "You Love Us", or Morrissey's debut attestation that "we may be hidden by rags / but we've something they'll never have". What happened over the next four minutes was nothing less than revolutionary. Alex Turner, looking like a mixture of a young Paul Weller and a startled rabbit, tore through the bands debut mainstream release with an energy and force that had been, in my mind, almost entirely absent from British music for a few years. Instantly I was hooked. This band seemed so fresh, so completely new and Alex Turner seemed like an instant successor to the lyricist-of-the-people crown held previously by Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker. This was a week before the single release and I don’t really like the idea of illegal downloading, especially not for impoverished new bands, and so I remember queuing outside a record shop the following Monday. For “queuing”, you probably should read “waiting alone like a devoted sap in the Welsh cold”, but “queuing” sounds so much more romantic.

Fortunately, it was all worth it. Even the B-side (the truly immense Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts) was an indication of how important this band were going to be. This of course turned out to be very prophetic as the band’s debut went on to become the fastest selling debut long-player in British history (recently replaced of course by Susan Boyle. Thanks, Britain). The record is easily the best document of what it’s like to be young in modern urban Britain: it made me feel old at age 22. But it was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard, up there with the classic albums I remember hearing for the first time (Definitely Maybe, Different Class et al).

If you’re reading this website, you already know what happens next. Arctic Monkeys went on to sell out large venues (with Turner occasionally less than sober), produce a string of brilliant A-sides, backed up with B-sides that Oasis would be proud of. The second album proved to be an evolution of their sound, but still with much the same structure. A bigger emphasis on ballads (The Only Ones Who Know and 505) gave the band more depth and proved to anyone still doubting that Alex Turner was the lyricist of his generation. A headline slot at Glastonbury, becoming one of the youngest headliners the festival had seen, seemed to be more than enough reward. Alex Turner seemed nervous in front of the biggest audience of their career by a long draw, but the music was nevertheless assured and accomplished.

Then for a while it all went quiet. But quiet was just what it was not. Recording in the middle of the Mojave desert with rock’s hard man Josh Homme, Arctic Monkeys returned with an album (and a look) completely at odds with what had gone before. A harder edge to the same lyrical staples, louder, much more psychedelic, all capped with a new look more befitting early Sabbath. It alienated some of the more fickle parts of their fanbase, but their decision to do this is one of the many things that marks the band apart.

So are they the greatest band of the decade? I think that’s entirely subjective, and if you don’t think so then this article isn’t likely to do anything to persuade you otherwise. But I will say this: as far as capturing a snapshot of British youth in the noughties goes, you’d have to walk a long way to do better. I submit this thought for your consideration.

Nowism and Thenism

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste... 

This might sound like something you might not expect to hear coming from me, a man so cynical that Jack Dee occasionally calls to put some perspective on his generally sunny outlook on life, but I think it’s been a pretty good decade. As the inevitable lists of best this and best that mount up, I think it’s probably time to remember one or two things.

This article is inspired (as all the best ones are) by a conversation in a pub. It was, of course, the conversation that we’ve all had recently about the top ten albums of the decade. After an hour or so of busy categorising, we said that he felt that, even though we’d got a good list, he still felt that perhaps the top ten albums of this decade didn’t match up to, say, the top ten of the sixties. Or seventies. I was not too happy about this. So this article explains why.

If you took every serious list of the top ten albums and put them all together and aggregated them (stay with me) I think you’d have a pretty clear-cut top ten. This sort of meta-analysis would show off the great and good of music across the past ten years. It’d probably be a good list. Some people would disagree with it but, hey, that’s what these lists are for. Then you could compare it with similar lists from previous decades. You could. But the point is you shouldn’t. Allow me to introduce you to the twin concepts of “nowism” and “thenism”. Nowism is the sort of thing that leads people to rave about Animal Collective as though they were the saviours of American music just because they happen to be a little different (a word which is not synonymous with “good”). Thenism is the sort of thing that leads people to believe that past eras were in fact better than they actually were.

So, this is my point. Think about the seventies, and all the great music. Now think about the rubbish music. That second one’s harder, yes? And the reason for this is that history is a great filter. The bad stuff doesn’t stay in the collective consciousness of the nation. And this (in a rather roundabout way) is why no one will remember the names of any winners of The X Factor in forty years time. Or any songs by The Kaiser Chiefs for that matter. This is also a reason why the best albums of the [insert decade here] lists are always better judged with the benefit of at least twenty years hindsight.

Moving on. There are of course differences between this decade and previous ones in terms of what makes it into the best albums lists. For example, in the sixties, you had The Beatles who- pretty much- invented pop music. That was never a caveat likely to be ascribed to MGMT, or even to a decent band this decade, now was it? But if you use that yardstick to judge everything, you’re never going to get anywhere. The point is that something through which you didn’t live is always going to have a kind of mystical allure, something that makes you think it was intrinsically better. The point is that you didn’t live through all the less good stuff that history has filtered out (Need proof? Click this link). But this time you did. You had to suffer White Lies' debut. You had to endure countless lukewarm Simon Cowell rehashes of previous excellent records. You had to scream silently and clutch at your gut at the sound of The Klaxons keyboard-laden bucket o’ shite excuse for a record.

So there you have it. History is a great filter, and judging this decade against those that went before is an exercise in futility that will drive you mad and mean that you get things wrong more often than not. Be careful. It’s a jungle out there. But as far as lists go, I think it’s best to get stuck in. Nostalgia is great for morale, and they fill up a million awkward silences in the pub.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Question of Succession

The dust hasn't even really settled, and the bitter recriminations haven't even come close to being over, but a certain section of the popular tabloid music press are already discussing who will be next in line to the throne. I am referring here to Oasis, who split up a couple of months ago, in perhaps the least shocking music news story of the last five years.

A word on our boys as they exit stage left for the final time. Oasis, undoubtedly one of the best bands of my (or any other) generation, had been running on empty for about six years before this happened. I remember well how excited I was listening to Heathen Chemistry, and how fantastic it was to pay tribute at Finsbury Park later that year, but from that point on it all started to go steadily wrong. A succession of frankly boring records, a number of spats, casual chat about solo albums and places in history, all typified no better than in the frankly disgraceful headline set at Glastonbury, where everyone's favourite sulks finally overstepped the mark. Punching Paul McCartney in the face would have been less insulting to this country's musical heritage.

I could go on, but I am deeply loathed to be too scathing about a band that dominated my headphones for about five years. I will instead move on to the scrum to "replace" them. This is being led by the New Kings of Lager Rock, Kasabian, who seem intent in getting in everyone's faces talking about how "ready" they are to replace Oasis. On the face of things, you probably think this sounds pretty fair, but hold on a moment while I tell you why you're wrong.

For starters, they simply aren't anything like as good as Oasis. A solid debut, followed by two good-but-directionless follow-ups do not make for legendary status. Nor do live shows that don't live up to the billing. And I certainly don't remember much in the way of tabloid outrage.

Doubtless, people are searching for their soap boxes at the moment, ready to tell me that tabloid outrage is immaterial for a band, who should be judged on their music. But this is one of the greatest misunderstandings about rock 'n' roll: it's about a package. Anyone who claims that The Stones would have been that good without Mick's sex appeal and dress sense is wrong. Try imagining The Stones fronted by a Hank Marvin lookalike. Difficult, eh? It's all a finely balanced game.

So by now you are probably starting to wonder. If not Kasabian, then who? The Arctic Monkeys very sensibly chose to alienate the dumber sections of their fanbase by crafting an album in the middle of the desert, and a succession of very poor lad-rock bands (The Courteeners, The Ordinary Boys) have come and gone without leaving any trace. And this I think leads us to the real question here: do we need to replace Oasis? Are they not so much of their time, so tied to the Loaded and Laditude culture of the nineties that they're irreplaceable because times have changed? I think so. We had the good times with them, but there's plenty of good times still to be had. There's very little point in trying to recreate what's gone, it's never as good second time around. Just ask any member of The Spice Girls.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Skunk Anansie @ Brixton Academy – 26th November 2009

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

This is a moment for which I have been waiting for approximately 12 years.
As a thoroughly impressionable 14 year-old I was completely obsessed with Skunk Anansie, with their loud brand of political outrage and Skin’s utterly mesmeric voice. At the time I never got to see them, which was a source of extreme annoyance and irritation. Until now.

Tonight, Skunk Anansie are completely blinding, an angry ball of rage and excitement, from the moment Brixton Academy falls dark and a very loud drum ’n’ bass remix of Yes It’s Fucking Political thuds out of the speakers, the entire audience is hooked. Despite being slightly older than today’s average rock crowd there is a feeling that, for one night only, it is 1994 again, and everyone behaves accordingly, pogoing like idiots and screaming.

The band have lost precisely nothing in the eight years since they split and tonight, on the last show of their European tour, they are clearly enjoying this as much as the crowd. What works so well about the set they’ve chosen tonight (a self-appointed Greatest Hits show) is the way that the four new songs sit alongside the established classics. During these new, less familiar songs, one can stand and just enjoy the awesome power of Skin’s voice, which a failed solo career and a few years off have done nothing to blunt. How she keeps up the level of vocal performance is a complete mystery.

But it’s the long list of classics that everyone has come to see. From their most famous track Weak (during which Skin climbs out and walks halfway across the pit on the audience’s shoulders, all without dropping a note) to the heart-rending passion of Brazen, the classics just keep coming, including an early rendition of my personal favourite, Charity.

It is in the closing stages that the passion of the crowd and the excitement of the band come together and nearly go too far. Finishing their main set with Post Orgasmic Chill’s mighty rip-up The Skank Heads, the crowd leave to some of the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard; more deafening than the music itself if such a thing were possible. Returning to the stage, they play an initially quiet encore of the classic Hedonism and new track Squander. As the cheers reach fever pitch, the band seem unsure about whether they will break curfew by playing another track. True to form, they go ahead anyway and rip into their radio debut Little Baby Swastika, and proceed to demand that the crowd rush the stage. Enormous men appear from the wings and the music is stopped as about ten people obey Skin’s request and make it through the cordon. There is a palpable sense of nervousness as Skin proceeds to defy the bouncers and finish the song, before running off, followed by her newly assembled army. At the front of the crowd, things are getting messy and before long the band appear again. “They told us we’d have to come out and play one more, else there’d be a riot” smiles Skin, clearly pleased that they can still engender such passion. Finally closing with the beautiful Secretly, the band leaves the stage as heroes and the crowd, finally placated by the more emotional closer, head out. There will, I am convinced, never be a better time to see this band.

My fourteen-year-old self now only has bad skin to worry about.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Oka Vanga @ The Kings Head, 14th August 2009

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

 Let’s get one thing straight before we start this review proper: if you love music, chances are you will find something here for you. How could you fail to, when the band introduce a beautiful, melodic folk song with the caveat “This one is inspired by seeing AC/DC at Wembley stadium a few weeks back...”? But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Oka Vanga are a lyric-free, double-guitar, male-female folk duo from London. They have been in existence for about a year and appear to draw influences from all over the world and all across the musical spectrum. Their MySpace page cites Will as drawing particular influence from 80s hair metal (yes, really), and Angie as being a particular of musical styles popular in North Africa. As such, no inch of fret-board is left untouched. I ask you, people, what’s not to love? How can you not find this sort of thing exciting?

Tonight, Oka Vanga are hypnotic. It is difficult to drag ones eyes off the stage, even when you’ve been alloted the job of photographer for the evening. Each song has its own story, including one inspired by a Thai monsoon and another by the aforementioned AC/DC riff-fest. These stories are capable of filling the room and holding the audience in thrall. Each song also has a particular personality that means that even hardened lyric-studiers such as myself are kept focussed throughout the set. The applause at the end of each song is testament to how much those gathered here are impressed by the music they are watching.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most impressive displays of virtuoso guitar skill you’ll find on the folk circuit right now, with the two players complementing each other perfectly in style and influence. The drive of the rhythm guitar is perfectly complimented by the intricate melodies and there never seems to be a moments let up in a brilliantly paced set. If Angus Young had decided that finger-picking rather than power chords should dominate the world, he might well be in this basement telling the crowd that this next song was inspired by seeing Oka Vanga at Wembley a few weeks back...

My advice to any readers of this website is very simple: go forth and check the MySpace page. Go and find a gig. Prove to yourself that I’m right about this. Get. Your. Folk. On.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Doves @ Brixton Academy - May 1st 2009

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

On the way out of Brixton Academy, one thing is notable by its absence: neon. Doves are not a band that readily lend themselves to the modern fart-in-a-hurricane culture that blights the modern music scene. These guys are lifers, and their fourth album confirms their status as one of Britain’s most enduringly excellent and resolutely under-appreciated bands.

With over four years having ensued since last we heard from the Manchester miserablists, fans waited eagerly for the release of last month’s Kingdom of Rust, and they were not disappointed. Many reviewers were moved to name it their best offering so far, and they might have a point in saying this.

Certainly, the greatest compliment that can be paid to the new songs is to report that they already fit into the set and feel as though they have always slotted in just so. This, surely, is the hallmark of present and future classics.

Opening with a bombastic rendition of Jetstream, the band remind those watching that tonight is about the ensemble experience. Doves are not a band who revel in lengthy and complex guitar solos or long passages of dribbly keyboard tomfoolery, instead their songs are constructed around solid baselines and psychedelic melodies, and at no point does one man stand forward and dominate the stage. This is all about the group performance.

As we move through classics such as Snowden and Pounding, Jimi Goodwin's voice loops and soars in a way that would make Chris Martin sound like Tom Waits. The pace of the performance only lets up as dictated by the quieter songs from the new album, including an exquisite version of 10:03.

Highlights include the stomping depression of Black and White Town, played over the video-projected back drop of the song’s video. It is tempting to draw parallels between the bleak council estates depicted in the video and the current financial climate, but such a comparison would unfairly pin this timeless song.

Probably the biggest surprise is what is left out, rather than any of the inclusions. It’s a mark of how far this band have come and how imposing their back catalogue is that they can afford to leave out established crowd favourites such as The Cedar Room, The Man Who Told Everything and Catch The Sun. Where they might have fallen in the set list, new songs make sure that the audience witnesses a set brimming with quality. As the final drum beats of There Goes the Fear ring round the Academy, the place of this band in the recent history of British music is cemented by the standing ovation they receive.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Brilliant White

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

There is an unwritten law which states that whenever two or more people who know (or think they know) anything about music are gathered together and plied with drugs and alcohol, one of them will eventually produce the following sentence, or a variation thereof:

"The White Album is brilliant, sure, but it would have made a much better single album with all the extras and the rubbish songs cut out.”

I was thinking about this the other day, prompted by an excellent documentary from NPR, celebrating the album's 40th anniversary. And so I came home and listened to the whole thing through for the first time in ages and thought really hard about this. If everyone holds this as a kind of universal truth, then surely I as a huge Beatles fan should be able to easily and effectively edit this behemoth of weirdness into a coherent single disc. I've been at this for a week or so now and, because I am relentlessly self-interested, I thought you might be interested in reading my results.

Right up front, I will tell you that it's not easy. I gave myself only one rule: I'm not going to be pissing about with a stopwatch and a CD burner, so I've tried this numerically. The White Album has 30 tracks. An edited version will therefore have 15.

On first listening, there are those tracks that immediately offer themselves, in the manner of a lemming faced with a cliff, for deletion. These include Wild Honey Pie, Why Don't we do it in the Road, and Savoy Truffle, all of which could be easily relegated off our newly cut record. 12 to go. Told you it wasn't easy.

So now we have to get a bit more ruthless if we're to reach our target. Next up for the chop are songs such as Long, Long, Long, Everybody's got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey and Honey Pie, which are pretty good, but perhaps unnecessary and really don't add much to the overall canon of the band. And then we're faced with the tape-looping insanity of Revolution 9. It's gotta go really, hasn't it? It's a piece of musical history, undoubtedly, and a huge technical achievement, but with my new-found power, I'm relegating it to a limited edition EP to be released later and discussed in hushed tones by groups of stoned teenagers. One simple reason for this: if there's only 15 tracks, then anything with Yoko Ono's sex noise on it (allegedly) is cut. End of.

With eight more tracks still to cut, and side four virtually decimated, I'm finding it difficult. At this point, personal attachment to songs got thrown out of the window, and I decided that a harder nose was required. So we wave farewell to Piggies, which I happen to like but is perhaps more of a curio.

After two days of internal toil, I decide that Glass Onion must not go the same way. There's too much weight in that song, it contains that marvellous bit of teasing about “The Walrus was Paul”, it would not be right to fling this to the cutting room floor. So instead I cut Birthday which, despite having an awesome Harrison lick, and a middle-eight to which Noel Gallagher probably debases himself regularly, is now at the bottom of my newly shuffled heap. It's followed there by Yer Blues, which is again a great song (with that Dylan reference...) but I'm clutching at straws now.

At this point (around tea-time last Tuesday) I had an epiphany. After three days of listening to the remaining tracks, I decided that perhaps the bottom-up approach wasn't working any more. So I took a top-down approach, thinking about songs that absolutely must not be cut. You (hopefully) don't need me to tell you how great While My Guitar Gently Weeps is, how Blackbird is one of the greatest acoustic ballads ever crafted, or how good the guitar work is on Helter Skelter. These things you know. I came up with seven tracks that would definitely make anyone's final cut, and then set about intense listening of the remaining fourteen, half of which would have to go if I was to prove the above theory.

It is not true that the first cut is the deepest, I began to feel a sense of loss as I planed down the record and dropped such musical gems as I'm So Tired, Sexy Sadie, and Goodnight. These are songs that other musicians (particularly The Coral) might dream of writing, but we're getting towards (to use a well-worn phrase) squeaky-bum time. Two more cuts needed.

But it's virtually impossible. I can't pick out two more to go. By now I was dreaming about the album, it was under my skin. The gaps I had created haunted me, and this is where I had to give up. If I had my naked balls beneath the threatening shadow of a mallet, I would probably concede Glass Onion and make the point that Revolution 1 is really an acoustic version of an already extant single and hence could probably be reserved for future B-Sides... But I wouldn't be happy about it. You'd have to literally threaten my balls to get me to cut any more tracks. Two weeks it took me, but here's my final fifteen:

1. Back in the U.S.S.R.

2. Dear Prudence

3. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

4. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

6. Happiness is a Warm Gun

7. Martha My Dear

8. Blackbird

9. Rocky Racoon

10. Don't Pass Me By

11. I Will

12. Julia

13. Mother Nature's Son

14. Helter Skelter

15. Cry Baby Cry

Now that is one hell of a single disc. But if you want to set this up as a playlist, I challenge you not to feel the occasional twinge of nostalgia for the tracks that are missing. I guess the point is that The White Album is what it is, warts and all. Some warts are obviously useless, but some are cute little moles, beauty spots on the glorious face of music. I invite anyone to post their own single-disc cuts below, or to just point out what you think I've got wrong, but the next time someone tells you how you could easily make a great single disc out of The White Album, challenge them to do it.