Wednesday, 30 October 2019

I made you a mixtape - Summer 1993

I started making playlists in 1993. Scrappy little C90 tapes, full of tunes I'd recorded off my own limited CD collection and those lying around the shared house in which I lived.

I know what you're thinking. "Please Rob," you cry, "please reconstruct these playlists online, and share them with us, ideally with a track by track commentary on why you chose those songs."

Oh, alright then.

You can play bits of the songs direct from here, or jump to Spotify to experience the full joy/horror.

My first playlist came about in the Summer of 93, as I tried to work out what to do now I had left college. The answer, of course, was make the best mixtape known to man.

Perfecting the Art of the Common Ground - Ultravox

I fell in love with Ultravox in 1985, when their best of, 'The Collection', was passed between me and my best friends, Ian and Paul. Like all bands, they split up the second I declared an interest.

Then, in 1993, they suddenly released a new album. Except it's a bit of a cheat. No Midge Ure. In fact, no most-of-the-band. I think only the violin guy was still around. This is a pretty great song, though.

Satellite of Love - U2

I was, at this time in my life, a massive fan of U2. I loved - and it must be said, still love -  Achtung Baby, and had watched their Zoo TV concert on a loop for most of the early 90s. Their version of Satellite of Love was my favourite moment. A gorgeous, peculiar song which I'd never heard. This version comes from the B-side of the CD single for 'One'.

Fields of Gold - Sting

For a while, in 1993, it was OK to like Sting. That's because he had just released one of the greatest albums ever, the still amazing Ten Summoner's Tales. My parents bought me the CD as slightly sarcastic congratulations for graduating university.

It brings back strong memories of unpacking in my first post-student house, Regent Street. My room was the attic room. The other residents spent some time away that Summer, so I was alone in the house for several empty weeks, rejoicing in the quiet, and the sunshine, and the freedom from degree stress.

And this album, which I played on repeat all Summer. Glorious.

Graduation. I belong in a cape.

Love Theme - Vangelis

Yes, alright, OK. I never said I was cool. I've always loved Blade Runner, though, and I had a Best of Vangelis CD, so this just kind of happened. There's nothing wrong with it, is there? It's nice. It just kind of sounds like I should play it while inviting ladies in white dresses up to see my pad.

I didn't. I had a girlfriend. She frowned upon such behaviour.

Numb - U2

My first job out of university was at a place called Speedibake. I applied through a recruitment agency. The job was awful.

12 hour shifts, standing at a conveyor belt, putting donuts into plastic packaging. Soul destroying and dull, and certainly not the future I'd envisaged when I'd been studying Literature and Sexuality the previous month.

I got paid £2.10 an hour which, while worth more in 1993 that it is now, is still toss all. And, conversely, CDs were really expensive back then. I'm pretty sure it took me five hours to earn enough to buy the new U2 album Zooropa. But I think it was probably worth it.

This song suggests a much more interesting future for the band than would transpire.

Love's Great Adventure - Ultravox

One of my favourite Ultravox songs. It had been something of a soundtrack to our student days, most specifically when we made our 20 minute student film "Heroes and Villains." During this masterpiece I ran around a forest in a hat, rescuing damsels and fighting my college housemate Dave with a large stick, while Ultravox played.

If you paid tax in 1991, some of your tax paid for me to do that.

An amazing deconstruction of good vs. evil, using sticks.

My Country - Midnight Oil

Like everyone else I decided that I liked Midnight Oil in 1988 when they released their great song 'Beds are Burning'. The album that came from, which I bought for £2 in Rocksoff in Bradford, is excellent and worth checking out.

Thus, when I saw the CD single of this song in a bargain bin, I jumped on it. Our Price often had really cheap CD singles, and I bought most of them. Did I mention I only made £2.10 an hour?

Love is Stronger than Justice - Sting

At this point it probably starts to become apparent how few CDs I owned. Back to Ten Summoner's Tales for this playful, joyous song. Sting is much better when he's having fun, isn't he? Hell, isn't everyone?

Few Hearts Change - Daniel

Now I can't honestly say what's going on here. I know that this song was on my first compilation, because I keep meticulous records and have everything listed in a big red ledger. Everyone does that, right?

But what is this song? Why did I own it? It's Christian music, and I did identify much more with Christian culture at this point, so maybe I owned the album? It's odd, now, when I've become much more progressive, or liberal, in my Christianity, to hear music that's so patronising and lectur-ey in tone.

That was the kind of Christianity I was into then, I suppose. Kind of arrogant. Sorry.

Enjoying myself at a Christian Summer camp.

New York Telephone Conversation - Lou Reed

My interest in U2's cover of Satellite of Love led me to investigate the original, which - as I'm sure you know - can be found on Lou Reed's album 'Transformer'. A tremendous discovery, not least for this crazy old song, which really appealed to my sense of the ridiculous.

I retrospect, it's interesting to see such a vibrant, playful, human song show up on my playlist straight after one that's so conservative. That's where my character was in the early 90s, I think. Torn between a very straight kind of religiosity on one hand and the desire for something much weirder and exploratory on the other.

Stay (Faraway, So Close) - U2

I really like this song. I like to sing it, except I can't get the high notes of the chorus. Another song from Zooropa, where U2 seemed to be playing with a dislocated kind of humanity, and letting interesting sonic things happening. I so wish they'd continued in this direction.

No Turning Back - Ultravox

Another one from the "Ultravox but not really" album. It's OK. But it's becoming apparent that I have a C90 to fill, and not really enough songs.

My friendship group, in the early 90s. 

Satellite of Love - Lou Reed

At first I didn't like the original version of this. Having sought it out in great excitement, I was a little sad to find it a bit... jaunty. I liked the spooky, ethereal nature of the U2 version and I wasn't ready for this.

I was wrong, of course. All part of my slow journey to stop taking things so seriously. The "whoo-eee--ooo" bits by Bowie, at the end, are among the best noises ever made.

I Am Alive - Ultravox

I think that, on the original tape, this was an extended mix. You'll be pleased to know I've spared you this. It's quite a good, exciting song, but no-one needs to hear it go on for twice as long, with breakdowns of all the individual synth parts.

Cold, Cold Heart - Midge Ure

You might be getting a sense, by now, that I had a fairly narrow range of musical interests at this point. And you'd be right. I was a child of Live Aid, don't forget. I was a sucker for guitars and earnest bombast and posing about in stadiums.

This song was a favourite party piece for me and housemate Antony. He'd do the flute, I'd do the guitar. We were delighted with ourselves, which put us in something of a minority.

A room full of people rejoice to the tunes of Antony and Rob.

A Day Without Me - U2

U2 again, but a different album, so don't go calling me "Mr. Only Likes Three Things." This is from U2's first album, and it's very exciting to hear them so young and full of energy. A real ear for melody. Still pretentious, though, They got that in there pretty early on.

If I Ever Lose My Faith in You - Sting

Probably my favourite song from this amazing album. Check out my restraint, leaving it until near the end. I used to put a lot of effort into the sequencing of these tapes. I got - and still get - real pleasure in the ebb and flow of a series of songs.

Recording on tape had a real immediacy to it, as well. You had to commit to the recording, to see how a transition sounded. And then it was cut into the tape, and kind of permanent. Oh yes, you could tape over it. But nothing sounded as good as that first fresh imprint.

The Wanderer - U2 w/Johnny Cash

I almost left this off this Spotify reconstruction. It's not very good, is it? I was clearly running out of available music, and this does me no favours. But the discipline here is to recreate these playlists as truthfully as possible. No matter the sins it reveals.

The inclusion of this exists, I think, to provide a buffer between the last Sting track and the next one. Actually, there was another song too - a cover of Dylan's Hurricane, by the Miltown Brothers. But that doesn't appear to be on Spotify, so we'll have to live without.

Shape of my Heart - Sting

Another beautiful song from Summoner's Tales. I think I use them all, over the course of the next few tapes. And with good reason. It's one of those albums that's like a best of. Everything on it is good. This song hasn't faded with age. Familiarity has affected it, I suppose, but it will always have its roots in a long, empty Summer, at the top of that quiet house in 1993.

An Cat Dubh - U2

One more U2 track to finish things off. I promise things get more varied in the future. Not better, necessarily. But more varied. I got a bit more money to buy some more CDs, and exposure to other, cooler people broadened my tastes a little.

What is that title about? Eh? An Cat What? Honestly U2. Honestly.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Time is Relative - Season 12: Part three

And a very good morning to you sir!

You join me in the mid 1970s, watching another series of Doctor Who. I've taken photos of the best bits, and - lucky you - I'm going to present them to you, with a half remembered account of what is going on. 

God bless the internet, eh?

The Sontaran Experiment

In this story, Doctor Who's best friend Sarah finds herself on a hill, in the middle of nowhere, in a horrible outfit. Last week, they were all having an adventure in space. Then Doctor Who said 'Let's go to Future Earth and see what that's like." 

I think the big shiny ball things are there to help you magically zoom down to Future Earth. Sarah has zoomed down, only to find that Doctor Who either 

a) hasn't bothered, 
b) got distracted by something he found in his pocket
c) did some bad maths and is now asphyxiating in space
d) is playing a trick on her, and is somewhere laughing hysterically at his own brilliance. 

Harry, meanwhile, has fallen down a ravine. He also followed Doctor Who's mad whim to go play on Future Earth, only to find that Future Earth is full of holes. 

I can't remember who Harry is looking at here, but I wouldn't want to be them. His face suggests that yes, he is a reasonable man who puts a high premium on good manners and tolerance, but also - if you don't help him out of this hole - he is quite prepared to break your skull in half.

This is the bad guy for this story. He is a Sontaran. You may remember the Sontarans from "Doctor Who goes back into history and meets the Sontarans and tells them they are jerks, and ugly jerks, and stupid ugly jerks who should stop messing about in history."

Doctor Who had a point. This guy looks extra nightmarish. It's like someone gave a child a crayon and asked it to draw Freud's concept of the Uncanny.

The Sontaran - who is called Styre or Stick or something similar - is here on Future Earth to do Experiments. At least that's what he tells Doctor Who, when he is caught tieing men up out on the moors. He says it's all about testing the psychological limits of human endurance. For military strategic purposes. 

That's why he's dressed in leather, and leering out of his spaceship at the tied up men in a manner that can only be described as coquettish. It's all to do with military strategic purposes.

I think I've worked out why he subsequently tries to murder Doctor Who and his friends and silence them forever.

As well as Styre, there is some kind of glam rock robot wandering around on Future Earth. It is helping with the Experiments. How is not clear. It just glides up and down the place, doing a beep. 

Here it appears to be dancing.

I imagine it gets bored.

Doctor Who punches Styre to death and blows up his spaceship. He gathers his friends back by the magic shiny things and prepares to go back up into space. 

His victory appears to have got his blood up, and it looks like he's saying, "If anyone else wants to try have a go, I will absolutely kick your head in too." Sarah and Harry stand behind him, trying to communicate, "We're very sorry - we're taking him home."

That's all for this story. If you enjoyed that there's more...

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Rob's Amazing Film Collection: Part Two (Almost Famous - Argo)

We all know that a person's worth can be calculated by how many films they own. That's just a fact. But how much am I worth? Let's find out, in this, the second part of my journey into my astounding film library.

Almost Famous

I haven't seen this film since September 2001. I watched it during a very strange week where 9/11 had just happened, and as a not-quite-direct result, I had fallen from a ladder and broken my shoulder. 

I went to hospital and was given loads of very strong painkillers. Then a friend of mine lent me this film to watch. As a result, I can't remember anything at all about it, except that I was in lots of pain, and all the colours were really vibrant and wobbly.

I should probably give him it back. Though I bet he's forgotten.

I'll keep it. 

American: The Bill Hicks Story

I bought this in the wake of my Master degree dissertation, in which I explored the idea of whether stand up comedians could ever say anything meaningfully political, without ceasing to be a comedian.

I researched Hicks quite a lot as part of this. I liked him loads, but towards the end I started to get sick of the idolisation of him by his fans. This film, although interesting in its execution, seems to fall into the same trap.

Visually, though, I like the way the film works. They use a technique that makes still photos appear to move, by separating the various elements. I can't remember the name for it. Rasterisation? That doesn't seem right. Anyway, it looks cool. 

American Beauty

A great film, which I have watched many, many times. I loved the central image - the girl in roses you see above - before the film even came out.

Every time I watch it, the film seems to be about a different character, depending on where I'm at with my life. Mostly it's Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham, with his mid life crisis and his confusion at where his spirit seemed to go, and when that happened. 

But other times I'll find the emotional spaces of the other characters resonate more with me. Everyone is confused, lost and trying to make meaning of lives that are shiny on top, but hollow inside. Great writing, direction and acting, making this a film worth revisiting. 

The only reason I don't watch it more is that I've often used the opening five minutes to teach semiotics to classes, so it's hard to watch as an actual film sometimes. Fellow viewers don't want to know about framing motifs, and often throw cushions at you. 

American History X

Another fantastic movie. Ed Norton at his absolute best, and a compelling theme, played out through a strong visual identity. There are some moments of incredible violence which stay with you long after the film is done.

I like this a lot, not least because Captain Sisko from Deep Space 9 turns up every now and then. Though he never says "Jambalaya!"

An American in Paris

Not the sort of film I generally watch. I'm very much a 'late 60s and onwards' kind of cinema guy, and often find it hard to get on with the way movies were styled before then. But this is great, and a constant reminder that I should watch more of this kind of thing, and try to develop my palate a little. 

This is just so joyous and colourful and stylish. And everyone in it is so talented. It's pleasing to see direction that allows the dancers to dance and the set design to dominate the mise en scene, rather than editing the life out of things. 

The American President

A pretty good film that I bought entirely to see Aaron Sorkin's first go at doing The West Wing. As a result, it's an odd experience. Lots of characters with similar names, doing similar things to the TV show, but played by more famous actors. 

Except, confusingly, Martin Sheen, who is the president in West Wing, but here plays a different guy. Like my life isn't confusing enough. 

American Psycho

A truly excellent film that I love more as time goes on. What genre is it? It was kind of sold as a horror, but it's more of a psychological thriller in how it's presented. But last time I watched it I laughed almost constantly. So maybe it's a comedy. Or maybe there's something wrong with me. 

Still my favourite Christian Bale performance. I love him when he's having fun. His Batman is basically this character, but slightly less exciting. 

American Splendor

Do I like this film? I'm not sure. I kind of admire it, and there's lots of great storytelling ideas going on. Flitting between documentary style, conventional narrative and - if I remember correctly - animation. But do I just think that because of the poster? I can't remember. 

I should watch this again. It's a great look at art, and the creative process. And there's Paul Giamatti, who's always worth your time. 

American Ultra

Another Jesse Eisenberg film, another complete blank as to what happened in the plot. Something about a guy who finds he's got super powers or something? I have no idea.

I like Eisenberg, I think. He's great at playing jerks, though, and so I think my brain sort of remembers him as an unpleasant guy. Which isn't really fair. But he can't be that great in this film, or surely I'd remember literally anything about it.

An American Werewolf in London

One of the best films ever. I know every moment of this film, inside and out. Every music cue. Every edit. Every sudden, horrifying shock. Every moment of Jenny Agutter's beautiful, luminous face. 

When we got our first family video recorder, back in the early 80s, we recorded this off BBC1. And I watched it dozens and dozens of times. I suspect I'm not alone, and that a generation of horror fans developed their love for this movie on a wobbly Betamax tape, along with Halloween 2 and maybe the odd Elm Street film. 

Doom laden, hilarious, sad and sexy, this film is all the flavours. It absolutely should not work. An American director hitting the small notes of life in England perfectly. A terrifying film that's also really funny. Ridiculous, outlandish situations taking place in a world that makes complete logical sense. 

A masterpiece, and part of my soul forever. 

Amores Perros

I sought this film out back in the days when I would scour Empire magazine for inspiration, and basically do whatever it told me to do. Empire said this film was great, and so I chased immediately after it. 

They were not wrong. It's an ambitious and layered film, with a lot to say. It's also visceral and exciting. I don't re-watch it often, mostly because it has subtitles and who can be bothered reading? 

Man, I've got lazier as I've got older. 


Both Anchorman films are in my collection, and with good reason. The original is, clearly, fantastic and has become a cornerstone of 21st century film comedy. Watching it is like watching a compilation reel of memes. The sequel isn't as good, obviously, but I was still surprised by how much I liked it, and how often I quoted it afterwards. 

Glass cage of emotion. I was in love once. Can't you see I'm blind? That doesn't make sense. I'm Ron Burgundy?

Annie Hall

It seems redundant to say how influential and funny this film is. Or to say how much everyone hates Woody Allen these days, I suppose. But this remains an amazingly sharp piece of work that everyone should see. 

It's very much of its time, but that's appropriate for something which is a) an existential document of the human condition and b) a piece of film history which defined so much of what came afterwards. 

Another Earth

Weird little movie that I think I like, but am not sure. It's very beautiful and meditative, and the central premise is very interesting. Another Earth appears. It is exactly like ours, in every minute detail, up to the point of contact, where things start to diverge.

I was sad they didn't play more with the possibility that we could be watching alternate scenes from the two parallel Earths. Or maybe they were, and I was just too dim to pick up on it.

I was also sad that they didn't have Cybermen, like in the Doctor Who story "The Tenth Planet", which has the same essential premise. But I guess that's 'art' for you.

Ant Man / Ant Man and the Wasp

Two great Marvel films, that I enjoyed a great deal. Yes, I would have liked to have seen Edgar Wright's take on the first. But they're both light on their feet and driven by great set pieces that make the most of the premise. 

Plus, how great is Paul Rudd? The casting of the leads has been mostly excellent in the MCU. 

My copy of the first film is conspicuous by its absence from my shelf. Which means I have lent it to someone, probably at the end of an evening, where I will have been spilling wine everywhere and shouting "You simply must borrow this! Take it! It's great!"

If you have it, please give it back. 

Apocalypse Now

I first saw this in Bradford in 1996, in a 70mm print. It was glorious, and I liked it big time. It's a film whose reputation proceeds it, which can make it hard to truly appreciate. But when watching it, the power of the film-making is undeniable.

I showed this to a bunch of friends one night at my house. I was full of caveats beforehand, about how it was really long and quite slow, and how its reputation as a war film was perhaps not a great indicator of the more meditative experience they were about to have. 

I needn't have bothered. They all loved it. I underestimated the smell of napalm in the morning, somehow conveyed through light and sound. 


Can't remember anything about this. I bought it because it won an Oscar, which is stupid because I generally don't like Oscar films. In my opinion, the Academy tend to reward worthy messages rather than good film making. And they really like worthy messages about how great media people are, and how sexy they are, and how the world would be loads better if people working in the Film Industry were finally recognised for how cool they are.

I don't remember not liking it. But it clearly hasn't made a mad impression on me. I should probably give it another go. But when you go to the shelf and this is there, and John Wick is also there, it's hard to stick to such a resolution.

That's all for now. See you soon, for Armageddon, and more.