Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of suggestions on last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.
The KLF, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the world’s biggest-selling singles act of 1991, were never short of ideas. Some were good, some were decadence on a bun. It’s hard to get away from their burning of a million quid and then making a house brick from the ashes. Fortunately, they were rarely short of musical ideas, and their chart success bought them an appointment with Tammy Wynette for the Illuminatus-inspired Justified and Ancient, with which we begin this list.
Magnus Pyke, scientist and nutritionist, was employed in 1941 at the Ministry of Food and once famously suggested using excess human blood supplies to make black pudding for the masses. Pyke went on to work in the food and drink industry before washing up on TV as resident barmy scientist on the show Don’t Ask Me. Thomas Dolby, impressed by all this, wrote a video storyboard around Pyke, thought of a title, and then wrote She Blinded Me With Science – recruiting Pyke for the recording.
Did the Stranglers need George Melly’s help with Old Codger? Did Melly need to sing lead vocal for them on the B-side of Walk on By? Probably not. So what we have here is a marriage made in Hades; the band thumping around while old George drags the tune around in a bucket. Makes you think what a fine rock singer the old jazzer might have made.
Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh channels Kris Kristofferson for his duet with Tarnation’s Paula Frazer on It’s Good to Be on the Road Back Home Again. There’s some Troggs-type ocarina in the mix, which is no surprise from a band as eclectic as this.
Electronic duo 1 Giant Leap’s I Love The Way You Dream, features both the world’s most recorded singer, Asha Bhosle (our previous act’s Brimful of Asha was about her) and Michael Stipe. Stipe’s wistful dreaminess and Bhosle’s ethereal control blend perfectly. Usually, where duets are concerned, one singer has to take the back seat and sing in an inappropriate key. In this case they complement each other like brother and sister.
The soundtrack of the film Dead Man Walking is overladen with starry contributions, yet among all the glitter sits a nugget, The Long Road, a collaboration of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. By some strange chance, these musicians from opposite parts of the world and completely different heritages just melded together perfectly.
With our feet still planted in the subcontinent, we discover Trilok Gurtu and Roop Kumar’s The Beat of Love. Gurtu has been described as the world’s greatest tabla player, though he has drummed with swords, buckets and a western kit. A noted composer, his collaborations are legion, though probably his least predictable was with popular and prolific playback singer Kumar on this North African-tinged creation
Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble combined to introduce Gregorian chant to jazz saxophone on Parce Mihi Domine. This is jazz sax with a difference, though. Garbarek’s playing has a sidereal, weightless, quality perfectly suited to the Gregorian mode. The vocalists are anchored in timeless tradition, providing a solid base for the yearning tones of the instrument.
British electronic band Ultramarine managed to snag Robert Wyatt for Happy Land, their sardonic take on a popular Victorian song. Wyatt waltzes through the vocals, always happy with an anti-establishment lyric. For their part, Ultramarine provide a jerky rhythm which forces Wyatt into an unusually bright melody.
Until 1990 it would have been difficult to have conceived of a stranger pairing than the Grateful Dead and Branford Marsalis, but that was the year they first came together. Marsalis joined the Dead onstage for their Bird Song, weaving and intertwining his spell among the band’s airborne melodies. It’s a perfectly pitched balance of master musicians – light, fun and airy.
Bono was asked to help make a film about people trying to live under siege during a civil war. To his credit, he did much more than that. Among his efforts was Miss Sarajevo, a song about a beauty pageant that really was held in the battlefield. Brian Eno was roped in, and the song was released under the pseudonym Passengers. It explodes the moment Luciano Pavarotti starts singing. It’s as if time stood still, waiting for Pavarotti’s vocal entrance, when it’s our turn to freeze, numbed by the emotion evoked by a single human voice.
Being human, what do we do? We fall apart, or come together. We check eye colour, tone of skin, clothes and hair, shake hands, make music, dance. Then we grow up and the world gets in the way. Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry’s 7 Seconds freezes a moment in a baby’s life, a time when everyone is equally human, before knowledge of good and evil.
Zaz Turned Blue by Was (Not Was) and Mel Torme closes the list. It’s hard to think of anything new to write about such icons, except that somehow they got together. For however short a time, they were a match, each understanding one another’s input. No rush, no panic, just a gentle lilt towards inevitable closure.
New theme: how to join in
The new theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 30 November. You have until 11pm on Monday 4 December to submit nominations.
Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for readers recommend:
- If you have a good idea for a theme, or you would like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- There is a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the new look Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
- Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.