"I've escaped it, a life wasted/And I'm never going back again." - Pearl Jam, "Life Wasted"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Right To Be Wrong

- Day one of freedom: Driving around without aim. Stop for lunch, dinner, supper, Borders. Hmmm, like it.

- Boring news, boring newspaper.....until the perfect female specimen appears in Page 7 of Life! Goddess Alba, I bow before you.....slurp....

- Sigh, my time is never your time.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ramble On

- Die spammers die!! Now I gotta turn on the comment verification thingy, you happy now??? @!#!#$%@^$%^.

- Seems like a lot of natural disasters this year, and epidemics spread by animals too. I tell you, nature's had enough of human shenanigans and is striking back......

- Those racist bloggers are sad sacks, aren't they? Not only do they have to serve time, they gotta write those insincere apologies. My take? Stupidity rules among bloggers who equate "write what you feel" with "writing as controversially as possible so that more people will read their pathetic blogs."

- For good clean fun, go here: Milk and Cookies.

- Coldplay's "Fix You" never fails to well me up. Gorgeous weepie. Another song to stash into the "Songs I'll serenade to my future girlfriend/wife" category.

- Cry baby cry, make your mother sigh, she's old enough to know better, so cry baby cry.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Top 25 Rolling Stones songs

The cliche is that The Beatles represent the clean-cut, positive image of rock and roll, while The Rolling Stones are the seedy, dark underbelly.

If that is so, then give me the gritty swagger of the dark side, anytime.

The best Stones songs are no less memorable than the greatest Beatles classics. Even more awesome: while the Fab Four tore through every musical genre, the Stones stuck true to the basic, blues-based, country-tinged rock and roll. They are still churning out songs, by the way, 35 years after the Beatles split.

It was the privilege of my lifetime that I got to see the Stones live, two years ago. They were amazing, considering the energy exuded when all members are already 60 years old. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards define what it means to be the frontman and sidekick of a rock band. Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts are the bemused sidemen to the whole hoopla. It was an unforgettable gig.

So am I a Stones guy, or a Beatles guy? Dunno, depends on my mood. Lately, I would give the edge to the Fab Four. But, more often than not, it has been the Stones.

25 Shine A Light (Exile On Main Street)
Tagged as the penultimate track on their greatest album, the overlooked gem takes flight on Jagger's soulful, gospel voice. His vocal prowess is seldom noticed amid all his posturing, but for a white band to plunder black music as successfully as the Stones had, his voice has to stand up against all the bluesmen. This track shows how. Spine-tingling moment: Middle of first verse, after the line "With a smile on your face and a tear right in your eye", Jagger lets go a mournful "Oh......." that made the song.

24 I'm Free (Out Of Our Heads)
You've heard in the TV ads, you've heard Soup Dragons' updated version, you think it's a bouncy pop song written in the 1990s. Wrong, the Stones cut it in 1965. As ebullient as any Beatles track. Spine-tingling moment: "Love me, hold me, love me, hold me" The chorus release is wondrous.

23 Angie (Goats Head Soup)
Either you're fan of Jagger's slurry vocals, or you're not. Anyway, you can't hope to imitate him. The way he wraps his voice around "Angie, Angie, you can't say we never tried" is soul. Spine-tingling moment: Richards complements with inspiring acoustic guitars along the way.

22 Mixed Emotions (Steel Wheels)
After a bitter bicker, the Toxic Twins put aside their differences in the 1980s and come up with this instant classic. Just listening to that groove pounded out by the band, not many rock bands can outdo them, not even the Fab Four. Spine-tingling moment: The sinewy, driving riff that propels the song from word go.

21 Don't Stop (40 Licks)
Even at their advanced age, count the Stones to come up with such a kick-ass track effortlessly. It's all about the groove again, Watts picks up a steady beat to let Wood and Richards spin off duelling riffs with aplomb. Jagger has the easiest job here, telling another lascivous tale with another woman. Spine-tingling moment: The two guitar stabs that echo Jagger's confident yelp: "Don't stop!"

20 Under My Thumb (Aftermath)
Misogynism aside, the Stones sway through a confident swath of marimbas (courtesy of the late Brian Jones), swinging drums and gleeful bass. That Jagger came up with a list of how he has tamed his women, well, blame it on the boogie. Spine-tingling moment: It's a sexy stomp, full of innuendoes and sinister sexual intent. Not for kids.

19 Rocks Off (Exile On Main Street)
Richards is the only guitarist where you can recognise his riffs instantly. No other guitarist pounds out such exciting, invigorating licks with his regularity. This opener on the Exile album soars on word go, on the wings of a superb Richards riff. Spine-tingling moment: An appreciative Jagger swoons: "Awwwwww yeaaaaaah!" after the first riff.

18 Beast Of Burden (Some Girls)
Not only is Richards a riff-maker par excellence, but he has also perfected the art of "weaving" with Ronnie Wood, and this song shows how. The duo trade off guitar licks and fills while sticking to the main chord sequence, creating a rich, jazz-like vibe to the music. There're nuggets of tasteful guitar work littered throughout the song. Spine-tingling moment: Incredible, spontaneous sparring from Richards and Wood. Hands down, the best rhythm guitar duo.

17 Losing My Touch (40 Licks)
Awwww, the ragged voice of Richards singing about losing his touch with women. His is my ideal way of growing old - still clutching the guitar and singing in his raspy voice about women. Spine-tingling moment: On many moments in the song, it seems like his voice cannot reach the note. It's the straining of his vocals that makes this song so soulful.

16 Waiting On A Friend (Tattoo You)
Jagger has always postured himself as a swaggering, sneering playboy, so it's a departure to hear him on this song, where he is almost yearning to be among friends' company. As he sings: "Don't need no whore, don't need no booze." Spine-tingling moment: Then he declares: "I'm not looking for a lady, I'm just waiting on a friend." as Richards spins out a comforting lick.

15 Before They Make Me Run (Some Girls)
The outlaw in Keith Richards personified. During the Stones' Singapore gig, he introduced this song as about his most troubled time, when he was caught for drug possession. Which makes the line "I'm gonna walk before they make me run" all the more defiant and poignant. Spine-tingling moment: A superb, harmonised solo before Keith returns, all cocksure and sneers.

14 Ruby Tuesday (Flowers)
The Stones' best pop song, with an instantly catchy melody and chorus. Once again, it's about a woman whom Jagger and/or Richards cannot touch, but this time the imagery is less sexual than most of their other songs. Spine-tingling moment: A show-stopping chorus: "Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday, who could hang a name on you?/When you change with every new day, still I'm gonna miss you."

13 Paint It, Black (Aftermath)
While the Beatles used the sitar to create a mystical side to their songs, the Stones stuck it into a pounding rocker. This is a vicious trip into the dark human soul, rejecting the sunny vibes of the mid-1960s and retreating into a lonely shell. Exactly what made the Stones so cynical, they wisely kept quiet on it. Spine-tingling moment: The spidery sitar riff. Brilliantly droning.

12 Moonlight Mile (Sticky Fingers)
Haunting, aching ballad, quite unlike any that the band has ever done. First, Richards sents up a strange guitar riff, more folksy than bluesy. Jagger then sings about the weariness of being on the road. Then comes a weird Japanese-tinged orchestration that somehow makes this song even sadder. Spine-tingling moment: A stunning chorus: "I am just living to be dying by your side, but I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road."

11 Ventilator Blues (Exile On Main Street)
A pretty obscure track, but it's a personal fave. A memorable riff is hooked onto chilling lyrics about the daily struggles in life. Jagger sounds as possessed as any bluesmen, spitting the lyrics with venom and desperation. No satisfaction, indeed. Spine-tingling moment: "Don't matter where you are, everybody's gonna need some kind of ventilator." Amen, Mick.

10 Honky Tonk Women (Hot Rocks)
From now onwards, all the top 10 songs are certifiable "School of Rock" classics: any respectable rock fan must listen to them. This one may be the usual Jagger lament on women who mess with him, but Richards sprinkles some of the finest rock licks, lining them one after another to spark up the song. A lascivious treat. Spine-tingling moment: The opening pulse of guitar notes, amid the unforgettable cowbell.

9 Street Fighting Man (Beggars Banquet)
Can outlaws turn to politics? Nah, that's why they sing in rock and roll bands. Jagger captures perfectly the desperation that London boys faced during the turbulent 1960s. Richards, meanwhile, strums his acoustic guitar extra hard for the forceful punch. Spine-tingling moment: "But what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock and roll band?/Cuz in sleepy London town there's just no place for a street fighting man."

8 Start Me Up (Tattoo You)
One of the two greatest opening tracks to start off an album. First you hear Richards' indelible riff, then Charlie Watts crashes in with a pulsating beat, then Ronnie Wood adds flourishes to the brilliant riff, then Jagger screams with glee: "If you start me up, I'll never stop!" Glorious rock. Spine-tingling moment: Slam dunk! Richards' opening riff is masterful.

7 Brown Sugar (Sticky Fingers)
The other greatest opening track. Similar to the "Start Me Up" structure, only this song was written nine years earlier. This time, Richards' riff is even better, Watts' drum crash is even more dramatic, and Mick Taylor's flourishes are more memorable. Jagger is also far more leery here. Head rush, bro. Spine-tingling moment: If Richards' riff doesn't get rocking, you're kicked out of the School of Rock.

6 Sympathy For The Devil (Beggars Banquet)
Perhaps the song synonymous to the allure of the Stones. Either you are appalled by the lurid, unsavoury imagery, or you marvel at the lyrical depth and musical dexterity of the band. Jagger assumes the Lucifer character and mocks at every event that changed the world and, probably, our own psyche. It's a dark journey that remains Jagger's high point as lyricist. "Pleased to meet you, hoped you guessed my name." Spine-tingling moment: The band ably complements Jagger with samba drums and sinister piano. Richards almost steals the show with his best guitar solo - icy and sneery.

5 Wild Horses (Sticky Fingers)
Undoubtedly the best Stones ballad. It's difficult to explain the immaculate beauty of the song, since it runs through every gut-wrenching emotion in a difficult relationship. Yet the stirring 12-string and pedal-steel guitars simply coat the immense hurt with intense soothing. Utterly magnificent. Spine-tingling moment: Another incredible line for a chorus: "Wild horses couldn't drag me away."

4 (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Aftermath)
Ah, their great hit, the song that personifies the rebel in rock and roll. In fact, the song title sets the agenda for every Stones song to come. Trying to attain satisfaction remains the glorious theme of all Jagger/Richards compositions. Spine-tingling moment: You can't go wrong with the three shattering notes that make up Richards' greatest riff.

3 Jumpin' Jack Flash (Hot Rocks)
Quite possibly my favourite riff of all time (maybe a tie with "Sweet Child O' Mine.") DUH! DUH! Dum-duh-duh, Dum-duh-duh, Dum-duh-duh, DUH! DUH! Spine-tingling moment: Whenever Richards plays that riff.

2 Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed)
A chilling masterpiece, as the Stones warn of impending apocalypse as the 1960s came to an end. Jagger's sinister intent is matched by the band, who come up with a stunning piece of music. Every member contributes masterfully - Richards with his scared intro, Taylor adding subtle guitar moans, Bill Wyman piling the dread with ominous bass thumps and Watts with his inimitable drum fills. Spine-tingling moment: The intro summons dread like nothing else the Stones have done.

1 Happy (Exile On Main Street)
Satisfaction and release - the Stones' greatest themes. This song typifies the profound joy that rock and roll brings. Sung appropriately by Keith Richards, the greatest rock outlaw, it spits out all the rebellious streaks and then asks: "I need a love to keep me happy, baby won't you keep me happy?" A simple but deathless riff, a driving beat and tons, tons, tons of attitude. No one touches the spirit of rock better than the Stones. Spine-tingling moment: A short but wondrous guitar solo to lift the song into stratosphere. Richards bends his strings with such bouyant glee, it's all about being happy. Peace.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Time After Time

I always have time for:

- Anyone who play their music loud. That includes those ah cheks who play Hokkien songs. Those who insist on lowering the volume are either new-age wimps or old-age prudes.

- Old hawkers who sit beside you and chat with you while you're eating. They are always endearing.

- Cruising for nothing. Just driving my car with my stereo on.

- Women talk. I'm not gay, but I have little patience for macho talk. On the other hand, I find mundane women's chatter fascinating, cuz they're so trivial. It seems like they need to talk, not have to. Those who know me know that I only talk when I have to. The empty vessel theory.

- My friends. The closer ones, that is.

- Food. Unfortunately.

- Guitar geek talk. Personal weakness.

- Photographers and cameramen. Thankless job, long preparations for that one moment, then get scolded for not getting the right moment. Sigh, thank goodness I can write.

So, after the top 25 Beatles songs, naturally I have to do a top 25....Rolling Stones songs. Check back soon. Peace the f**k out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Top 25 Beatles songs

The greatest rock band. Why? Not only did they leave behind a collection of timeless, undisputed, universal classics, but they also expanded rock's musical palette with every album released.

They are a band where the sum is far, far, far greater than its parts. The secret is that they have not one, not two, but three superb songwriters. There's some great songs for every taste, every genre.

I started liking John Lennon's strident songs first, then got into George Harrison's intricate, spiritual musings. Lately, however, it's been Paul McCartney. Think about it: he wrote the best ballads in the band, as well as the toughest rockers like "Helter Skelter". Yeah, some of his songs make me cringe, but others are downright brilliant.

25 The End (Abbey Road)
The final goodbye in their last recorded album. And what a great send-off too. George, Paul and John trade off guitar solos for about a minute, and then comes the final epitaph.... Spine-tingling moment: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Sung in their perfect harmonious voices.

24 Yellow Submarine (Revolver)
Wholesome, harmless fun tune? Apparently, some censors believed that a Yellow Submarine is LSD. Wow, what imagination. Spine-tingling moment: Near the end of the third verse, you can hear a gleeful John echoing Ringo Starr in the background: "Sky of blue! Sea of green! In our yellow submarine, AAAHAAA!!!"

23 All My Loving (With The Beatles)
Early Beatles were all about excelling at the traditional form of rock and roll. With their exuberance and energy, it was hard not to fall for their pop star charm. This ditty is mostly Paul, and he wisely keeps the bittersweet quality intact. Spine-tingling moment: George steals the show with his triplet strumming and rockabilly solo.

22 Don't Let Me Down (Let It Be...Naked)
When a throwaway B-side is as good as any of their top hits. John hits a soulful groove as he declares his unbridled love for Yoko Ono. The magical melody, so obvious, captures his fervour. Spine-tingling moment: John tears up the chorus with his inimitable voice, something that is vastly underrated.

21 I Will (The White Album)
The White Album, my favourite Beatles LP. One of its delights is little nuggets such as this jaunty yet incredibly powerful song by Paul. At under two minutes, he weaves his melodic magic into the consciousness so simply and easily. Spine-tingling moment: A simple declaration of love for a simple song: "Who knows how long I've loved you?"

20 Two Of Us (Let It Be)
Dunno why, but this folksy song always reminds me of younger days, hanging out with close friends. Maybe it's the jolly, bouncy beat. Maybe it's the friendship-bonding lyrics. Or maybe it's just hearing Paul and John, who were then becoming more distant from each other, still harmonising as beautifully as ever. Spine-tingling moment: The bittersweet bridge: "You and me have memories/longer than the road that leads us out from here."

19 I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour)
Quite possibly the strangest pop song. John piles up the nonsensical imagery amid layers of symphonic noise, and somehow it all sticks in your head. Inspired craziness, no doubt after taking loads of LSD. Spine-tingling moment: After the second chorus, in comes radio static, then a Monty Python moment - something completely different. "Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun." Huh?

18 A Day In The Life (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Another first-class mind bender. The Fab Four have the ability to alter the traditional song structures, yet still craft memorable melodies. This experimental take on the mundane, druggy life in Britain builds on John's nonchalant lyrics, Paul's sudden verse which takes a dramatic left turn.... Spine tingling moment: and the sensational orchestra work, first creating a disconcerting din, then ending with a single crashing note to end the song. Trippy indeed.

17 Norwegian Wood (Rubber Soul)
"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me." Whereby love songs grew up, no longer confined by traditional declarations of love lost and won. Kudos, John. Spine tingling moment: From the east comes George's fascination with the sitar. I would like to learn how to play it too.

16 Hey Jude (1966-1970)
Monumental, all-encompassing ballad. Probably where most music fans now take their first steps into the world of the Beatles. I did, because I heard my dad singing this. So obvious and poignant are the lyrics and melody, everything bad about Paul is instantly forgotten. Spine tingling moment: I kinda dislike the overlong "Na na na" coda, I prefer the hysterical Paul screaming: "Better, better, better, better, YEAHHHHHHH!!!!!!"

15 Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Just for thumping opening riff, probably the heaviest guitar part served up by the band. Bonus points: my favourite band U2 jamming this song with Paul during the Live8 concerts. Spine tingling moment: Like I said, that riff.

14 Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver)
The band's wildest experimental track, with backwards guitars, weird noises and druggy psychedelic vibe. Head rush alert as John intones teachings from the Tibetian Book of the Dead. Insane. Spine tingling moment: That strange seagull sound, absolutely a "WTF????" moment.

13 All You Need Is Love (Magical Mystery Tour)
"All you need is love, love is all you need" John has a wondrous way of saying the most glorious things in the simplest way. This song is all about that. Spine tingling moment: My friends who heard this song keep telling me there's something weird about the beat. Of course, pals, the verses are in 7/4 time. That's what's so wacky about this song.

12 Across The Universe (Let It Be)
Where John lays bare his soul and sets his agenda for his solo career. Tremendously moving existential ballad. Spine tingling moment: "Nothing's gonna change my world." Another simple yet shattering declaration.

11 With A Little Help From My Friends (Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Mid-era Beatles can still churn out charming ditties with ease. This is by far their best friendship song. Ringo adds a bit of moroseness with his vocals, but it's a great singalong ride with pals: "What would you do if I sang out of tune?" Spine tingling moment: Paul is a vastly underrated bassist. Listen to his flourishes to this song. Simple, yet memorable.

10 Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road)
Long under the shadow of John and Paul, George finally came into his own as a songwriter in the final recorded album. This is easily the album's best track, a pastoral declaration of peacefulness. Amid the band's constant bickering, it's a comforting track to say the least. Spine tingling moment: The guitar turnaround that links the chorus back to the verses. Genius at work.

9 Revolution (1966-1970)
The Beatles' most political single, and one of their most stirring. John, of course, wrote the lyrics, which preaches change but not through force. Uplifting. Spine tingling moment: The fiery guitars spew out Chuck Berry riffs with aplomb as John sneers: "But if you are talking about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out?" Peace.

8 Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)
Supreme whimsical journey through Paul's hometown of Liverpool. The characters are probably fictitious, but he paints them with such vivid strokes and compelling melodies that they become our figments of imagination. It's like an aural Alice In Wonderland. Spine tingling moment: The very English phrase "Very strange!" seems so appropriate here.

7 Help! (Help!)
A dark, depressing song - but you'll never know from the exuberant arrangement. Chiming guitars, excellent harmonies and bouncy beat, until you listen carefully to the lyrics. Genius John at work here, do not disturb, just admire and try to copy. Spine tingling moment: John leaps into falsetto: "Won't you please please help me?"

6 Let It Be (Let It Be)
Gorgeous, haunting ballad that signals the imminent end of the band. Paul's hymnal melody urges all his mates to lay their arguments to rest, and his poignant vocals pleads of understanding. His bandmates ably support him - John lends an understated vocal counterpoint and wordless harmonies, Ringo remains steady with his beat... Spine tingling moment: and George comes up with a heck of a soulful guitar solo. Vastly overlooked.

5 Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The White Album)
My perverse mind's favourite. This sums up their adventurous rock spirit - marrying three weird song snippets into one unforgettably trippy song. On their own, the snippets are mediocre. Together, they sound totally mind-bending. Is the song about masturbation? Or the delights of holding a gun? Either way, it's gloriously weird. Spine tingling moment: When John's gleeful vocals sing the song title. Why is happiness a warm gun? We'll never know, but the Scouser sure sounds happy.

4 Ticket To Ride (Help!)
Riff alert, vocal harmonies alert and kick-ass drums alert. This is their best pure rock song. Not augmented by anything studio trickery, just simple guitars, bass and drums. Not surprisingly, it's far ahead of any songs churned out by their peers. Spine tingling moment: John gives another set of morose lyrics added to unforgettable melodies. "I think I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today.....YEAH!!!"

3 Yesterday (Help!)
The transcendent classic. Covered endlessly, heard all over the world, and it still sounds heartbreaking. It could have been a simple ditty, tagged at the end of the album. But Paul lets producer George Martin add the most appropriate, heart-tugging orchestral work. The result is there for all to hear. Spine tingling moment: How many songs can you memorise the lyrics on first listen?

2 In My Life (Rubber Soul)
Perhaps no other band writes more poignant, bittersweet songs than the Fab Four. This song works as both a love song and a kiss-off of all the hangers-on that are plaguing John. Add that lovely guitar riff at the beginning, and it's my favourite Beatles ballad. Spine tingling moment: "Though I know I'll never lose affection/of people and things that went before/I know I'll often stop and think about them/In my life, I love you more."

1 Strawberry Fields Forever (Magical Mystery Tour)
A ballad, a rocker, a psychedelic experiment, a first-class weird trip -- all rolled into one. The song that is Beatles through and through. I remember thinking: "What the heck is this?" on first listen. Then it reveals its heart with repeated listening. John's yearning for his hometown messes with his mind, and he transforms his ballad to a druggy masterpiece gradually. Its like listening to a slight mental breakdown, surprisingly soothing though. Spine tingling moment: So many - there's John's nonsensical "That is, you can't, you know, tune in but it's all wrong", George's clarion-like guitar that announces the coda, and the fade-out, fade-in mind-bender at the end.