1 New Order – Crystal
2 South – Paint The Silence
3 REM – Imitation Of Life
4 Pulp – Weeds
5 Stereo MC’s – Deep Down And Dirty
6 Super Furry Animals – Sidewalk Serfer Girl
7 The White Stripes – Hotel Yorba
8 Alfie – You Make No Bones
9 The Charlatans – A Man Needs To Be Told
10 Radiohead – Pyramid Song
11 Widespread Panic – Imitation Leather Shoes
12 Destiny’s Child – Bootylicious
13 U2 – Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
14 Clearlake – Jumble Sailing
15 Starsailor – Good Souls
16 Muse – Bliss
17 Mercury Rev – The Dark Is Rising
18 Elbow – Scattered Black And Whites
1 Coldplay – Don’t Panic
2 Gorillaz – 19-2000 (Soulchild Mix)
3 Basement Jaxx – Where’s Your Head At
4 New Order – Slow Jam
5 The Strokes – Hard To Explain
6 Dave Matthews Band – Everyday
7 Manic Street Preachers – Wattsville Blues
8 Elbow – Red
9 Clearlake – Don’t Let The Cold In
10 The Beta Band – Human Being
11 REM – Beat A Drum
12 South – Here On In
13 The White Stripes – We’re Going To Be Friends
14 Train – Drops Of Jupiter
15 Pulp – Sunrise
16 Spiritualized – Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)
17 Radiohead – Cuttooth
‘Sometimes I get it wrong / But I’m not the only one’
This weekend just gone, I went down to Wales with my girlfriend Nat. She went to university in Cardiff, and we’d be having a bit of an all-day bender in that city on the Saturday. Cardiff’s only a city that I’ve visited occasionally through the years but the trip there clearly meant a lot to her and part of the drive there was taken up by talk of university memories – not just the good but the bad too.
I have a bit of a different relationship with Brighton, my university city – my whole family are from there, I spent part of my childhood living up the road in Burgess Hill, and that final stretch of the A23 into the city I associate more with visiting grandparents as I ever did with going to my uni digs. But my university time, a bit like my years working at summer camp, was a strange old mix.
A bit like my soundtrack to 2001. I’ve always been a bit down on this one. When your own father tells you, on hearing it for the first time, that it’s a bit middle-of-the-road, that’s a comment that sticks. And looking down the running order, it almost strikes me that there’s a desire to please other people more than myself – this is the first of the Soundtrack compilations that I made and burned off copies in any great number to distribute to my friends. Maybe I hadn’t quite found an identity of my own just yet. Certainly things had changed by the following year.
The first half of disc 1 is pretty good, though. New Order’s comeback single after eight years away, ‘Crystal’, starts things. More memorable now for its video starring a fictional band called The Killers that would be the inspiration for Brandon Flowers’ own band name, the song with its electric piano and woman backing singer intro sounds a bit dated now, but at the time it was a relief to see New Order back in the game – and their album from the time, Get Ready, is an underrated gem. Then it’s South with ‘Paint The Silence’ – one of my very last off-the-back-of-an-NME-review punts. The song would be better associated with the teen drama The OC in later years. It seemed for a few years that songs that I would put on my own soundtrack would feature on one of The OC’s a couple of years later, almost as if they were listening.
My number one band of 2001 was REM. Given access to the many record shops of Brighton I made it my task to pick up all of their albums in bargain bins. Listening back to them heightened a sense that they were becoming band chasing the zeitgeist rather than forming it, but they were capable of the odd great song – and I’d put ‘Imitation Of Life’ in that category. I saw them promote this at an event in Trafalgar Square to mark South Africa Day – a free concert that would see them headline a line-up that included The Corrs, Atomic Kitten and Billy Ocean(!), with speeches from Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair. A barely credible combination, but this really did happen.
After ‘Weeds’, the militaristic opening track from Pulp’s final album (I guess I should add ‘for now’, these days), we get another comeback single from a band that had been away a long time. Though the Stereo MCs’ return is a mere footnote in music history these days, it’s more notable for me as being the first inclusion on one of my soundtracks having never bought the record. Napster was banned from my university’s internet – ‘too much bandwidth’ being their official reason – but we circumvented it by using the web-based Audiogalaxy instead. Audiogalaxy (and when that was shut down, imitators like WinMX) helped massively broaden my music tastes in those distant pre-Spotify days. Music on demand is almost a right these days thanks to Spotify, but discovering the joy of limitless free music, with a bit of a thrill of it being completely illegal, was fantastic. (Note to lawyers reading: I haven’t partaken in that for years).
Audiogalaxy could also be a bit unreliable though. With Radiohead, alongside REM, established as my favourite band, I was desperate to get my hands on a leak of their new album Amnesiac. I downloaded all of the tracks, arranged them into its running order and played it to death until it was properly released and I could buy it for real. The problem was that the source material came from all over the place – one song had a foreign DJ talking over the top of the start, and the song ‘Like Spinning Plates’ (the one that sounds like it was backwards) had been reversed the other way. But most irritatingly of all, ‘Pyramid Song’, the first single, had been cut up to make it sound like it was more of a verse-chorus-verse song. Why the hell couldn’t they leave it alone? Still, once I eventually got my hands on a legal version, ‘Pyramid Song’ became one of my all-time favourite Radiohead songs.
‘Sidewalk Serfer Girl’ and ‘A Man Needs To Be Told’ are excellent tracks by the Super Furries and the Charlatans respectively, although their parent albums did signal a decline in their output that they haven’t reversed. Both bands are still going concerns in 2013 though, so you never know. Tucked between those two tracks are two very strong uni memories – ‘Hotel Yorba’ by the White Stripes, the unofficial anthem of my second-year student digs, and ‘You Make No Bones’ by Alfie. I write this blog on the day I’ve finally been able to open the windows for the first time this year, and the laid-back vibes of ‘You Make No Bones’ brings back the smell of the freshly-cut grass by my first year halls as spring turned into summer.
I worked in America again in the summer, my second at Camp Henry Horner near Chicago. This’ll at least explain the presence of ‘Bootylicious’ by Destiny’s Child – the dominant song on the radio at the time.
Some of the other stuff, well… I don’t know. I really don’t like Widespread Panic’s ‘Imitation Leather Shoes’ apart from its grumbling bassline, and ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ is U2’s only appearance on any of the 16 soundtrack compilations to date. I’m not anti-U2 in particular (though like many I can’t stand Bono) but that was a really weird song to pick. And ‘Good Souls’ by Starsailor… well, that is absolutely, officially, the last song I would ever buy a CD of from an NME review. I liked it for a couple of months (around the time I made the soundtrack) but now I despise them deeply. I don’t hold the same hatred towards Muse – though many do – but I was never a big fan. ‘Bliss’ still sounds great though.
Better though is the Last Of The Summer Wine-style harmonica that ushers in ‘Jumble Sailing’, a pick from a truly underrated album by Clearlake (called Lido) that charts the dull day-to-day life of a fictional seaside town (something akin to Seaford, I guess).
Near the end of disc 1, there’s ‘The Dark Is Rising’ – much like with the Super Furries and the Charlatans discussed earlier, it was in hindsight an early pointer to the decline of Mercury Rev, although they made a decent fist of reversing that decline a few years later (more on that when I get to 2008). Rounding things off though is the closing track from Elbow’s superb debut album, Asleep In The Back. Having slagged off so much music on this disc, it’s at least nice to finish with one of my all-time favourite tracks, detailing a visit back to a former home – something that would become a bit of a theme of Elbow’s songwriting. As it fades away with a sort of spectral take on the intro to U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, I’m still left a little bit disappointed that it took the Great British public several more albums, none as good as their debut, to warm to Elbow.
So in conclusion, several notable tracks aside, disc 1 of the 2001 soundtrack is pretty much as average as I remember it to be. In all of the discs I’ll be writing about this year, I think disc 2 is probably the worst front-to-back listen, though disc 1 runs it close. There’s a handful of exceptions (one of which is still one of my favourite songs of all time) but in the main, this disc just reaffirms 2001’s position as the ugly duckling of the whole Soundtrack series. I’ve barely listened to it in a decade, and aside from listening it just now for the purposes of trying to string a couple of thousand words together about it, it might be another ten years before I touch it again.
I’m mostly going to tackle this one in ‘worst-to-best’ order. The nadir of these 80 minutes is arguably the nadir of all 550-odd songs I’ve ever picked for a soundtrack, and the track that made me question seriously about rewriting history and including a different song there instead. But hey, it’s only fair that I live and die by my choices and so I bring you the staple of early-2000s adult alternative radio, ‘Drops Of Jupiter’ by Train. I honestly can’t remember why it’s here – was it as an acknowledgement of consuming so much Top 40 radio in America at the time (I made no less than four trips to Chicago that year)? Was it because my girlfriend of the time liked the song? Was it just to keep out something even more horrific, like, I dunno, ‘Superman’ by Five For Fighting? Well, it’s here for all time now. And to add to the comedy value, when I was doing a new mix of this of the soundtrack to upload to Mixcloud, I found that the original version I had was a 96kbps rip, and I had to buy ‘Drops Of Jupiter’ on iTunes to add it properly. And I’ve changed PCs in the past couple of weeks, which wiped my phone in the process, deleting all the songs except for… ‘Drops Of Jupiter’.
A bit better, but not massively, is ‘Everyday’, the final track on the album of the same name by the Dave Matthews Band. I can tolerate a bit of Dave – too many summer camp memories tied in not to – but you’d have to go a long way to find someone who would call Everyday DMB’s best album, as they shed everything that made them unique for the sake of scoring a few hits with Alanis Morissette’s producer. That sits next to ‘Wattsville Blues’, quite comfortably the worst song on Know Your Enemy, the Manic Street Preachers’ attempt to relight the fire from their early releases. At the time I was a fan of Nicky Wire’s Mark E Smith impression, but not now. Coldplay make the first of many soundtrack appearances here with ‘Don’t Panic’. I’m going to have to get a lot of Coldplay defences out of my system in later blog posts so I’m not going to waste one here, only noting that the version of ‘Don’t Panic’ you hear here is not the song that opens their debut album Parachutes, but a version from one of their earlier EPs that I’d mistakenly compiled with the rest of Parachutes using Audiogalaxy (see my last blog post – I had a bit of a habit of doing this). For 12 years I’d assumed that this version was the Parachutes version – right up until putting together a new mix of this soundtrack a couple of weeks ago.
2001’s buzz bands were the Strokes and the White Stripes, and they both get a look in here. I’m utterly amazed that the Strokes are still a going concern in 2013, given the fact that they seemed to use all of their decent ideas in one album. ‘Hard To Explain’ is by some distance the best song on Is This It, but to these older ears it all just sounds so tinny – it makes you wonder what the fuss was all about. The now-defunct White Stripes’ music has aged far better, but as I bought their later releases I got the impression of a band garnering respect rather than adoration. But it does at least give me the chance to tell my rock’n’roll story of being introduced to the band by David Berman (of Silver Jews) after meeting him in an bar in Nashville and striking up conversation with him and his wife Cassie (also of Silver Jews) without having any clue who they were. I spent much of the week going out drinking with them after and ended my week in Nashville by watching the White Stripes in some toilet venue immediately before they became enormous. ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ is not included as a homage to the Silver Jews – I never saw them again after that week – but was the most memorable song from the White Stripes (along with their cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’). It became more widely known as the opening song from the film Napoleon Dynamite.
Moving into the better stuff now, following Coldplay there’s a couple of rather good chart-bothering ditties that still hold up well. We have the Soulchild remix of Gorillaz’ ’19-2000′, which is basically a slightly sped-up version of the original with added glowsticks and neon lights. It’s not the finest Gorillaz single ever, but as I managed to somehow leave the utterly brilliant ‘DARE’ off my 2005 soundtrack, it’s the only Gorillaz song on any of my soundtracks so I’d better salute the genius of Damon Albarn’s cartoon band here. And it’s followed by the still-quite-good-actually ‘Where’s Your Head At’ by Basement Jaxx, and then an album track from New Order, ‘Slow Jam’. Get Ready was one of my favourite ‘driving albums’ for a good few years after it was released.
The second half also features a good run of tracks, featuring the wind-tunnel guitars of Clearlake’s ‘Don’t Let The Cold In’, a rare return by the Beta Band to the sound of their Three EPs on ‘Human Being’, the near-title track from South’s From Here On In album which convinced my then-girlfriend that my music taste wasn’t all bad, and a reminder from REM that there were still hidden gems to be found in their later albums, the happy-sad ballad ‘Beat A Drum’ bearing that out loud and clear. And best of all, there’s Elbow’s ‘Red’, the song that made me properly fall in love with that band. I still adore it and I bloody wish that Elbow would still play it live, given that they’re playing to tens of thousands more people than they used to.
Closing us out we have three songs from three of my favourite bands of the time. Pulp’s career was limping to a halt by 2001 but We Love Life‘s closing track, ‘Sunrise’, sounds like the perfect valedictory statement. They’d end up releasing one final (and equally good) song the following year, ‘The Last Day Of The Miner’s Strike’, that more clearly fulfilled the ‘farewell’ role in their back catalogue, but I wasn’t to know that then. Spiritualized’s Let It Come Down album was a work of flawed genius, never more overblown than the ten minutes of ‘Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)’ – so overblown that I decided to chop the first minute off it altogether.
And after an interminably long fade-out from Spiritualized, the final song here fades in almost like a hidden track. I was listening a lot to Radiohead’s Amnesiac-era B-sides in September 2001, many of them better than the songs included on the album. ‘Cuttooth’ is the pick of them. And there’s no way of getting around it for me – the song reminds me vividly of 9/11, as it was a favourite of mine around that time and the sense of panic in the music and lyrics like ‘Run until your lungs are sore’ and ‘As the tanks roll into town’ fit with the utter madness of that day that I spent agog and vaguely terrified in Auburn, Alabama with my friend Cameron.
And so ends a distinctly average soundtrack from a mixed year for me. 9/11 memories aside, ‘Cuttooth’ seems like a good point to end the disc – it’s one of the best songs here, and appropriately ends with the lyric ‘I’ll find another skin to wear’. I knew that I needed to shake things up in my life a bit – and as it turned out, those needed changes would happen soon enough. And my music taste was about to begin a sharp left turn – I’d started to tune into Radio 1 later into the evenings, and would shortly discover the joys of obscure records being spun late at night on that station by a 62-year-old man.