1. Simple Twist of Fate – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s best album is Blood On The Tracks. It’s a divisive statement this, but one that makes critical sense. Go on; just ask Clinton Heylin. Written in the wake of tumultuous personal circumstances and with more than one critical disappointment already accrued, Dylan’s 15th record is meditative, regretful and melancholy. Most of all though, the album is pure poetry, from the scathing abstract riddles of Idiot Wind to the buoyant murder ballad Lily, Rosemary and the Jack Of Hearts. The lyrics create exquisite portraits of disdain, and none is so heart wrecking as Simple Twist Of Fate, whose tumbling C-Cmaj7-C7 chord progression is only the first of its gorgeous facets – if we begin with the quayside wanderers of the opening then we are, by closing time, hunched at the bar, shoulders deep in shot glasses, and tears streaming down our aged, forlorn faces. Dylan’s narrative follows two unlikely lovers; an insecure drifter and his one-night stand. On her departure, he is, naturally, heartbroken. He traces her gorgeous infidelity down to the docks where the sailors await her loving after their lonely masculine voyages and perhaps unsurprisingly, she is gone, seemingly, forever. Dylan (pictured) posits finally has that it’s the injustice of the seasons and the inoperable tragedy of their birthdates which are truly responsible for the loneliness that will undeniably ensue. Regardless of interpretation, Simple Twist Of Fate demands your attention; it’s aching musical beauty is perfectly matched by Dylan’s raspy, half-spoken storytelling – and that’s just the sound of the thing. There are, in the symbolic choices of every word used here, the flourishing touches of a profoundly touching writer, weaving sweetness into even the most debauched of sketches.
2. The Only One (Demo) – Billy Bragg
By his fourth record, Billy Bragg was writing and recording as two fairly consistent halves: one thoroughly political, and one thoroughly forlorn. Despite the sardonic bombast and Phil Ochs directness of his socialist electro-folk, it’s always been those tracks from the latter camp that touched me most and which, in my opinion, fail to age in the same way his protest songs do. The Only One is a typically idiosyncratic stab at the love-song by Barking’s Bard, built upon a winsome melody and debased by kitchen-sink metaphors (“the chain that fell off my bike last night is now wrapped ‘round my heart”; “I long to let our love run free / yet here I am, a victim of geography”). What makes this so excellent for me, is the way in which such an approachable topic (considering your loved one to be definitive) becomes arcane through its awkward articulation; awkward because it’s so bone-crunchingly honest, in voice and tone. I’ve very deliberately chosen the demo version here for the playlist. Its raw electric guitar arrangement recalls Bragg’s abrasive first record, Life’s A Riot with Spy Vs. Spy; its subject matter however, acts as a catalytic ageing agent to that original debut charm, demonstrating to my ears anyway, a cute evolution of the writer behind the already-fantastic A New England into something altogether more self-aware. For the flesh and blood Billy, look no further than this perfect recording.
3. Just a Girl (Early Demo) – Suede feat. Justine Frischmann
It’s a small world. To begin with, Suede featured boyfriend-girlfriend musician couple Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann. After a falling out, Frischmann quit the band, where she found new love in the arms of the then-unknown Damon Albarn. Frischmann would briefly find B-list Britpop fame with the post-punk outfit Elastica, shortly before Albarn nicked the bass groove for Blur’s Boys And Girls from Elastica’s Line Up, ending the second of our little love stories. Sad, innit. Way back in the beginning though, Brett and Justinne sat down with an acoustic guitar and penned this sweet little three-chord number about being outsiders in love. It’s very Smiths-y; very bourgeois; very Suede. However, hailing as it does from a time before Anderson’s lyrics were full of drugs and animalistic sex, Just A Girl contains some incredibly pretty lines: “ashtray eyes and bootlace ties will never set you free”, the pair harmonically intone at the close of verse one; “things could have been so different if we’d only drunk more wine”. There’s little more to say about this song – it’s just a cute little memory from a forgotten moment before the storm. In 2003, for the b-side to the Golden Gun/Attitude single, Brett Anderson and Richard Oakes attempted the song once more. Eerily, the recording cuts off as Oakes fudges the next chord; Anderson sighs: “ah, it was going well that, wasn’t it?” They never corrected the mistake though; that’s it – the final take. I think there might be something in the band’s decision to leave things that way. But make of it what you will…