1. Absolute Beginners [Full-Length Version] – David Bowie
The mid-eighties were not kind to David Bowie [pictured]… whatever anyone tries to tell you about Labrynth. He did, however, drop a sterling, jazz-glam throwback single entitled Absolute Beginners, recorded for inclusion on the soundtrack to the box-office-flopping film of the same name. Contained within these eight minutes are the fully revitalised, swinging aesthetics of the Modern Love era, refined beyond (in the opinion of this writer) their original test-drive on the Let’s Dance album. Here, in its glorious 12” form, Absolute Beginners treats us to additional features that, once heard, are sorely missed from the 7” edit – a sleazy, crawling intro; the extended saxophone solo. It’s also full of those Bowie chords (a C# diminished 7, everybody – four chords in) and driven by a plain and simple message – one that’s all about luurrrvveeeee. Certainly, literary critics of Bowie are going to find lots at fault here, but that’s never been the point of this column… and I’d be doing her a disservice indeed, if we finished off without dragging Bowie’s bubblegum, fifties pop-song moment with us, wouldn’t I?
2. Sara [Alternate ‘Cleaning Lady’ Take] – Fleetwood Mac
People always forget about Tusk. When celebrating Fleetwood Mac, it’s always Rumours or Tango in the Night that gets first prize, with a word or two (perhaps) to say about Mirage. What about Tusk, though? Lindsey Buckingham’s audacious attempt to jump on the new wave bandwagon saw some of the band’s brightest and best experimentation in the wake of the sex and drugs backstabbing binge that produced their previous record. Needless to say, since it wasn’t Rumours 2, the expensive two-disc record, clocking in at almost 75 minutes, was a relative commercial failure and, at the time, the most expensive rock album ever produced. Sara is Stevie Nicks’ primary contribution and it’s absolutely gorgeous. In typical Fleetwood Mac fashion, no one is all that sure whose lover this track is about – but it’s someone’s (read the Wikipedia entry for this song if you’re curious…) Once again, the definitive cut of this track is a raw and emotional, early take from the Tusk sessions, known as the ‘cleaning lady’ version for its bizarre opening utterance, and sprawling into a frenzied nine-minute swirl of Stevie Nicks moans and twinkly Christine McVie keys. It’s an incredible song, and an incredible album. What are you waiting for – listen now.
3. Papa Was a Rodeo – The Magnetic Fields
It could only end here. Combining his trademark, melancholy baritone with a scandalously sad skill for exploring impossible romances in run-down drinking establishments, Stephin Merritt scores top marks once again on this, the centrepiece of his incredible 69 Love-Songs – perhaps the fondest farewell waved back out of 1999 and into the ashes of time. Everything here is tear-jerkingly exquisite – Claudia Gonson’s chiming, electro piano keys; the soft and rare chugging of real drums; Shirley Simms’ sweet duet through the outro. Of the hundreds of songs Merritt now has to his name, perhaps none is so affecting as this, extracted from the belly of the pre-millennial beast against which he is still measured today. It was an excellent album in of itself – to have then, a song such as this, standing proud amidst so many clever, bubble-gum retorts is quite something. Production-wise, it’s everything you’d expect – just better than lo-fi, and dreary on the ear. Lyrically though, there’s a brilliant secrecy to the proceedings; a set of questions connoting to and voiced by probed and probing hearts: tired rejections at the bar; truckers sharing drinks and glances too; a couple that seemingly outlasts the doubts of their younger selves and peers to endure ‘the romance of the century’. It really is, to my ears anyway, the daddy of all romantic tunes; the king of the saps – the ultimate, ultimate song about love.
…and that’s all folks. Sixty-nine songs about love, done and dusted. A big thank you to anyone and everyone who followed this thing to it’s grisly end, and remember to check out the Magnetic Fields’ original 69… it’s one of the best albums of all time, for sure.