I’m now beginning to ask myself why I went ahead with this idea of selecting my five favourite LP tracks by some of my favourite acts. On all but one occasion so far, it has been an agonising set of choices I’ve given myself, and this week was much the same. I'm grateful to Jonny East/West for giving me a breal last wek.
This week's featured act only released records between 1978 and 1981, and there have now been more compilations than the actual four studio LPs. But the quality of the output of Magazine, certainly over the first three albums before some disillusionment at the lack of success led to lethargy, cannot be denied.
I’ve previously written about the excitement they brought my way in 2009 when they reformed and toured – I managed to see them in Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh and all three gigs were truly outstanding. I had long ago given up ever hearing some of my favourite songs of all time played in the live environment – notwithstanding that Morrissey made a more than passable stab at A Song From Under The Floorboards a few years back. The fact that one of the shows saw the band unannounced beforehand perform The Correct Use Of Soap in its entirety in the correct running order was something totally unexpected.
I’ll get one thing out of the way. None of the five songs chosen today come from the final LP Magic Murder and the Weather. Its not a brilliant record, but its nowhere near as poor a quality as some critic make out. It just comes nowhere near the sublime genius of Real Life, Secondhand Daylight or The Correct Use of Soap.
Over those three albums, the band released 28 songs of which 5 were issued as singles. That left just 23 tracks to whittle down to a rundown for this posting. I’ve done it. Just not sure how I managed it:-
mp3 : Magazine – Back To Nature
mp3 : Magazine – Definitive Gaze
mp3 : Magazine – Philadelphia
mp3 : Magazine – The Light Pours Out Of Me
mp3 : Magazine – You Never Knew Me
Critics of Magazine have often centred on the fact that some of the music, while claiming to be a mix of post-punk, prog and pop, is far too close to the pomposity of prog to be worthy of merit. To back this up, they highlight the highly accomplished keyboard work of Dave Formula and many of the songs on Secondhand Daylight, released in 1979 which is full of long tunes and shock horror, includes The Thin Air, an instrumental dominated by a saxophone solo. Undeniably, it is not a punk or even a new wave record if you want to follow a strict definition of those genres. But in many ways it straddled new wave and the electronica sound that would gain popularity soon after and make UK chart stars of Human League, Tubeway Army and Ultravox among others.
Back To Nature is a big tune in every way. It clocks in at well over 6 minutes. It opens with melodic piano. It swoops and it soars thereafter with a slapped bass underpinning every beat, including a swirling keyboard solo that would easily have met with the approval of any Genesis or Yes fan. It contains a strange rambling lyric that the listener isnt initially sure of, but it does seem to have some weird dream aspect with people with soft hands, akin to Cubans wearing surgical gloves, wanting to touch up our Howard. It shouldt work. But it does. It's the only song I've selected from Secondhand Daylight. I was tempted by Permafrost, but the creepy and disturbing and what could be interpreted as a hugely misogynous lyric does disturb me a little too much.
Jumping back in time, two tracks have made the cut from debut LP Real Life. One is the opening track that was eventually called Definite Gaze, although the early demos and indeed a Peel Session had it entitled as Real Life. I'm happy to admit that it’s the Formula fingerwork that wins me over with this one. It was quite unlike anything else happening at the time.
At the other end of the spectrum, it’s John McGeogh's contribution to The Light Pours Out Of Me that clinches that particular song's place in the final five today. Thirty-two years on and almost everyone I know is happy to acknowledge the debut single Shot By Both Sides as a genuine new-wave classic. It still has the ability to rocket me out of my seat and onto a dancefloor - as it did at the Little League night a couple of weeks when whisper it, I tried again to pogo. However, I really think that The Light Pours Out Of Me is far superior. It’s a tune that dates back to the early days of Buzzcocks which is why Pete Shelley gets a writing credit but there can be no doubtimng that McGeoch (who is also given a writing credit) is the real genius behind this bit of music.
It was a brave decision for the band to open with this track on the comeback tour. It was real test of the skills and abilities of Noko to fill the late McGeoch's shoes in the otherwise classic and definitive line-up of the band. But his playing on this track won over any doubters. It was perfect note-for-note and it had me brushing away tears of joy right there and then.
At one point, I really did think this week's piece would consist of The Light.. plus four tracks from The Correct Use Of Soap, a record released in May 1980 and which probably is the LP I've played in its entirety more than any other during my time on Planet Earth. It’s a stunning piece of work, and even allowing for the fact that two of its 10 tracks were released as singles and thus disqualified from inclusion today, I had a real problem working out which of the remainder I liked pr preferred more than the others. And I have changed my mind even as I'm typing.
It's an album that perfectly straddles new-wave, pop, electronica and dance. Yes, dance. I defy anybody who listens to their take on Sly Stone's Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin) not to shake their collective asses. But as it was one of the two singles, it cant be included here. So it’s the tune that features another great bit of McGeoch trickery along a tear-jerker of a ballad.
One of the lines from Philadelphia has given its name to the one Magazine box set that was released back in in 2000 - Maybe It's Right To Be Nervous Now. The song itself is one that wouldn’t have been out of place on many a post-punk new wave LP, but three things really do lift it above most of the rest.
#1 Devoto's lyrics are astounding - sometimes clear as crystal ("Your clean-living, clear-eyed, clever, level-head brother says he'll put all the screws upon your newest lover), sometimes bizzare (Buddha's in the fireplace, the truth's in drugs from Outer Space) and sometimes so clever they're almost too smart-ass (Everything would be just fine if I had the right pastime, I'd have been Raskolnikov but Mother Nature ripped me off). But never dull.
#2 Devoto's delivery is among his best. Its machine-gun rapid fire at the outset and then he slows it down a wee bit in the middle before signing off with a heartfelt line that leads to…
#3 the McGeogh solo that has surely shattered a few wine glasses over the years with its intensity. Proof that you didn’t have to be an axe-monster in a rawk band to be a great and unique guitarist.
And finally, to round things off, I've gone for You Never Knew Me. The first and possibly only great weepy of the post-punk era. One that I played over and over and over again the first time I truly had my heart broken into tiny pieces. It still has the ability to upset me if I've had too much to drink. Costello-esque in its beauty and brutality.
I’m going to pour myself a stiff drink now as that was a very tough assignment. Any volunteers to take on the challenge of picking 5 tracks and then arguing why? The address is on the right-hand side…….