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I hate singers with weak, weedy voices, like Neil Young. I hate unmusical voices, like Leonard Cohen, Ian Curtis and Morrissey. I hate singers with overly-trained voices, like Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Huston. I hate rap, partly because of its aggression and partly because I can’t see the point in droning on about things to the accompaniment of noises clearly not made by musical instruments. And in case you were wondering, I hate hip hop.
On the other hand, I like singers with good pop voices. Male singers I like are Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden from Gerry and the Pacemakers, Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene here and here, Steve Ellis from Love Affair here and here, Howard Kaylan from the Turtles, Glenn Tillbrook from Squeeze here and here, Dean Ford from Marmalade here and here and Don Henley from The Eagles singing Hollywood Waltz and One of these Nights. I also like the distinctively interesting voices of Hugh Cornwell from The Stranglers here and here, Joe Strummer from The Clash on Spanish Bombs and Working for the Clampdown, Andy Partridge from XTC on Science Friction and No Thugs in Our House and Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel.
Among female singers I like Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Polly Browne from Pickettywitch, whose voice is basically a combination of Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross, and Doris Day. I also love the slightly harsh voice of Cass Elliot who sounds much more interested in the song than in the sound of her own voice.
I like interesting lyricists like those of Howard Devoto from Magazine, Billy Mackenzie from The Associates, They Might be Giants, Ron Mael from Sparks, Elvis Costello, Andy Partridge from XTC, Billy Bragg (though I dislike his politics), Morrissey from The Smiths, Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy, Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook from Squeeze and Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl.
I hate drum machines. I think the slide guitars of Country and Western music spoil what are otherwise perfectly good songs. I hate the electric guitars of Heavy Rock. I hate Progressive Rock. I hate Hard Rock. I hate Jimmy Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin and I don’t much like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and anyone else with long hair and a leather jacket. However, decade by decade I dislike these groups a little less. I now actually like Ace of Spades by Motorhead and More than a Feeling, a bit of soft rock by Boston, as well as Hold the Line by Toto.
I like haunting songs like this by Mecano, this by Japan, Magnificent Obsession by Fehlfarben, a German group, A Home in the Meadow by Debbie Reynolds, The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams and Winter Kills by Yazoo.
I hate saxophone solos, guitar solos, and any other kind of solo.
I hate what I consider to be ‘pointless music’, like Muzak, Jack Johnson’s songs and Bossanova. A nice song like The Girl From Ipanema is the kind of song that should be done once and once only. Or perhaps once every thousand years. Music to chill by sounds to me like music by people who don’t really mean it. As an aside, Astrud Gilberto, the woman who sings The Girl From Ipanema, is an example of a woman who is not good looking but is lovely despite that. It’s something about her shy, languid gaze and the way she holds her arms. Languid Astrud.
I don’t much like Britney Spears-style pop because it is unoriginal, uninteresting and lightweight. However, I don’t dislike it to the same degree that I do rap or opera. If I hear either of those playing in a shop then I have to immediately leave in case I kill someone.
I quite like Punk though only because it was popular while I was a teenager, otherwise I would find it unbearably noisy and basic. Also the reflex solidarity of Punk Rockers with any anti-establishment group gets on my nerves. I wrote about that here. They are supposed to be rebels for God’s sake! Couldn’t just a few of them have voted for Margaret Thatcher or worn cardigans instead of the obligatory torn clothes and leftist politics?
I like old style Rock ‘n’ Roll by musicians like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. It’s the only kind of music that I find nearly impossible not to dance to. I like Boogie, a kind of Rock ‘n’ Roll like this and this. Many songs I like contain some kind of keyboard, usually a piano like Honky Tonk Train Blues by Keith Emerson. I even like the occasional Scottish Country reel like this by Jimmy Shand.
I love Motown. I will listen to anything by The Four Tops or The Supremes. I love Disco, especially from the 1970s like Born to be Alive by Patrick Hernandez, Instant Replay by Dan Hartman and Disco Inferno by The Trammps, as well as Murder on the Dancefloor by Sophie Ellis-Bextor from 2001.
I like pop with arranged strings like this reggae song from the 1970s. Reggae with strings is more interesting than just plain Reggae, which quickly sounds ‘samey’ to my ears. Steel Pulse is one of the few Reggae bands that I like, mainly because I love the singer’s voice and some of their melodies. Chant a Psalm and Your House are just terrific. Desmond Decker is also great, especially Fu Manchu and It Mek.
I like a lot of pop from the late 1960s and early 1970s that had string or horn arrangements like songs from Love Affair and Marmalade and this more recent song by The Manic Street Preachers. Also Ordinary Life by Amy Macdonald feels more substantial, more dramatic, with a whole orchestra playing along.
I like music with a steady beat and a steady bass line that give structure and backbone to a song. The Simple Minds’ songs In Trance as Mission, Factory, 30 Frames a Second and Changeling are good examples of this. They are hypnotic in their repetitiveness yet somehow I don’t get bored. I like repetition in music and the certainty that something predictable is coming next. This is why I dislike Progressive or Free Jazz. It lacks structure and predictability. I neither can, nor want to, guess what’s coming next. As far as I can make out it is just a few instruments playing random notes.
Although the 1980’s was my era I find nowadays I can’t listen to much of it because it sounds too busy and full of unnecessary bells and whistles; quiet bits are not allowed in case the listener gets bored and turns to something else. It sounds relentless. I suspect that this is often to mask the fact that there is no tune. And even when there is a tune the whole thing sounds unnatural, played as it is on synthesizers and drum machines. One solution to this is to seek out ‘unplugged’ versions of songs. They generally sound better; more human. Though the A-ha song Take on me was good in the original I prefer this slower, unplugged version.
For several months this song by Stornoway has been my favourite. I always get excited when I think I have discovered a new group but unfortunately End of the Movie seems to be a one off.
If I had to summarise my musical tastes I would say that most of my favourite songs are a hybrid between pop and Rock. They have lovely melodies, clever lyrics and often an orchestral arrangement with piano as the main instrument. Most importantly, the singer must have either a good ‘pop voice’ or an appealingly distinctive one.