100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #1: Supertramp: Dreamer

Roger Hodgson’s most accomplished composition to date deals with a fundamental conflict of the human spirit: between the desire to create art to give value and meaning to one’s life, and the pragmatism of knowing it is pointless to do so.  Dreamer opens with the Cynic lambasting the as-yet-unidentified object of his vitriol: “Can you put your hands in your head?/Oh no!”  He goes on to mock: “Now you put your head in your hands,” and thus articulates the primary struggle inside anyone of limited ability who tries to create art: is it worth fighting such vast indifference?

Then, things quieten down and the antagonist joins in: the Dreamer, who tries to defend his self-belief, while all the time the Cynic heaps scorn and ridicule on him for being stupid enough to believe that he could create anything of objective artistic value.  The track ends by building up to a shattering climax, as the Cynic repeats his tired refrain with even more energy, while the defiant Dreamer urges us all to: “Come on and dream and dream along.”

This is a breath-taking song on so many levels, but, in the final analysis, the last question which the Cynic asks the Dreamer during the middle part of the song is the one question which anyone intending to create art in the face of overwhelming indifference must answer to themselves honestly: “But can you do something out of this world?”  Invariably, for the vast majority of us, the answer is “no”, although, of course, that should never stop us from doing so.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #2: Genesis: Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End

Beginning with an intro that sounds like waves crashing on a beach, these ten minutes are the best work the three-man line-up of Genesis produced.  The piece transforms into a rolling, thumping, battling, swirling urgency which continues to increase until Collins repeats the lyric from Guide Vocal.  On side one of Duke, Guide Vocal was delivered in plaintive voice; now, however, Collins sings with the urgency the words demand, and halfway through his staggering, passionate rendition, the whole piece collapses into shattering relief that opens a door to musical ecstasy.  After a brief return to the waves, Duke’s End delivers two minutes of orgasmically climactic power-rock not bettered by anyone else, anywhere, ever.

It is a regret that in live performances, Collins declined to sing the Guide Vocal lyric which raises this music to such heights, but at that time of a performance he was back hammering away on the drums.  So the album version remains the definitive one, the ultimate demonstration of Genesis at its best.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #3: War of the Worlds: Forever Autumn

I’m not entirely sure Jeff Wayne realised the significance of what he was doing when he took one of the greatest works of English literature, chopped the plot about a bit, and wrote such wonderful music to go with it.  In addition, he employed some of the best talent of the day, his masterstroke being to have the brilliant actor Richard Burton read the narration.  Forever Autumn is the stand-out part of this magisterial album.

In Wells’ novel, the narrator’s brother relates the destruction of London, as the narrator was by then buried under a cylinder in Sheen.  Here we have the narrator fighting his way through the city to get to the love of his life, Carrie.  This is a neat plot device, as it makes us care more about the narrator, and raises the stakes nicely in the subsequent battle between the Martians and the Thunderchild.  But it is here, in Forever Autumn, that Hayward’s vocal, Burton’s narration (quoting passages from Wells’ book) and the orchestration combine to deliver wholly unmatched musical storytelling.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #4: Genesis: Mad Man Moon

If the beauty of the most perfect sculpture ever made by human hand could be represented in music, it would sound like this.  Mad Man Moon is certainly Tony Banks’ most accomplished piece of composition whether in or out of Genesis.  If the opening bars of this piano intro do not speak at once to your soul, then I strongly recommend you visit your doctor to establish whether you are, in fact, alive.  The lyrics do not contain much by way of a story (they’re just too metaphysical for me, man), although later in the song there is a smart comparison of why each of us seems to think everyone else has got it better than us: “The grass will be greener, till the stems turn to brown/And thoughts will fly higher, till the Earth brings them down”.

To me, it is an easy thing indeed to imagine a future society, perhaps democracy or possibly dystopia, some of whose members strive to keep alive the memory of centuries-old music.  But whether 500 or 5,000 years from now, there will come a warm, well-attended summer’s Saturday evening of aural culture held in some exotic amphitheatre, and alongside the Bach and Haydn and Chopin and Grieg and Rachmaninoff, Banks too will have his deserved immortality.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #5: Vangelis: Alpha

If you were around at the time, in the early 1980s you may have seen a science series called Cosmos, fronted by Carl Sagan.  He sped around the universe in a little dandelion-seed spaceship explaining the mysteries of science in affable yet erudite terms.  One of the featured pieces of music was this gem from Vangelis.  Its structure is relatively simple, starting quietly and building up to an agreeably powerful crescendo, but the magic within it is altogether overwhelming.  And today, at 73 years old, Vangelis lives on, his mystique and private life very much intact.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #6: Harry Chapin: Taxi

This is Harry Chapin’s glorious story of the ultimate futility of life.  Harry is a taxi driver; Sue is his high-school crush who got away.  They lost touch for years until one evening, when she gets into his cab, and throughout the song we hear about their dreams which crashed and burned.  She was going to be an actress; he was going to learn to fly.  In this song, there is anger, frustration, regret, sadness and, finally, fatalism which can make a grown man cry.  *Sniff*  As with so many of the storytellers on this list who have left us, we can but wonder what they would’ve had to say about the depthless hubris of, and the appalling mistakes made by, Western leaders this century.  Harry Chapin worked himself to death in 1981 at the atrociously young age of 38.  Thanks for what you left behind, Mr Chapin.  There are lots of us still “keeping the change”.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #7: Renaissance: Can You Understand

Using a quote from Maurice Jarre’s theme for Doctor Zhivago, Michal Dunford constructed a gentle, heart-felt ballad bracketed by four minutes of blistering orchestral progressive rock.  The ballad in the middle is a little on the syrupy side, but, frankly speaking, Annie Haslam could sing her grocery shopping list and it would still sound divine.  Altogether the whole song, which opens 1973’s superlative Ashes Are Burning, represents Renaissance at their very best.

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #8: Rush: Losing It

A brutally honest song and a gorgeous piece of Prog.  The literary allusion in the final lyric identifies the writer in the second verse as Ernest Hemmingway.  The narrator’s conclusion, “Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it” always gives me pause for thought, and the final lyric, “For you the blind who once could see/The bell tolls for thee” is one of the few fatalistic lines in any song which actually makes me feel pretty glad about things.  Because that bell is going to toll for all of us, eventually, isn’t it?

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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100 Great Songs to Publish a Book to, #9: Supertramp: Hide in your Shell

1974’s Crime of the Century is one of the great progressive rock albums, from which I could’ve easily included every track on this list.  Although Hodgson and Davies would enjoy much greater commercial success once they cut their songs down to a more radio-friendly length, it is on Crime that the band reached its artistic peak.  And no wonder; after the commercial failure of their previous two albums, Supertramp demoed 42 songs, from which eight made in onto the album.

Hide in your Shell is in my opinion Hodgson’s most personal song, written when he was 23 years old, and these lyrics represent the epitome of youthful angst (and just listen to Hodgson’s dedication at the beginning of this performance – what a guy!).

Repulse: Europe at War 2062-2064 is out now at the special introductory price of $2.99 on the US Kindle here and on the UK Kindle here and is free for Kindle Unlimited members.


 

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Book review: Take a Chance on Me by Carol Wyer

takeachanceonmeCarol Wyer’s new book is one which has a very big heart. Two friends end up swapping ‘carpe diem’ lists to complete challenges which get progressively more difficult. However, for the heroine, Charlie, the stakes go up when the survival of the hospital radio station where she works comes to depend on her successfully completing the next challenge. In addition, there is a lot more going on in Charlie’s life which also needs her attention, saps her energy, and drives her a little nuts.

Along the way we meet a whole cast of entertaining, larger-than-life characters: some wacky, some fun, and a few sinister. In Take a Chance on Me, Wyer offers up a warm and page-turning yarn. It is sentimental without descending into mawkishness, funny without descending into thoughtlessness, and above all delivers the kind of satisfying story I and many others have come to expect from Wyer’s books. It’s the ideal lazy-Sunday-afternoon read, which just might encourage you to have a go at some of those challenges yourself!

Take a Chance on Me is out now, in the US here and in the UK here.

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