List, Music

STUDY TRACKS

Posts here have been few and far between lately as I find myself swamped with uni work in the face of ever looming exam season. I therefore decided to do something slightly different and share with you some of the tracks I listen to when I study, and in the process I hope I can provide some small comfort to any students who may be reading this and in a similar plight.

INSTRUMENTAL/CINEMA INSPIRED:

I find that listening to instrumental music can be effective when studying as it provides less of a distraction that can sometimes be the case when listening to lyrics (or maybe I’m the only one who is so easily distracted?). Some of my favourites include Brian Eno and the Twin Peaks theme song by Angelo Badlamenti. The latter is an excellent blend of uplifting and motivational and is a fantastic pick me up if you find yourself waning in the middle of an all nighter, just don’t let yourself get waylaid to the point of binge watching Twin Peaks, ok?

Being the cinephile that I believe myself to be, I often pick up songs from the films and TV I’ve been watching. This is how I came across Brian Eno, and two of my favourite tracks are from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and Trainspotting respectively:

Some other cinema inspired study music includes the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, of which my personal favourite is the excellent Concerning Hobbits. But, yet again, I must warn you that opting for film based music comes paired with the temptation to watch the film it comes from, and to resist doing so takes some serious willpower.

Another fantastic track that I recently discovered from the Michael Caine starring Youth was Ceiling Gazing from Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavelle. It’s a fantastic, chilled tune which provides a perfect relaxed backdrop to study to.

Also consider checking out the soundtracks from Trainspotting, Trance (anything directed by Danny Boyle, really), The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Guardians of the Galaxy and Pulp Fiction.

MTV UNPLUGGED/ACOUSTIC:

I have already detailed in a past post just how much I love old MTV Unplugged performances, and I never listen to them more than when I am attempting to knuckle down with some work. Some of my favourites include Eric Clapton:

Nirvana:

Alice in Chains:

COUNTRY:

I grew up listening to country music, and my love of the genre endures. I love old school country such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Such artists are great to study to, and some of my favourite tracks include pretty much anything in Williams’ catalogue, as well as the following:

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a compilation album which saw a variety of artists complete songs left behind following the singers untimely death in 1953, is another one I frequently play as I work. Each song is brilliant in its own way, but my favourite is probably You Know That I Know. Sung by Jack White of The White Stripes, who perfectly encapsulates Williams’ spirit, it is a huge highlight:

Another song I really like is one by Chris Scruggs, an artist who came up and played at the Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival in my home of the Shetland Isles a few years ago. I bought his album, Anthem, and still listen to it regularly. Every track is fantastic, but my favourite by far is Old Souls Like You and Me: 

OTHER:

My taste in music is quite varied, but I find when I’m studying I tend to like grunge, acoustic, country and generally quite relaxed tunes, as I’ve detailed above. Here are some other songs that tend to find their way onto my study playlist:

What tunes do you like to study to? Let me know in the comments section, and happy studying folks! 

 

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Music, Role Model

ROLE MODEL #1 – PATTI SMITH:

Every Friday A Peerie Yarn will look at a different female role model. They may be a role model for any reason at all, from a music legend to a fantastic author, and the piece will explore what it is that makes them someone to look up to. 

Background & Music:

Patti-Smith-Horses-cover

source: Villaminin

Patti Smith is an artist who defies convention. A punk-rock singer, a poet, an artist, a writer, a mother, a wife – Smith, like any woman, cannot be neatly placed into a box.

Born in Chicago in 1946, Smith first rose to prominence as part of the New York City punk rock movement in the 1970’s, with her debut Horses becoming one of the most important to emerge from the period.

Infusing rock’n’roll with poetry-infused lyrics, the freestyle Beat influence was clear in her early work. As detailed in her memoir, Just Kids, Smith’s foray into music was almost accidental. 

Moving to New York in the late 1960’s, Smith met photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and embarked on the period of her life that she would go on to document in Just Kids.

Lovers and best friends, the pair lived in a creative bubble which saw them associate with some of the greats of the time, from Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin to Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg.

Smith has been continually active as a musician since Horses, with a total of 11 studio albums to date. The most recent, 2012’s Banga, was met with critical acclaim. She was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

In 2011 Smith was awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize:

“By devoting her life to art in all its forms, Patti Smith has demonstrated how much rock’n’roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock’n’roll.”

– Polar Music Prize

Poetry & Writing:

Whilst best known for her musical endeavors, Smith actually started out as a poet/artist and has published numerous poetry collections since the 1970’s.

She was a part of the St Mark’s Poetry Project in New York whilst living with Mapplethorpe and has continued to write poems ever since.

Smith has also forayed into writing books, releasing Just Kids in 2010. The book is a memoir which tells the story of her relationship and friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and she wrote it to fulfill a promise to him that she would document their endeavors.

Just Kids was a huge success and Smith released a second memoir, M Train, in 2015, focusing on her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.

“”What will happen to us?” I asked. “There will always be us” He answered.

– Just Kids (2010)

Art:

Smith has been active in the creation of art her entire life. Her work, from paintings to photographs to installations, has been featured in various locations including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

She has been represented by the Robert Miller Gallery since 1978. In 2002 a 300-work retrospective, Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith, was held at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The exhibition was then released as a book the following year.

In 2005 Smith was awarded the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, an esteemed French honour.

“It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labour of creation.” 

– Just Kids (2010)

Fashion:

Another term often associated with Smith is ‘style icon’. Her androgynous look, which she has channeled throughout her career, was well ahead of it’s time in 1970’s New York.

Smith went against the grain from the beginning – little make-up, tousled hair and crisp white shirts were not what women were wearing. She put together outfits that, whether intentional or not, became an extension of her art.

Even now, in her late 60’s, Smith refuses to adhere to traditional expectations. With her long grey hair and bohemian style she proves that through it all she has always remained steadfastly true to herself.

“My Keith Richards haircut was a real discourse magnet. I miraculously turned androgynous overnight.”

– Just Kids (2010)

Activism:

Smith has been involved in activism for much of her adult life, particularly in AIDS research following the death of Robert Mapplethorpe from the disease.

She contributed to AIDS benefit album No Alternative, produced by the Red Hot Organisation.

She has also released protest songs and sung at various rallies and events for a variety of causes, such as protesting against the Iraq War and calling from impeachment of George W Bush.

Smith has been affiliated with the Green Party and supported Democratic candidates in some elections.

“The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the world from fools, it’s decreed the people rule.”

– People Have the Power (1988)

Family:

fcb094ecf79faaea8091117ea36e4d16

source: Pinterest

As well as a long and varied career, Smith has also raised a family. In 1980 she married Fred “Sonic” Smith, a guitarist for MC5. They had two children – Jackson, born 1982, and Jesse, born 1987.

Throughout the 1980’s Smith lived in Michigan with her family and was in a state of semi-retirement from music. Frank died in 1994 at the age of 45.

This, along with the sudden death of her brother Todd, led Smith to return to NYC in the 1990’s.

Role Model:

6989614-3x2-940x627

source: ABC

Patti Smith is a true female role model – a living embodiment of the fact that a woman can do anything and everything she wishes to. Her entire life has been dedicated to artistic pursuit and raising a family.

From her bold fashion statements to her music, Smith has the attitude of a true punk – she doesn’t care what people about her, and she is just happy to be pursuing her craft.

She has survived through a time where a lot of her creative counterparts saw their lives cut short by addiction or tragedy. She has endured these losses alongside the loss of her husband, her best friend and family members, and still she continues to work.

Patti Smith is a woman who, in many ways, was ahead of her time, and she has been a trailblazer in the creative world. A true inspiration, it is little wonder that thousands of people around the world look up to her.

“All I ever wanted, since I was a child, was to do something wonderful.”

– Patti Smith

What do you think of Patti Smith? Who is your female role model? Share your thoughts in the comments section! 

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List, Music

TOP 5 CHRISTMAS SONGS:

PicMonkey Collage

The countdown is on and it will soon be Christmas. One of the best things about this time of year are all the Christmas songs that dominate the airwaves. There are literally hundreds of brilliant tunes to get you into the festive mood, but I’ve ranked my five personal favourites here for your listening pleasure:

Honourable mention…

CHRISTMAS IS ALL AROUND – BILLY MACK

As my previous post made abundantly clear, I am a huge fan of Love Actually (2004), and it will therefore come as no surprise that I think the song my favourite character Billy Mack sings in the film is on the shortlist for my favourite christmas songs. A festive version of The Troggs’ Love is All Around, the song is best when accompanied by the undeniably hilarious video.

5- LONELY THIS CHRISTMAS – MUD

This Elvis-esque track actually has a very sad theme of being alone at christmas, but it still makes it way onto my list of favourites due to just being so damn catchy. Seriously, try listening to it getting lodged in your brain for at least 24 hours. It’s also a nice old school departure from some of the more poppy, cheesy christmas hits that we all know and love.

4 – DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS? – BAND AID 20

I was born in 1995, and I was therefore nine years old when Band Aid 20 released their single in 2004. It is for that reason that the song is a favourite of mine, a nostalgia trip which allows me to reminisce over all the artists who were big in 2004 – Dido, McFly, Busted, The Darkness, Bono was still there for some reason…

3 – WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME – PAUL MCCARTNEY

This song is one of my favourites due to the fact that it features on the soundtrack of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998), an animated christmas film that I loved watching on VHS when I was younger. The song bass everything you look for in a christmas song – it’s retro, cheesy, upbeat and was written and recorded by a former Beatle – a surefire winning formula.

2 – ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU – MARIAH CAREY

The majority of christmas classics were produced from the 1950s to the 1980s, and there are actually surprisingly few additions since then that would be classed as a bonafide ‘classic’. Mariah Carey proved to be the exception to the rule in 1994 when she released the self penned All I Want For Christmas is You, a song that has become a staple of the holiday season. Interestingly, Carey released a children’s book based on the song – which has by now raised over $50 million in royalties – this year.

1 – FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK – THE POGUES AND KIRSTY MCALL

I’m sure i’m not alone in holding this song dear as my favourite christmas song of all time – this irish folk-ballad actually holds the title as the UK’s most played christmas song in the 21st century. The song is sung from the point of view of an Irish immigrant in New York, who is in the ‘drunk tank’ (prison cell) and thinking about his girlfriend, who he has an apparently love/hate relationship with.

What are your favourite christmas songs? Let me know in the comments section! Meanwhile, enjoy the songs featured on this list right here:

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List, Music

5 BEST MTV UNPLUGGED SETS:

MTV Unplugged began in 1989 and has featured countless bands and artists in its 26 year history. Regular sessions stopped in 2000, though the format has been used numerous times since then to feature a variety of modern artists. MTV Unplugged is, however, by and large considered a seminal product of the 90’s, a time which saw it produce some of the best acoustic music sets of all time. Here are my five favourite MTV Unplugged sessions, let me know what yours are in the comments section!

Honorable mention…

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (1992)

Bruce_Sringsteen_-_In_Concert_MTV_PluggedThis one doesn’t make the top five due to the fact that is slightly deviates from the traditional MTV Unplugged format, and is instead referred to as MTV Plugged. Recorded with a hired band at a time when the E Street Band was dissolved, Springsteen was reportedly unhappy with the acoustic sound and opted for a plugged in version instead. There is no doubt that the E Street Band are a huge part of the Bruce Springsteen identity, the absence is strongly felt. But the album is still strong, kicking off with an acoustic rendition of the previously unreleased Red Headed Woman before delving into a number of underrated classics including Atlantic City and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Even the more well known classics, namely Thunder Road, are played in a way that is more intense than Springsteen performances tend to be – there is a much more serious vibe than fans are generally used to. Whilst it may not be for the casual listener, this is essential listening for any serious Springsteen fans, a reminder that whilst he is always at his best with his beloved band behind him, he is still a strong solo performer.

Best track: Thunder Road – Even without the E Street Band.

5 – KISS (1995)

KISS_UnpluggedThis one makes the list not only because its fantastic in its own right, but also due to the wider significance that it held. Forming in 1973, Kiss had been around a long time by the time the 90’s hit. However, a variety of factors – most notably the release of the 70’s set film Dazed and Confused (1993) set off a wave of Kiss nostalgia and the band were met with a new wave of mainstream popularity. It was therefore no surprise that they were invited to appear on Unplugged, but the real treat came for fans when the set saw the bands original line up reunited on stage for the first time since 1980. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley joined Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on stage for the final four songs of the set, making it the only time the original line up performed together without their trademark make-up. This was the catalyst which saw the reunion take place, with Tupac introducing them on stage at the Grammys the following year, with Criss and Frehley remaining in the band again until 2000. You can feel the electricity when the foursome reunite, and it makes for an epic conclusion to a strong set. Kiss are a band which are so well known for the make-up and gigantic arena shows, making it a change of pace to see them perform in the Unplugged format. It also allows for a true appreciation of the sometimes underrated song-writing, with Beth being a particularly good example.

Best track: Rock and Roll All Nite – An epic finish that shows the original line up in all their stripped back glory.

4 – BOB DYLAN (1994):

Bob_Dylan_-_MTV_UnpluggedBy the time the 90’s rolled around Bob Dylan had been in the industry for over 30 years, providing the world with a whole wealth of versatile and popular music. Anticipation was thus at a high when he took to the stage to record his Unplugged performance over two nights. Mostly focusing on classics from his earlier albums, Dylan offers a fresh perspective by reworking his tracks for the acoustic format, with Like A Rolling Stone being a particular highlight. There is a different feel to some of the songs, with The Times They Are A-Changin’ and With God on Our Side in particular being tinged with a sadness that wasn’t present in the initial recordings – perhaps a product of Dylan’s life experience. The album plays out like a greatest hits, charting Dylan’s career from the 60’s right through, but is enhanced by the live, acoustic renditions which offer a new take on the old material.

Best track: With God on our Side – Arguably the best rendition of this song Dylan has ever done. 

3 – ERIC CLAPTON (1992):

Eric_Clapton_UnpluggedEric Clapton’s Unplugged album is one of the most wildly successful MTV ever produced, having sold over 26 million copies worldwide and winning three Grammys in 1993, totally revitalising his career. Featuring a totally reworked rendition of his well known track Layla, Clapton also opted for the fresh take on older material. Without a doubt the highlight is Tears in Heaven, which was written about the tragic death of his four year old son, and is a song that is at its most stirring here. Performed in front of a small audience in Clapton’s native England, the acoustic blues set is the perfect mix of relaxed and passionate, emotional and invigorating. Truly a work of Unplugged legend, the album has gone on to establish a whole range of myths and misconceptions, but there is one solid fact – this is Clapton at his very best.

Best track: Tears in Heaven – Puts a tear in your eye, and that’s before you know the tragic circumstances behind it.

2 – ALICE IN CHAINS (1996):

AIC_UnpluggedPart of original Seattle formation of the grunge movement in the early 90’s, Alice in Chains were a prime candidate for the Unplugged treatment. By 1996 leading man Layne Staley was struggling increasingly with substance abuse and depression, with this performance proving to be one of his last with the band before retreating into relative solidarity. This is a sad contrast to the likes of Kiss and so many other bands whom used their Unplugged performances to mark the beginning of a new era, with the Alice in Chains set instead marking the tragic end of one. Staley died in 2002, making his raw vocals even more resonant when listening with this in mind. Staley’s performance has a ragged quality that only makes it stronger, with the bands popular tracks Down in a Hole and Rooster finding new depths. The band had played together very little over the past few years by the time the Unplugged gig came along, though it would be hard to believe from the way they respond to each other. It’s far from an uplifting listen, but Alice in Chains unplugged imbues the essential traits of 90’s grunge to a tee.

Best track: Down in a Hole – Haunting and ridden with despair, made all the moreso by Staley’s passing.

1 – NIRVANA (1993):

Nirvana_mtv_unplugged_in_new_yorkNot only do I believe this to be the best Unplugged album of all time, it is in my top five albums of all time overall. 1993. New York City. Nevermind (1991) had been out for two years, In Utero (1993) for two months, Nirvana were arguably at the height of their success, and the timing is just right for this performance. Kurt Cobain reportedly asked for the set to be decorated in the manner of a funeral, and the band recorded the performance in a single take, with the almost eery atmosphere carrying into the music. Following Cobain’s death in 1994 MTV played the episode continuously, with the album being released later in the year, unsurprisingly met with critical adoration and massive sales. It is essential listening for any Nirvana fan, capturing the band in a way that only a live performance could. Stripped way back, the impact is incredible. As tends to be the case with deceased musicians, the songs take on a sadder meaning, with All Apologies and Where Did You Sleep Last Night taking on the creepy feeling of Cobain’s final goodbye. Material from all three albums are compiled into a well thought out set-list, making for just over an hour of Unplugged perfection.

Best track: Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Whilst any track could have taken the top spot, this haunting cover will always be the winner, a perfect finale to a superb album.

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Film, List, Music

5 BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS:

The Lord of the Rings score was recently crowned the greatest movie soundtrack of all time for the sixth year in a row. The Classic FM poll listed a whole host of classic in it’s list, including Schindler’s list, Gladiator, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Soundtrack is one of the make or break elements of a film – would Halloween be anywhere near as terrifying without John Carpenter’s endlessly creepy two note score? Would Titanic pull on your heart strings half as much without Celine Dion giving it all she’s got in My Heart Will Go On? The soundtrack is the often unsung hero of so many beloved films, and whilst I would probably have to agree with the ruling of Lord of the Rings as the greatest ever (probably on Concerning Hobbits alone), I have compiled a list of my personal favourites, a few of which depart from the traditional scoring and focus on pop culture instead.

5- ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)

me-earl-dying-girlDirector: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler

Soundtrack Highlight: The Big Ship – Brian Eno

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Me Earl and Dying Girl has proved to be one of the surprise hits of the year. Pretty much the anti-Fault in Our Stars, the film is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the YA genre. It is especially bolstered by its soundtrack, which largely comes from the fantastic Brian Eno. As well as Eno, there is a real eclectic mix to enjoy, from Roy Orbison to Cat Stevens. It perfectly walks the line of between hipster and accessible and plays a huge role in the films quirky genius, building up to an incredible finale with Eno’s The Big Ship, which was composed especially for the film. I really can’t stress how great The Big Ship is (listen below for yourself) as both a piece of music in its own right an as a perfect accompaniment to the film. It catches the offbeat, touching atmosphere of the film to a tee – without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year, from one of the best films for that matter.

4 – WALK THE LINE (2005)

Walk-the-Line-movie-stills-walk-the-line-13722960-874-904Director: James Mangold

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Soundtrack Highlight: It Aint Me Babe – Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon

This soundtrack is so good that it won a Grammy, and there is no question why. The 2005 biopic of the late, great Johnny Cash and the love of his life, June Carter is one of my favourite films of all time. This one deserves a place on the list based on the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon alone – they performed all of the songs themselves, lending the film a sense of authenticity it could never have achieved otherwise. Replicating Cash’s legendary bass-baritone voice is no mean feat, but Phoenix totally inhabits the role and the songs, almost making it look easy. He pays the perfect homage to the man in black with classics such as I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Get Rhythm, capturing whatever it is that makes a Cash track so special in the first place. Witherspoon also shines, capturing the charm of June Carter, particularly in her rendition of Wildwood Flower, which is so good it threatens to overtake Carter’s version. There are also some other gems from other artists which perfectly encapsulate the genre and period. The real magic happens when Phoenix and Witherspoon duet on Jackson and It Aint Me Babe, perfectly capturing the chemistry and genuine love that existed between the real life Cash and Carter. Walk the Line is everything you want in a music biopic, and the tunes are everything you want from a soundtrack.

3 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

imagesDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Michael J Fox, Christopher Llyod

Soundtrack Highlight: Power of Love – Huey Lewis and the News

Anyone who knows me will know my undying love (obsession?) with this film, and the soundtrack is a huge part of what makes it so great. This one is a great mix of songs and score, mixing a suitably cinematic sound with some classic and nostalgic tunes and coming up with something pretty close to perfection (I did warn you of my undying affection for this film). The Outatime Orchestra (named after the number plate of the iconic DeLorean) perform the score, which was composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – a frequent collaborator of Zmeckis – has a very Speilbergian feel to it (he produced the film), which is always a surefire ticket for success. The film also manages to provide a fantastic time-bending blend of the 1950’s and 80’s, with the Power of Love proving to be the signature song an obvious highlight (fun fact – Huey Lewis plays the judge who tells Marty his band is just “too darn loud” when they play a hard rock version of the song near the films beginning).  And who can forget Michael J Fox rocking out to Johnny B Goode? There is just so much to love.

2 – TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

trainspotting_2505786bDirector: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly Macdonald

Soundtrack Highlight: Born Slippy .NUXX

Another hugely popular soundtrack, this one sold so well that it spawned another album the following year, consisting of songs that inspired the film. Whilst it is also excellent, it will never reach the dizzy heights of the songs featured in Danny Boyle’s cult classic. From Iggy Pop to Lou Reed, the mix screams 90’s and has been most teenagers claim to cool ever since the film came out. Danny  Boyle has always been fantastic at selecting soundtracks – 2013’s Trance is another highlight – and this is quite possibly the pinnacle of his success. Riding the wave of britpop, the soundtrack is an effective blend of the bands of the decade and their predecessors, the soundtrack (and the film) is a product of its time and a gift that keeps on giving. One of the most effective closing songs of all time is Born Slippy .NUXX, the perfect blend of uplifting and trippy, and the beginning of a lasting collaboration between Boyle and Underworld.

1 – PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)

perks-042_df-07440c (1)Director: Stephen Chbosky

Starring: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson

Soundtrack Highlight: Heroes – David Bowie

Stephen Chbosky, the author of the 1999 novel of the same name, brought his work to life in 2012 with the film adaption of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like Trainspotting, the film is a perfect example of one that captures the era it is depicting. Again it is the early 90’s, but the focus is American high schoolers as opposed to Edinburgh junkies. This is one of my favourite soundtracks ever because it so brilliantly captures the essence of the film – even though there is only one composed piece in the film (Charlie’s Last Letter – Michael Brook) you would easily believe more of the tracks had been specifically written for the film. It is the sort of music the characters listen to, and it allows us to achieve a better understanding of these characters with its mix of soft alt. rock, new wave and dream pop from the late 80’s/early 90’s. Bowie’s Heroes is the perfect song to summarise the main themes of the film, and the tunnel scene where it is played remains electrifying and triumphant on multiple viewings.

Here is a playlist of the 5 best songs from this list, enjoy!

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