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5 examples of Björk songs, that are better live, than the studio version

Björk at Coachella 2007, Photo: Paul Familetti. Licensed under Creative Commons
Björk at Coachella 2007 Author: Paul Familetti. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.

It is no secret that Björk is one of the worlds best live performers, she can sing like few others, and she is always pushing boundaries with her live arrangements of her music. Now that’s not to say that her studio albums are not good, quite the opposite. In my opinion, every studio album, from “Debut” to “Vulnicura”, is more or less a masterpiece. And if there are some songs on, that are not exactly great, then you can be sure that there almost always comes some interesting remixes. And then there is the live versions. I can’t think of any other artist who “shake things up” like Björk does. Sometimes it can be hard to even recognise a song from the studio version, to a live version, and often they get a new arrangement for each tour. That is the mark of a true genius.

So here I give you 5 examples of this, in my mind these versions surpasses the studio versions. By the way, they are in random order:

“Enjoy” from “Post Live”
Originally from the album “Post”.
Recorded at Sherperds Bush 27/02/97.

The studio version of “Enjoy”, have never been a favourite of mine, in fact I find it a bit annoying. But the live version, WOW. Not only does her voice come much more to life, but the beats, my god, those beats. It speaks to Björk’s penchant for electronic music with its hints of Industrial and trip-hop, courtesy of Leila at the turntable. Its actually a bit of a tease this song, you feel like it is going to explode at some point, but it doesn’t, it constrains itself, which is both frustrating and brilliant at the same time. “This is sex without touching”

“Generous Palmstroke” from “Vespertine Live”
Originally from the “Family tree” box set.
Recorded at the Vespertine world tour 2001

The live version of this song, ranks among my all time favourite Björk recordings. It is simply stunning. And simplicity is the key here, just Björk’s downright phenomenal vocal performance and Zeena Parkin’s exceptional skills with a harp. The studio version is in my mind a bit cluttered, and lacks sophistication somehow, again, it´s not bad, it just has nothing on the live version. Her voice on this, ranges from her signature growling and holding the long notes, to the most fragile and vulnerable, almost a whisper. It is a true testament to her capabilities as a singer.

“One Day” from “Debut Live”
Originally from “Debut”
recorded at MTV Unplugged 1994

I never liked the studio version of this song. From the annoying child in the beginning, to the boring beat, and the lack-luster production, which, to be honest, has a whiff of assembly line hanging over it. The lyrics a sweet enough though.

Enter the unplugged version, complete with tablas?, gamalans? and tuba?, only Björk could pull this off!!! – a masterpiece.

And if this version doesn’t do it for you, well then she changes it completely for the Post live tour, giving it an entirely new character. And again for Biophilia live. No one can reinvent their old material as well as she can.

“I See Who You Are” from “Vulnicura Live”
Originally from “Volta”
recorded in New York 2015

Now I know that the Volta album is the least liked album by most Björk fans, but I think it has some marvellous songs on it, granted it is not the most homogeneous (homogenic hahaha) of albums, but still it has it´s moments. And I do like this song, it has some interesting sounds and beats, and is very, well Björkish. The thing is though, that with each incarnation, it just gets better. The remix by Mark Bell is better than the album version, and then, yes you’ve guessed it, the live version is the best. The Vulnicura live version that is. I am in love with sound of a hang drum, and here, like on the Biophilia tour, we get the brilliant percussionist Manu Delago. Add to that beautiful strings, and cool electronics from Arca and Haxan Cloak. She sounds fresh, and full of vigour on these live recordings, no surprise considering the story behind Vulnicura, and I’m almost tempted to say, that every song on this album is better than the other versions. Almost.

“You’ve Been Flirting Again“ from “Homogenic Live“
Originally from “Post”
recorded in Washington 1998

There isn’t much difference between the two versions, except one big difference. She sings in Icelandic, and that just lifts it to a whole new level. If it was up to me, Björk should only sing in Icelandic. It is just such a poetic language, and the way she rolls her R´s are by now legendary.

The strings here are also just that little bit more emotional and fits the mood better.

So there we have it. I could easily have included more songs, but I am going to just stick with these 5 for now, and then of course there is an excuse to make a part 2.

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Why The Clash, in my opinion, was the greatest band since The Beatles!

This is not based on facts, statistics or anything else useful, just my honest opinion.

The Clash, Oslo, Norway 1980. Author: Helge Øverås Licensed under Creative Co mmons 2.5
The Clash, Oslo, Norway 1980. Author: Helge Øverås. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.5

The Clash wasn’t just a punk-band or a rock band for that matter, they transcended genre and pigeon-holes like few other bands have. Sure they started out alongside the Sex Pistols and The Damned, but unlike those bands, The Clash managed to evolve both their music and themselves. In fact, in my opinion only their debut album could actually be called punk, and even that album had voyages into reggae and 60’s garage rock. They were innovative, great songwriters and masters of excellent cover-versions, in other words, a bit like The Beatles in that sense. Now I don’t mean to compare them to much, as The Clash themselves say on “London Calling” “now don’t look to us, phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust”.

Sure, not every song they ever did was good, but then again, can we really say that about any recording artist? (the only ones that springs to mind for me, would be Björk and Kate Bush).

But still, the amount of good or even great songs, far outweigh the number of bad, or less good songs.

Unlike the majority of punk musicians, The Clash could actually play. Sure, Joe Strummer was not a great guitarist, but he was a decent rhythm guitarist, and above all, the lead voice and face of the band. Okay, he wasn’t a great technical singer either, but he delivered the message, and that is what matters. Mick Jones however, was, and still is, a truly great leadguitarist, he is in my mind up there with the best of them. And he can sing to, again perhaps not great, but good enough. Paul Simonon was also a decent bass player, considering he couldn’t play any instrument when they first got together, and was forced to play bassguitar, because no one else wanted to (I use the past tense with him, because I’m not sure he plays anymore). And then there is the drummers. Terry Chimes on the first album was good, not particularly noteworthy, but he got the job done. He got sacked, and in came Topper Headon, a powerhouse on the drums, a true talent (hmm, a bit like Pete Best and Ringo Starr…).

In other words, where as a lot of punk acts were just that, acts, The Clash were true musicians.

And its not just the music they did so well, its also the lyrics, particularly Joe Strummer’s gift for intelligent and, at times, witty political songs. Love songs was not there strong suit, but Mick Jones did write some memorable ones, mainly about potential break-ups and being abandoned.

There is so much to say and analyze about their lyrics, that I am going to leave that for individual posts about each song.

The visuals are important too. They made some brilliant videos, directed by Don Letts, and used some of the best photographers like Bob Gruen and Penny Smith. And the clothes, like The Beatles, they were very much aware of their appearance.

One more thing to mention when it comes to comparing the two bands, is cultural impact. Both bands were among the first of their genres, both conquered America to an amazing success, and both became household-names outside their normal musical spheres. Both bands, but in particular The Clash, brought black music to a white audience, and The Clash like few other bands, fought against racism. They also helped pave the way for female punk bands, by having fx. The Slits with them on tour, as the opening act.

I could go on and on about the genius of The Clash, and I undoubtedly will in future posts, but for now I’m just going to leave it at this, and encourage you to listen for yourself.

I know a lot of people will (strongly) disagree with me on this statement, and would have preferred that the title went to The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin or perhaps Venga Boys :). The only other contenders for the title in my mind would be Earth Wind And Fire, and possibly Sigur Rós. And that’s the beauty of a blog, I get to be the dictator of music here, and if you have a different opinion, then please feel free to keep it to yourself.

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Kate Bush – A Coral Room

Aerial
Album Cover: Kate Bush – “Aerial”

One of my absolute favourite Kate Bush songs. It is so hauntingly beautiful in it´s majestic simplicity, and is pack full of symbolism and personal references. Originally released in 2005, it´s the last track of disc 1 on the album “Aerial”. Of course written and produced by Kate Bush.

Kate + Piano + not much else = perfection. This song comes from a line of amazing songs, which feature the piano as the dominant instrument. Highlights include: “The Man With Child In His Eyes”, “This Woman’s Work”, and “Moments Of Pleasure”. And staying with that last track for a bit, because both “Moments Of Pleasure” and “A Coral Room” revolves around the subject of loss. Whereas “Moments” is about all the people she had lost up until that point, “A Coral Room” is about the loss of time, and more crucially, her mother.

Her mothers death had a devastating effect on her, as they were very close, but unlike what some sources claim, she wasn’t having a nervous breakdown, but as she told Mojo Magazine:”I was very, very tired. It was a really difficult time.” But she was able to channel some of that grief into this song, and it is therefore perhaps the most personal song she has ever written. Bear in mind, that Kate Bush is one of the best storytellers, whether it be singing as Cathy, about Houdini or as a husband losing his wife in childbirth. In fact, “A Coral Room” was so personal to her, that she hesitated to put it on the album.

The lyrics, as mentioned, deals with loss, but also one of her signature subjects, water, or to be more precise, the submarine world (a fascination she shares with other artists such as Björk and Bat For Lashes). I mean, her most famous suite “The Ninth Wave” is about a woman drowning, spoiler alert, she makes it in the end.

The songs describes a city under water, and this actually builds upon an old demo-song of hers – “Atlantis”. In the first verse, she describes the city, draped in fishermen’s nets, towers covered in webs, and the spider of time climbing over the ruins. Spiders of course, are old symbols of time and death, and they are “spinning the web of fate”. We clearly get a sense of a drowned city, perhaps Atlantis, or perhaps a British seaside town, I will come back to that later. All of this could also symbolise lost memories that suddenly reappear. The spider climbing over the ruins as to trigger the memories.

The chorus then follows, and here we hear that there were hundreds of people living there, sails at the window, planes crashing, the pilot drowning and the speedboats flying above. Returning to the idea of a British seaside town, during WW2, a lot of planes were shot down along the British coasts, and subsequently the pilots drowned, and now we just cruise over those sites in speedboats. And then she asks the question: put your hand over the side of the boat, what do you feel?

Remorse? Loss? Longing?

Then we get to the part with her mother and her little brown jug, and this might be the most important bit of the song.

As she said on the BBC 4 program Front Row:”There was a little brown jug actually, yeah. The song is really about the passing of time. I like the idea of coming from this big expansive, outside world of sea and cities into, again, this very small space where, er, it’s talking about a memory of my mother and this little brown jug. I always remember hearing years ago, this thing about a sort of Zen approach to life, where you would hold something in your hand, knowing that, at some point, it would break, it would no longer be there.”

It is such an emotional part of the song, you can really tell that it is very emotional for her, to sing about her mother. The “little brown jug, don’t I love Thee” is a nod to an old song, made famous by The Clark Sisters.

In the last part of the song, she recalls her mother laughing in the kitchen, the little brown jug falling, the spider climbing out of it, and then a house draped in net, a room filled with corals, sails at the window and a forest of masts. Now it all comes together, the image of the submerged town or lost memories, with her image of her mother. The spider climbing out of the broken jug as to symbolise her mother is just a memory now. Everything is under water and under a web, to be forgotten again in time. Also again, if we imagine living in a seaside town, when looking out of the window you would see sails, and a forest of masts.

And to end it all, a repetition of the question, what do you feel?

And that is the true power of great music, what do you feel? It´s all subjective, and we take from the song what we need, and feel what is right. It may be a personal song for Kate Bush, but it can be an equally personal song to you, if put your own emotions into it.

The music consist almost entirely of just her voice and piano, and it has three distinct rhythm and melody sections.  She plays with such a tenderness to match the lyrics. And her singing here is among some of her best, it´s understated and moving without any of her high-pitched wailing. Michael Woods provide a vocal bit about the jug, and the addition of another voice has always annoyed me a bit, I think it could have done without it to be honest. But still it is a masterpiece of a song.

 

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