A HOUSE: Endless Art
This strange 1991 single by the Irish indie band A House starts with the ‘singer’ recalling a quote: ‘All art is quite useless according to Oscar Wilde.’ Then, over an interesting backing track that samples Beethoven's fifth symphony, he recites a litany of names (and their dates) to refute the notion, from Warhol and Van Gogh, Brahms and Bach to Henry Moore, Hendrix, Man Ray and Johnnie Ray. ‘All dead but still alive, in endless time and endless art.’
ARTHUR CONLEY: Sweet Soul Music
A storming homage to the stars of soul circa ’67, penned by Conley with Otis Redding. Each verse is a tribute to a particular singer, with Lou Rawls, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis and James Brown (‘he's the king of them all, y’all’) referenced, plus a song by each of them. The late Sam Cooke’s estate spotted a melodic similarity with one of his songs and sued. As a result Cooke’s name was added to the writing credit.
IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS: Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3)
The title has entered the vernacular, trotted out by sports commentators who have no idea where it’s from. A No3 single in 1979, this life-affirming ditty is a roll-call of everything that floated Dury’s boat, from Buddy Holly and Good Golly Miss Molly to Hammersmith Palais and the Bolshoi Ballet via Health Service glasses, gigolos and brasses and Listening to Rico/ Harpo, Groucho, Chico.
RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven
This 1973 single is up-tempo compared with most of the hits of the sons of Mrs Righteous, and its infectious chorus tells us ‘If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand/ If there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heaven, well you know they got a hell of a band’. Among those honoured are Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Sadly, ‘brother’ Bobby Hatfield – he of the soaring tenor – joined them in 2003.
TOM LEHRER: The Elements
A master of black humour and satirical song, Lehrer is still with us; he turns 89 in April. Randy Newman hailed him as ‘one of the great American songwriters’. For this 1959 gem he sets the names of the chemical elements to the Major-General’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. It shouldn’t be hilarious but it is, starting with the words ‘antimony, arsenic’ and ending with lines that rhyme ‘Harvard’ with ‘discovered’.
THE JAM: That’s Entertainment
A snapshot of London in 1981, although the song’s title, taken from a film celebrating Hollywood’s glamour, was surely ironic. Paul Weller runs through a series, or list, of images and impressions, such as this final verse: ‘Getting a cab and travelling on buses/ Reading the graffiti about slashed-seat affairs’. One of Weller’s most enduring songs – and a three-time UK hit – it was written in only 10 minutes ‘under the influence’.
REM: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
When the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world in 2012, a Canadian radio station played this raucously apocalyptic number all day. Written by the band, with a nod to Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, it has a verse that goes: ‘Continental drift divide/ Mountains sit in a line/ Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev/ Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs’, the ‘LB’ names coming to Michael Stipe in a dream.
JIM CARROLL BAND: People Who Died
1978 saw New Yorker Carroll, a heroin addict, publish a memoir, The Basketball Diaries, which became a 1995 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In 1980 there had been a fine autobiographical album, Catholic Boy, on which this punk-paced, Lou Reed-style rocker stood out. Carroll lists friends he has lost to hepatitis, drugs, Vietnam and suicide (rhyming ‘subway train’ with ‘jugular vein’). Weirdly. it's very exhilarating.
MYLO: Destroy Rock & Roll
American New Age cult the Church Universal and Triumphant issued an Invocation For Judgement Against And Destruction Of Rock Music, their spokesman reading out the names of the dangerous artists who encouraged ‘perverted’ dancing. They included Springsteen, McCartney, Jacko, Men At Work, John Linen (sic) and Cyndi Looper (sic) – and in 2005 Scottish electronic musician Mylo gave the sample a splendidly corrupting backdrop.
A HOUSE: More Endless Art
When Endless Art first appeared, on A House’s Bingo EP, their list of revered names was criticised for being totally male. Its writer, Dave Couse, claimed the band had understood Joan Miró to have been a woman. They produced an all-female version, with Edwyn Collins again producing, which name-checked the Bronte sisters, Billie Holliday, Jean Rhys, Greta Garbo, Gracie Fields, Edith Piaf, Margot Fonteyn and many more.
Phil Shaw first wrote about music in Time Out from 1978 to '81 before concentrating on sports journalism with the Guardian and the Independent for 35 years. His collection of 7" singles stands at more than 2,000 and among his proudest possessions is a silver disc for penning the sleeve notes to the official 1998 World Cup album.