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They say it's your birthday: 10 songs for a best wishes list

Updated: May 6, 2020

Jim Morton

This playlist is dedicated to my elder brother Neil 'Here Comes The Song’ Morton, who was born on this day (July 18) 67 years ago

1 THE SUGARCUBES: Birthday (1987)

From their debut album Life’s Too Good. The Icelandic band fronted by Bjork are classed as alternative/indie; it's certainly alternative but definitely maybe not indie. A brooding but confusing song, apparently about sexual awakening, this would put a downer on any celebration. ‘Today is her birthday/ They're smoking cigars/ He's got a chain of flowers/ And sews a bird in her knickers/ Ohhh!’ And she keeps spiders in her pocket.

2 STEPPENWOLF: Happy Birthday (1969)

Canada’s enduring favourites, named after the Herman Hesse novel, are best known for the rock anthem Born To Be Wild from the cult road movie Easy Rider. This song from their third album, At Your Birthday Party, is hardly hallmark and sounds more like Joe Cocker than John Kay, the only original member left in the still active band.

3 THE IDLE RACE: The Birthday (1968)

This jaunty yet poignant piece of English psychedelia is from the album The Birthday Party. No wonder the girl cried – no one came to her celebration. Jeff Lynne was their main man, singer and writer before he went on to form ELO after briefly joining Roy Wood in The Move, and we should not forget his role in the supergroup Traveling Wilburys. Even now at the ripe old age of 69 the Brummie refuses to accept it’s the end of the line.

4 STEVIE WONDER: Happy Birthday (1981)

Stevie wrote this song in honour of Dr Martin Luther King which features on his Hotter Than July album. He was campaigning for MLK’s birthday to become a federal holiday which it is now – on every third Monday in January. ‘I’m sure you will agree/ It couldn’t fit more perfectly/ Than to have a world party/ On the day you came to be.’ Over-familiar now perhaps, but still joyous.

5 ALTERED IMAGES: Happy Birthday (1981)

Not the most creative lyric in the world but if you try to ignore Clare Grogan’s singing, take a listen to the Scottish band behind the girl from Gregory’s Girl and you have a great punkish sound, ignoring the fact that punk died about three years earlier and Altered Images came under the new-wave banner.

6 URIAH HEEP: The Magician’s Birthday (1972) From the album of the same name, this 11-minute epic is driven by brilliant guitar (Mick Box) and even better drums (Lee Kerslake). All you old hippies should turn up your hearing aids and you might even catch a kazoo – or is that the Moog synthesiser playing tricks with us? As for the cover artwork, I reckon it’s up there with the finest such as the Beatles’ St Pepper, Family’s Music In A Doll’s House, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, and Meet Me On The Highway by Breakdown (oh brother, yours truly – ed).

7 THE CRESTS: Sixteen Candles (1959)

Rather fewer candles than my brother’s but four times more than in that Two Ronnies sketch. This doo-wop ditty, with Johnny Maestro (John Mastrangelo might not have caught on) on vocals, rose to No2 in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, selling more than a million copies. Music Maestro, please: ‘Sixteen candles make a lovely light/ But not as bright as your eyes tonight.’ Prime rhyme time.

8 LESLEY GORE: It’s My Party (1963)

‘Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone/ But Judy left the same time/ Why was he holding her hand/ When he's supposed to be mine … You would cry too if it happened to you.’ This timeless singalong pop tearjerker from Lesley Gore, who was only 16 at the time, was Quincy Jones’s first hit single as a producer.

9 THE BEASTIE BOYS: (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) (1986)

‘Man, living at home is such a drag/ Your mom threw away your best porno mag.’ This is a fun single written by Adam Yauch from their debut album Licensed To Ill but it is rebellion at its least threatening. The American band, with drummer Mike D Diamond taking the Mic, evolved from the unwisely-named punk rockers The Young Aborigines. The video, with mom handing out a lecture about noise and mess and ending with a pie in her face, was meant as a parody of party-themed songs, but the irony was lost on many.

10 THE BEATLES: Birthday (1968)

The Lennon-McCartney number, two minutes and 42 seconds of good old rock ’n’ roll from the Fab Three and Ringo (I’m with Don Henley on this – ed), is the opening song on the third side of the double White Album. This is a later McCartney incarnation. 'They say it's your birthday/ It's my birthday too, yeah.' The song could not have detained the writers long and is lyrically unchallenging but what a celebration, and what an album.

Happy birthday, bruv, from Jim 'Now That's What I Call Music' Morton


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