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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Producers

Posted on 27 July 2011 by Joe

While bands hog the limelight we thought it about time to pay tribute to those hardy souls sitting behind the mixing desks, dealing with all the tantrums and egos and helping to create some of our favourite indie and alternative albums of all time. This bunch of super indie producers have even managed to turn the most rough and ready artists into successful chart acts while ensuring they retain credibility.

Ladies and gentlemen, pull up a Phil Spector biography, sit back on the mixing desk chair, twiddle some knobs and enjoy Neonfiller’s Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music Producers.

10. Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley

Clive Langer (right) and Alan Winstanley (left)

These guys have been around for ever, well since the mid 1970’s anyway, and have worked with more artists than it’s possible to list here. They are best known for a 30 year association with Madness for whom they have produced 8 albums. Other career highlights include two early 1980’s masterpieces, The Tear Drop Explodes’ seminal 1980 classic Kilimanjaro and Dexy’s Midnight Runners 1982 celtic blockbuster Too-Rye-Ay. Kevin Rowland and Julian Cope are two of the real ‘nutty boys’ of English pop quite capable of giving Brian Wilson a run for his money in the eccentric genius stakes, working with them may not have been easy but must have been rewarding.

Add to the mix production credits on albums by Elvis Costello, Morrissey and Aztec Camera and Langer and Winstanley are worthy entries on our list of Top Ten producers.

9. Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie

If you listened to American indie-rock bands from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s then it is pretty likely you owned something produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie.  Working out of the legendary Fort Apache studios they produced a number of genre defining albums including the Lemonheads’  Lovey, Hole’s  Live Through This, Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over and Morphine’s Cure For pain. As well as this Belly, Big Dipper, Firehose and the Gigolo Aunts all had albums produced by the prolific pair.

If you add their engineering duties to the list you can include the Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Come and The Blake Babies to the list. Added together a pretty comprehensive list of American alternative rock from the era. They didn’t only record out of Fort Apache and decamped to Chipping Norton to work with Radiohead in their nascent form. The pair produced the debut album Pablo Honey featuring ‘Creep’, the song that would break them in America.

8. Martin Rushent

Martin Rushent tragically died earlier this year (2011). He left behind a legacy as being the go-to man for punk and new wave bands wanting chart success.  Among those he helped into the charts were the Buzzcocks, Human League, Altered Images and The Stranglers. His work helping the Buzzcocks to create their stellar first two albums Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (both 1978) is among our key landmark in his career.

But arguably he is more famous for turning the rather dour electronica of Human League into one of the most successful bands of the early 1980s through his production of their breakthrough 1981 album Dare. He died while working on a 30th anniversary edition of this seminal album. Other notable landmarks in his career are The Stranglers’ 1977 album No More Heroes. His workload slackened off towards the end of his life, but he still found time to work with Carl Barat and The Pipettes among others.

7. Jim O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke is another producer who has a relatively small body of work behind him, but his work as a musician means that producing albums is purely a part time vocation. He has released a number of solo albums as well as records as part of Loose Fur, Gastr Del Sol and famously as the fifth member of Sonic Youth for six years up until 2005. His leftfield musical style is informed by jazz and electronic noise as much as indie rock music and that has informed his collaborations and production style.

In his career he has produced albums by Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Superchunk, Quruli, John Fahey, Smog, Faust, Tony Conrad, The Red Krayola, Bobby Conn, Beth Orton and Joanna Newsom. As a producer he is probably best known for his work with a fellow Chicago act Wilco, and was a big part of their move from being a popular Americana act to achieving widespread critical acclaim. It was his mixing work that gave Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the left-field sound that alienated the band from their record label. O’Rourke returned to produce A Ghost is Born, the album that won Wilco a Grammy Award for the best alternative music album in 2005.

6. Don Fleming

Don Fleming is one of the peripheral figures of alternative rock music. His work with Velvet Monkeys, B.A.L.L and Gumball is not widely known and his collaborations with bigger artists have garnered him with little attention. As a producer he hasn’t got a huge body of work to his name, but in his case it is quality not quantity that is the significant feature.

First off he produced ‘The Wagon’ the greatest single that Dinosaur Jr have released, and one of the best singles in the history of indie rock. He has also produced music by a number of other alt-rock acts such as Sonic Youth, Hole, Screaming Trees, Peter Yorn and (ahem) Midway Still. However, his greatest contribution to music is producing the two best power pop albums of the 1990s, Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub and Frosting on the Beater by The Posies. In those two near perfect sets of indie rock perfection he has a place in musical history.

5. Gil Norton

Gil Norton has had an incredibly prolific career. He’s from Liverpool and worked with fellow Liverpudlians China Crisis on their 1982 debut album Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, their synth pop sound beautifully illustrated by their second single Christian. Among his best work has been with Boston indie rock acts the Throwing Muses,  whose eponymous debut album he produced, and the Pixies, for whom he produced their classic 1989 album Doolittle that includes the tracks Debaser and Monkey Gone To Heaven .

But we, and he, don’t just dwell in the 80’s. Bringing you right up to date in 2011 Gil has worked with the Futures on their forthcoming debut album and Scottish alternative rock act Twin Atlantic.

4. Phil Ek

If we may have strayed slightly towards pop territory with some of the other producers in our Top 10 we’re firmly back in the land of indie with American producer Phil Ek. He is the man behind both Fleet Foxes critically acclaimed albums  as well as work by Modest Mouse, The Shins, Les Savy Fav and Built To Spill. As a young man he moved to Seattle just when Nirvana were helping to establish the city’s musical reputation, as The Beatles had done with Liverpool several decades before. It was here that he began to learn his trade and build connections with the Sub Pop Records and Up Records labels whose artists helped define his career.

3. Dave Fridmann

Fridmann is another musician who decided to spend more time behind the mixing desk. As bassist and founding member of Mercury Rev his place in indie and alternative music history is already assured. But it was his decision in 1993 to focus on producing that gives him a special place in our hearts. Described by Mojo as “the Phil Spector of the alt-rock era” his focus is often on big epic sounds, with The Flaming Lips, MGMT and Sleater-Kinney among those that have worked with him.

Fridmann is not without critics. His Grammy award winning work on The Flaming Lips At War With the Mystics (2007) sparked a fierce debate about loudness in mastering. But his work on The Flaming Lips’classic Soft Bulletin (1999), Ok Go’s best album Of The Blue Color Of The Sky (2010) and Tama Impala’s wondrous Innerspeaker (2010)  more than make up for this blot on his otherwise superb CV.

2. John Leckie

By far the most mentioned producer in our Top 100 albums of all time list is the eclectic and prolific John Leckie. His work with XTC’s psychedelic alter egoes Dukes of Stratosphear, The Fall during their mid 1980s heyday, helming Radiohead’s breakthrough album The Bends and his  innovative work behind the decks on the Stone Roses’ debut album means he has a deserved place in our list.

His ability to find the best in each band he works with, whether its honing the indie rock of Radiohead or allowing  The Stone Roses’s creativity to shine, is perhaps his greatest talent. To this day he is still working with a diverse range of artists across the alternative and indie music world. Among our highlights from the last few years has been My Morning Jacket’s Z.

1.Steve Albini

From the Pixies to Nirvana, from Wedding Present to PJ Harvey, Steve Albini is perhaps the most prolific producer in alternative and indie music. Part of his popularity is his lack of ego as a producer. He prefers either no credit or to be credited as recording engineer and his hallmark is to ensure the album is a reflection of the band’s true sound without interference. He encourages bands to play live as much as possible and achieves a warmth to the recording though a careful attention to mic positioning.

As a former member of Big Black and more recently Shellac Albini is very much a musician and a  producer, which adds to his popularity among the bands he works with. Those such as David Gedge and Jon Spencer often returning time and again to Albini, who each year produces between 10 to 20 different albums.  The sheer range of artists and ground breaking albums he has worked on, including Pixies Surfer Rosa, Mclusky’s Mclusky Do Dallas and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, make him for us the greatest indie and alternative producer of all time.

Compiled by Martin Burns, Dorian Rogers and Joe Lepper


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Top Five Bob Dylan Covers

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Top Five Bob Dylan Covers

Posted on 24 May 2011 by Joe

To celebrate Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday today we thought we’d compile a short list of some of our favourite Bob Dylan covers. Hope you enjoy, oh, and happy birthday Bob.

5. Stephen Malkmus – Ballad of a Thin Man

4. XTC – All Along the Watchtower

3. Jim James and Calexico – Goin’ to Acapulco

2. Nick Drake – Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright

1. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower ….again. So good we had to include this track twice

Compiled by Joe Lepper


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Top Ten Guitarists (That Don’t Often Make Top Ten Guitarists Lists)

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Top Ten Guitarists (That Don’t Often Make Top Ten Guitarists Lists)

Posted on 20 April 2011 by Joe

“What! You fools! Where’s Hendrix? Where’s Clapton?” OK, so this is a top ten guitarists list without some of the best guitarists in it. We accept that, but what we wanted to do was create a list that didn’t have the same, boring faces on it and instead honour  those that often fail to make the usual top tens. We’ve gone for those with undoubted skill but also the power to influence thousands of other guitarists and change a band’s direction all through their unique brand of fretmanship. Sit back, crack open a pack of Ernie Ball super slinky strings and enjoy Neon Filler’s distinct Top Ten Guitarists list.

(To coincide with the release of this list we are also offering the chance to win a set of luxury plectrums. Head over to our competition page for further details.)

10. Roddy Byers (The Specials)

When you think of The Specials you probably think of a great ska beat, the witty and socially aware lyrics, or perhaps the horn section booming out on tracks such as ‘Ghost Town’. But for us it was the lead guitar playing of Roddy Byers that left us mesmerised.  Because The Specials were not a guitar band in the sense of the early Beatles or the Stones Byers contribution can easily be overlooked, but take a closer listen and there’s some great guitar work going on.  Among our favourite Special’s tracks featuring Byers’ skills are ‘Concrete Jungle’ (a song Byers wrote) and ‘It’s Up to You’.

9. Ricky Wilson (The B-52s)

The B-52s guitarist Ricky Wilson’s style sounded like a bizarre new wave version of Duane Eddy and involved some of the strangest tunings and string removals in modern music. Five strings, with the G string missing was among his common methods, but he also often played with just four on his trusty Mosrite. The Mosrite forum has some interesting listings of his open tuning string configurations for some of the band’s key songs if you want to attempt to recreate Ricky’s unusual style. Be warned though replicating Wilson’s tuning may be tricky. He died in 1985  and according to the Mosrite forum Wilson reportedly once said “I just tune the strings till I hear something I like, and then something comes out…No, I don’t write anything down I have no idea how the tunings go.”

8. Johnny Hickman

Johnny Hickman is the smartly coiffured lead guitarist in the Virgina based band Cracker. His country rock sound is influenced by punk, surf and classic pop. Like all great guitarists he knows just when to hold back and when to let rip. He is a sophisticated player, and he needs to be when he is playing songs written by David Lowery, one of the most esoteric people in pop music. He is just as skilled when playing the grungey ‘Low’ as he is a country ballad like ‘Darling One’ but is at his most comfortable playing the bluesy riffs and soloing like he does in the above clip of ‘Been Around The World’.

7. Dallas and Travis Good (The Sadies)

Dallas and Travis GoodThe more perceptive reader will have noticed that this is actually two people, albeit two closely related ones, but there is another very good reason for their joint inclusion. They have an amazing trick where they play each others guitars.A photo doesn’t do this full justice, I’ve seen them live a few times and I’m still amazed every time. Of course there’s much more to their playing than just one party trick and their band, The Sadies, are brilliant. We’ve banned the likes of Syd Barrett from this feature but if it’s 60’s rock you’re after The Sadies’ cover of Lucifer Sam, everyone’s favourite diabolic cat, should do the trick. Like fellow Canadian Neil these guys really rock albeit it in a more interestingly psychedelic alt-country kind of way.

6. Dave Gregory (XTC)

Dave Gregory had been playing the guitar in bands  since he was a teenager in the 1960s but it wasn’t until  a decade later when he joined XTC that his talent gained the audience it deserved. He transformed XTC’s  style and spent the next 20 years beautifully augmenting the songs of its chief writers Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding with his inventive, exciting guitar parts. Sometimes jazz, sometimes pure pop, his solos were intricate but never showy and his riffs were always catchy. He now plies his trade with The Tin Spirits, and their act contains a number of XTC hits, including ‘Scissor Man’ which is a great example of his technically inventive style.

5. Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet came to prominence when he joined the psychedelic desert rock group Green On Red in 1985. His unique take on Stonesey guitar playing would lead them down a country blues root for the rest of their recording career.  Since 1990 he has had a successful solo career and also been an in demand session guitarist for a range of artists including Bob Neuwirth, Kelly Willis, Aimee Mann, Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman, Lucinda Williams and Cake. His solo outings have tended to be more restrained affairs with the guitar heroics taking a back seat to the singing and songwriting. It is with Green On Red, particularly live, that Prophet lets rip and blasts out impossible riffs and scorching guitar solos. The clip above shows us how it is done, the solo starts at 1:30 and seems to last until the end of the song.

4. Brian Baker

Brian Baker is one of the most influential guitarists in the history of punk. From his early bands Minor Threat and Dag Nasty through to his current band Bad Religion his style is often copied. At the heart of his playing is a powerful and warm distortion that somehow allows the melody and his distinct way of finger picking chords to shine through. When we recently included Can I Say, the 1986 debut from Dag Nasty in our Top 100 Albums list, FlexMyHead, a contributor on the Daghouse forum (dedicated to all things Dag Nasty) gave us this excellent review of Baker’s playing. “I think that the way Brian Baker would slip into single picking/notes and just his guitar sound was more important than his bar chords, kinda in the same way that the Adolescents and D.I. pioneered the use of that sliding octave chords for melody, I think Brian Baker defined some of the melodic-punk staples the bands have gone on to use. Even in a current punk band like Strike Anywhere, I hear Brian Baker’s influence in their guitar work, even if the music is not quite the same.”

3. David Rawlings

Best known as the musical partner of Gillian Welch, David Rawlings is right at the top of the list of guitarists we’ve had the pleasure of seeing live. As you can see from the clip his technical ability is off the radar and adds to his spell binding performances. While Welch tops the bill, Rawlings is just as much of a star. Others realise this too with Rawlings having played on Ryan Adams’s albums Demolition and Heartbreaker, which was recently named a Neon Filler Top 100 album. He’s also appeared on two Bright Eyes albums, Cassadaga and Four Winds.

2. Buster B Jones

Buster B Jones wasn’t one for interviews and was reportedly uncomfortable with fame. Yet this blues man was one of the most influential and dazzling guitar players of all time. His life was tragically cut short at 49 when liver failure got the better of him but he has never been forgotten. Despite having his name inlaid in his fret board in mother of pearl this was a rare moment of immodesty for this warm and friendly guitar legend.

1. Davey Graham

Other British guitarists are better known but are any more influential? The late Davy Graham pioneered the British folk guitar boom of the 1960s and influenced a generation of songwriters from Paul Simon to Bert Jansch. Perhaps his most famous composition was ‘Anji’, which Jansch in particular does a great version of. Part of Graham’s skill was his eclectic approach to guitar music, using it to both reinvigorate English folk music and bring music from around the world to a Western audience. North Africa, eastern Europe and India are just of the musical destinations his musical prowess covered. The album Folk Roots, New Routes, with Shirley Collins and The Guitar Player, featuring a beautiful version of the Julie London hit ‘Cry Me A River’, are among the many highlights in his back catalogue.

Compiled by Martin Burns, Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

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Top 100 Albums (The Top 10)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

So here it is. After two months of releasing this list in stages we’ve finally arrived at our Top 10 indie and alternative albums. Hope you enjoy this final instalment. Feel free to browse through the rest of the top 100 here and leave a comment about some of your favourites.

10. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

This debut by The Stone Roses is an old fashioned album, full of 1960s influences. This is perhaps unsurprising given it was produced by John Leckie, whose previous efforts include two albums by XTC’s psychedelic alter egos Dukes of Stratosphear. Yet in 1989 when it was released it sounded like the most exciting and different album for years.  Decades on and it’s lost none of its energy and is arguably the best album to emerge from the so called ‘baggy’ scene of late 1980s Manchester. Highlights include the indie-dancebility of final track ‘I Am The Resurrection’, ‘Waterfall ‘and its backwards companion piece ‘Don’t Stop’, and ‘She Bangs the Drum’. In an interview with Quietus Leckie, who is the most name checked producer in our Top 100, explains that the album’s success was down to the band’s confidence and open minded approach to making music. “They seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren’t frightened,” says Leckie.

9. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After an underwhelming debut with 1995’s AM Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band have released a string of brilliant records from 1996’s Being There through to 2009’s Wilco (The Album). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is the album that demonstrates all that is good about America’s best rock n roll band. Recorded with a line-up that featured the late Jay Bennett, the multi-instrumentalist who would leave the band prior to the albums release (tensions during the recording are brilliantly documented in Sam Jones’ film ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’). The album earned the band the tag of the alt-country Radiohead due to the more experimental production techniques and sounds used by producer Jim O’Rourke. The albums reputation as being challenging is more down to the record labels reaction (and refusal to release it) than it is to the songs themselves. ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ has a weird feel and an erratic beat and ‘Radio Cure’ has an uncomfortable starkness but most of the record is very accessible and features some of the bands best realised songs. ‘Kamera’, ‘War On War’, ‘I’m The Man That Loves You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ are all great catchy tunes that sit comfortably with the more cerebral tracks.

8. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand, originally released in 1994, represented a turning point for Robert Pollard’s Guided By Voices. It was intended as the band’s swansong due to the lack of attention and money their previous five albums had garnered. The album was recorded in various basements, rather than the studio, and was primarily the work of Pollard and Tobin Sprout (with various members of the “classic line-up” pitching in). The songs were recorded in just a few takes on to simple 4-track equipment and the rough and ready sound is one of the album’s charms. Guided By Voices albums from this time are an acquired taste, with half formed song snippets sitting alongside  rough diamond pop classics like ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’. However, this is all part of the magic formula that makes Bee Thousand so special. There are no songwriters out there like Robert Pollard, no bands like Guided By Voices and no albums like Bee Thousand – this is a pretty special record.

7. The B-52s- The B-52s

Two years after performing their first gig at a Valentine’s Day party in 1977 in their hometown of Georgia, Athens, the B-52s self titled debut hit the stores. It was a sleeper hit in 1979 reaching 59 in the US Billboard 200 but has since been widely recognised as one of the best alternative albums of all time. Blending new wave, punk, 1950’s sci-fi kitsch and Duane Eddy style guitar playing the tracks have a strange timeless feel. Above all they are fun. There’s some silly stuff like ‘Rock Lobster’, but tracks like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’ are serious, emotional stuff and showcase the powerful vocal talents of singer Cindy Wilson. For more about The B-52s read our Top Ten Artists That Changed Our Lives feature here.

6. Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise

Sufjan Stevens probably regrets his claim that he would release an album for every American state, a feat that would be difficult to achieve and probably not an enjoyable or ultimately successful task. Illinois is his second and, thus far, last in the series. Nobody likes a show-off but it is hard to resent Steven’s ability to play every instrument under the sun when he produces music as wonderful as this in the process. The album covers a sprawling 22 eccentrically titled tracks ranging from the soft and sombre (‘Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’) to the exuberant and celebratory (‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!: Pt. 1: The World’s Columbian Exposition’). The album tells an expansive story about the people, places and history of the state and listening to the album is like being taken on an exciting road trip. The brilliant ‘Chicago’ has been used on many a soundtrack, but for me the desert island pick from the album is ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ a song so sad and beautifully played that it made it to number 1 in our Top 10 Tearjerkers chart.

5. Lemonheads – Shame About Ray

Shame About Ray from 1992 is a masterclass in making two to three minute pop songs. Across its tight-as-you-like 12 tracks (bumped to 13 on reissues to include their excellent cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’) each is perfect indie pop. An album you can listen to from start to finish can be rare thing, but an album with 12 (13) potential singles that still retains an alternative edge is worthy of a Top Ten place in anyone’s indie and alternative books. The title track is an undoubted highlight, but each has its own merit, from the hooky ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’ to the cover of ‘Frank Mills’, from the film and stage play Hair. We’ve been listening to this a lot in preparing for this list and are staggered each time at the energy and consistency of  this fifth album from the band

4. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes

When Gordon Gano, Victor DeLorenzo and Brian Ritchie took their busking trio intro the studio to record their debut album it is unlikely that they could have realised what an iconic record they were producing. Their acoustic blend of Lou Reed, the Modern Lovers and punk crackles with youthful angst and pent up anger over the tens songs here. ‘Blister In The Sun’ must be the most shamelessly ripped off tune in advertising and bursts the album into life, and ‘Add It Up’ stands as an indie disco classic due to the stark dropping of the f-bomb early on in the track. The album has more subtle moments and album closer ‘Good Feeling’ is sad, simple and honest. The band would release more good songs throughout their career but they could never quite match up to a debut as perfect as this one. The 20th anniversary reissue is a lovely package with demos, early singles and a live concert on the second disc.

3. XTC – Drums and Wires

Following the departure of keyboardist Barry Andrews in 1978 XTC opted for guitarist and fellow Swindon resident Dave Gregory to replace him. It turned into the making of the band, transforming XTC from a quirky, tight new wave outfit to a bonafide great English rock and pop act. Drums and Wires from 1979 was the first album to feature Gregory and his 1960s influenced electric guitar style as well as a new bigger drums sound, hence the title. It also gave the band far greater chart prominence through singles such as ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ , while losing none of their creativity.  Tracks such as ‘Complicated Game’ and Roads Girdle the Globe’ are among the most inventive you will hear in this Top 100. Amazing what a band can achieve with some drums and a bunch of wires. For more about XTC read our Top Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives article here.

2. Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

Stephin Merritt originally conceived this album as being 100 Love Songs before scaling back the idea out of practicality as well as adopting the rather appropriately more salacious number of tracks. Released as triple album, each disc containing 23 songs, it was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Each track deals with a different aspect of love and relationships and the album covers a wide range of styles from piano ballads to synth-pop to jazz to noise and beyond. Merritt’s wry gay new Yorker personality could overwhelm you over so many tracks and he wisely uses a team of vocalists (two male, two female) to record a selection of the songs. This adds depth to the record but also a more universal feel; relationships are kept unclear so that as a listener you can’t tell if the protagonist is singing to another man or woman. The result is that songs like the sprightly ‘I Need A New Heart’, the downbeat ‘I Don’t Believe In The Sun’ or the vicious ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah’ can speak to anyone.

1.The Clash  – London Calling

Tommy Tomkins excellent book on London Calling sums up the album perfectly as being about ” roots, with a sense of place.” For the band the roots were not just in London, but across the globe, especially through singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon’s love of Caribbean and US culture. The range of styles on London Calling from punk to rock to blues to reggae showed The Clash to be arguably the most mature and musical act to emerge from the UK punk scene. This double album has gone on to receive widespread critical acclaim and we are delighted to add our voices to that. From the pounding bass line of the title track, heartfelt lyrics of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ and pop savvyness of ‘Train in Vain’ London Calling still thrills us decades after its 1979 release. Read our full review of London Calling here.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers


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Top Ten Songs About Parenthood

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Top Ten Songs About Parenthood

Posted on 14 December 2010 by Joe

As rock stars get older the angst fades and they often look towards home  and their  kids for inspiration. While for some it is the sheer joy of parenthood that is  inspiring, for others being a parent carries some serious emotional baggage that needs airing. We’ve got some tracks by some great folk artists, angry punks, the chameleon in chief of modern music and XTC – practically our house band at Neon Filler. Sit back, pull up a fairy cake and enjoy Neon Filler’s Top Ten Songs About Being A Parent.

1. Animal Collective – My Girls

We’ve gone for one of the most recent songs about parenting for our number one slot. Here Animal Collective’s Panda Bear sings about the most basic of parenting emotions of  providing a safe and loving home for his family.

The My Girls in question are wife Fernanda Pereira and daughter Nadja. “I just want four walls and adobe slats (red roofing tiles in Portugal where he lives) for my girls,” he sings. Panda Bear’s girls have since been joined by a son, who was born in June 2010, who now also enjoys the family’s four walls and tiles.

My Girls features on Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) read our review here.

2. XTC – Holly Up on Poppy

As our Top Ten Bands that Changed our Lives feature explains XTC are the kind of band you can grow up with. From their teenage roots as new wavers in Swindon to becoming family men XTC’s chief song writers Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding always come up trumps when singing about the every day important issues of life. Parenting is a theme that crops up in many of their songs but Partridge’s song about his daughter Holly riding on her rocking horse perfectly sums up the joy a parent has watching their child play.

Quoted on the excellent Chalkhills XTC web site Partridge explains that the song’s beauty is its simplicity. “Originally the song was titled ‘Holly High on Poppy’ but people thought it was about drugs. Even now someone’s said it’s about dying of cancer and taking drugs to ease the pain. But it’s really about my daughter and her rocking horse.”

Holly Up On Poppy features on Nonsuch (1990)

3. Squeeze – Up the Junction

Up the Junction is a classic for so many reasons. It’s a weepie about a foolish alcoholic man looking back at his regrets. It’s a rare hit that has no chorus. But for me it is the few lines about the protagonist’s joy of becoming a parent that make this a classic about parenthood. “This morning at 4:50 I took her rather nifty, Down to an incubator, Where thirty minutes later, She gave birth to a daughter, Within a year a walker. She looked just like her mother, if there could be another.” Wonderful stuff.

Up The Junction features on Cool For Cats (1979)

4. Ben Folds – Gracie

Ben Folds has written for both his son and daughter but it is this tribute to his daughter Gracie that really caught our attention. Folds perfectly captures the special bond between parent and child, as he sings that “you will always have a part of me nobody else is ever going to see.”

The innocence of being a kid is also wonderfully summed up, with Folds showing genuine emotion describing the everyday events of a child’s life as he sings to Gracie, “with your cards to your chest walking on your toes, What you got in the box only Gracie knows.” Ahhh.

Gracie features on Songs For Silverman (2005)

5. David Bowie – Kooks

Kooks is a great tribute to a newborn. Written just after his son Zowie Bowie was born it shows Bowie imagining life as a parent, hoping he does a good job. Among the many splendid lines is this beauty about his son’s school life to come. “Don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads, Cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s Dads. And if the homework brings you down, Then we’ll throw it on the fire,And take the car downtown.”

This shows a wonderful warmth that was sadly not replicated in Bowie’s odd choice of name for his son. With a name like that there’s no need to pick a fight with a cad, they’ll come flocking. Thankfully Zowie is now Duncan Jones and a fine director to boot.

Kooks features on Hunky Dory (1971)

6. Guided By Voices – My Son Cool.

Having a cool dad is par for the course being a rock star’s son or daughter and they don’t come much cooler than Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard. An indie music stalwart, prolific song writer, influencer of many and a former college sports star as well. Pollard is cool as you get. It is with a certain knowing air that he shuns his own coolness and says to his son Bryan, no, it is you that is cool. Now off you go son and do you own thing.

As Pollard said in 2005 about parenthood. “I’ve at least allowed my children to pursue their own interests without too much interference, and I think they both turned out pretty good.” A proud dad indeed.

My Son Cool features on Alien Lanes (1995)

7. John Martyn – My Baby Girl

Sometimes songs need little explanation; the lyrics and title say it all. That’s the case here with My Baby Girl, written by the late John Martyn in the mid 1970s. Its sugary, its syrupy and there’s nothing wrong with that. This line in particular shows how much Martyn and his daughter need and inspire each other. “Daddy will you sing for me, Daddy try to swing for me, Daddy play your strings for me, Daddy don’t you cry for me, Daddy will you fly for me, Daddy will you try for me.”

My Baby Girl features on  Sunday’s Child (1975)

8. Joni Mitchell – Little Green.

Mitchell gave her daughter up for adoption in 1965, explaining some years later that , “I was dirt poor. An unhappy mother does not raise a happy child. It was difficult parting with the child, but I had to let her go.” Writing about this tragic part of her life is no mean feat, but in 1967 after a number of rejigs she finally managed to deliver Little Green, about the toddler she never knew. While Little Green is one of the saddest tracks on our list, the real life story has a happy ending of sorts, with Mitchell being reunited with her daughter Kilauren Gibb in 1997.

Little Green features on Blue (1971)

9. Wilco and Billy Bragg – Hoodoo Voodoo

Being a kid is silly, being a parent can be silly. Sometimes there are big issues to sing about, but sometimes as on this Woody Guthrie track re-imagined by Wilco and Billy Bragg, there is a lot of fun to be had. Here Guthrie’s odd nonsense rhyme for his kids is given the music it deserves. How can you not like a song with the lyrics “Hoodoo voodoo, Chooka chooky choochoo; True blue, how true; Kissle me now.”

Hoodoo Voodoo features on Mermaid Avenue Vol 1. (1998)

10. Hamell on Trial – Inquiring Minds

I’d never heard of Ed Hamell until I put out a request on Facebook for ideas for songs about parenting. Turns out I’ve been missing out on not only one of the best songwriters around but one of the best songwriters about being parent. Hamell sings whole albums about being a parent. It is this excellent track Inquiring Minds that was recommended to us, where Hamell expertly bluffs his way through some of the embarrassing questions more investigative kids might pose.

Inquiring Minds features on Parents Who Enjoy Drugs (2006)

compiled by Joe Lepper (with help from Neon Filler’s  friends on Facebook and inspired by his sons Dylan and Charlie)


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The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

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The Dukes of Stratosphear – Psonic Psunspot

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Joe

As a callow teenager, XTC’s Andy Partridge dreamed of one day being in a band that sounded ‘just like what I could hear coming out of the radio’ – which, at that time, meant the most unapologetically out-there material of Pink Floyd, the Small Faces, the Byrds and the Beatles, as well as a veritable slew of now-forgotten or barely-remembered one-hit psychedelic chancers like Zager and Evans and The Moles.

Even after growing up and scoring a string of new-wavey hits with XTC he still dreamed of making a record ‘like all those records I loved as a schoolboy’ – and in 1985 the band was finally given the chance to record their very own psychedelic mini-album under the pseudonym The Dukes of Stratosphear. Called ’25 O’Clock’ it sold so well (embarrassingly, rather better than XTC’s last ‘proper’ album) that a full-length follow-up was commissioned two years later, and unleashed upon an unwary universe as ‘Psonic Psunspot’.

Psonic Psunspot

Although its reference points are generally less esoteric than those of its predecessor, Psunspot still has enough trippy oomph to bring a twinkle to the dilated eye of any psych enthusiast.  But there’s also a lot of stuff that even normal people can ‘get’: the Syd Barrettesque ‘Have You Seen Jackie’, the none-more-McCartneyfied ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’ and the dazzling ‘Good Vibrations’-era Beach Boys pastiche ‘Pale and Precious’ – which noted Brian Wilson überfan Dominic Priore pronounced as ‘the most exact replica of the California sound’.

For me, though, part of what makes the album such a pleasure is the fact that the replicas aren’t always exact; that, as well as sounding like Pink Floyd or the Beatles, the Dukes can also sound quite a lot like XTC, and I LOVE XTC!  From this perspective, listening to psongs like ‘You’re My Drug’ or ‘The Affiliated’ feels a little like poking at the beard of a pstrangely pswirling Psanta and catching sight of your dad’s face underneath: faintly alarming for a moment or two, perhaps, but ultimately something of a freaky relief – and funny, too!

The album’s 1987 release date proved fortuitous.  Acid house was just getting started and the baggies were just around the corner – miraculously, ‘hippy shit’ seemed to be coming back in.  The Dukes soon developed a cult following and, fittingly enough for a band whose primary raison d’être was to evoke their own influences, ended up influencing many younger bands (The Stone Roses reportedly chose John Leckie to produce their debut album as a direct result of his work with the Dukes).

Psonic Psunspot and 25 O’Clock were both recently remastered, repackaged and reissued.  If you’ve never heard them you need, I say NEED to get them; even if you already own Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (the earlier CD which collected both releases) you should probably still get them, just to taste the glory of the remastering.  Either way, buy NOW – while pstocks last!

by Daniel Raven

For more information about The Dukes of Stratosphear and all things XTC visit Chalkhills.org


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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Part 1

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Part 1

Posted on 22 September 2010 by Joe

Here’s the first part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives.

Part 1 – XTC

Since I was a child I don’t think a week has gone by without listening to an XTC track. They kept popping up on children’s TV hawking their next single like Sgt Rock or Towers of London when I was young, but what got me hooked was a TV documentary on new wave and punk shown in the mid 1980s. The XTC track featured was Neon Shuffle, all jerky rhythms, frantic vocals, bizarre keyboards from their first album 1978’s White Music. This was punk like I’d never heard before and showed a far edgier side to the band that appeared on kid’s TV and Top of the Pops.

The next day I bought White Music and more enlightenment followed. The songs such as ‘Newtown Animal,’ were not just rants about boring suburban living or about the urban decay of The Clash’s Westway. These were considered, intelligent songs about well, normal English life, about towns like their native Swindon.


Over the next few years I snaffled up all their albums. Some had already been released, others were new at the time. Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons and more, I devoured them all. They actually got better as they went on, with 2000’s cruelly overlooked Apple Venus showcasing some typically unusual arrangements and song structures. The band even took time out to form a psychedelic act The Dukes of Stratosphear, that ended up being as good and even better in places than the hippy bands they were paying tribute to.

XTC make me think more about being English, not in a patriotic way, just what it means to be on this little island full of newtown animals, young men called Nigel being pushed into jobs at British Steel (Making Plans for Nigel) and middleclass hypocrisy (Respectable Street).

As I grew older and became a parent, XTC were still there, with songs such as ‘Holly Up On Poppy’ about the joys of fatherhood. Or the Dukes ‘Affiliated’ about the end of teenage life and beginning of the world of mortgages and staying in on Saturday nights watching TV.

The story behind the band made them intriguing as well. Lead singer Andy Partridge’s stage fright meant they stopped touring at the peak of their career. With no world tour to help promotion their audience dwindled. The hits may have stopped, but critical acclaim carried on. They also fought back against their record company Virgin, going on strike for years.

Drums and Wires

They were an almost-huge, globally recognised band that could never quite get out of their Swindon roots, like George Bailey and his unsuccessful attempts to leave Bedford Falls in the film It’s a Wonderful Life. To this day Partridge and Colin Moulding, the chief song writers, still live in Swindon, albeit the posher bits.

XTC have ended now, sometime around five years ago, despite pleas from fans to reunite. Nevertheless their legacy carries on. I still hear them on the radio from time to time, still have all the albums and listen to them regularly. I hear an XTC track in other band’s music as well. This is particularly the case with some of the most innovative modern, bands around like Grizzly Bear and Field Music.

Ten of our favourite XTC songs

1.    Neon Shuffle
2.    New Town Animal
3.    Making Plans for Nigel
4.    Senses Working Overtime
5.    Scissor Man
6.    Then She Appeared
7.    Chalkhills and Children
8.    Dear God
9.    I’d Like That
10.  The Wheel and the Maypole

by Joe Lepper


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Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music TV Moments

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Top Ten Indie/Alternative Music TV Moments

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

TV used to be so much more important for music promotion. Sure, a good Letterman performance can still help a band get known. But we now live in an era of internet self-promotion that has left TV a far less exciting medium to catch the next big thing or see your favourite band. Here we take you back to an era when TV appearances could make or break an act and frequently did. For our selection we’ve opted for the rude, the cheeky and the downright strange. We’ve also included some of TV’s best live performances as well as a more up to date reality TV moment. Sit back and enjoy the clips.

1. Kurt Cobain’s Morrisey Impression

Nirvana has had many memorable TV moments. From the band’s MTV unplugged session to Kurt Cobain declaring that Courtney Love is “the best fuck in the world” on UK TV show The Word. But here we’ve opted for their UK Top of the Pops appearance where Cobain decided to sing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the guise of Morrissey. A band at their peak taking the piss in this way was unusual then as it is now. Opinion is divided as to why they did it. Some say a sore throat; some say it was to get at the producers as the band wanted to play another song. Maybe it was because they were cheeky chappies.

2. Jon Spencer Goes Ballistic Down Under

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is one of the best live acts around, however their TV appearances are sadly rare. For this 1990s performance on Australian youth programme Recovery they decided to show the rest of TV land what they were missing. Check out the action half way through their set as the Explosion go nuts with a theremin.

3. Ghost Hunting With The Happy Mondays

Music TV stations such as MTV have long since descended into a reality TV cesspit where Jay-Z buying a new sofa is considered good programming. Here the Happy Mondays show how reality TV should be done, when they appeared on ghost hunting show Most Haunted. Aged Manchester musicians stay in a haunted house. What could go right?

4. Iggy Bums A Teddy

Iggy Pop pretends to bum a teddy bear on children’s TV. It’s an eye-catching line indeed. Back in the 1980s children’s television shows were a staple way to see live bands, or rather chart acts mime to their latest single. The misguided producers of UK British kids’ TV show No. 73 clearly thought nothing could go wrong when they invited Iggy pop to “boogie in their basement,” and mime to his hit at the time ‘Wild One’. How misguided they were.

5.Husker Du Fail To Impress Housewives

Husker Du was one of the greatest indie alternative acts of all time. Merging punk with catchy pop they were one of the main influences for a host of bands, most notably Nirvana. What they are less famous for however was being a darling of Middle America’s housewife community. Here they are in 1986 bizarrely appearing on Minneapolis day time US TV show good Company in front of an audience of bewildered housewives.

6.Sabrina Finally Meets The Violent Femmes

Sabrina the Teenage Witch may have been one of the most annoying teenagers on TV, but at least she had reasonable music taste. This clip is from a 1997 episode of her series in which her efforts to see her favourite band the Violent Femmes are thwarted by her crazy witch aunts. Eventually she gets to meet them but be warned this clip contains some of the worst acting by a band ever.

7.Stone Roses Brand BBC “Amateurs”

The Stone Roses first album was a work of genius. The perfect band for the perfect 1989 moment all delivered with supreme dedication by producer John Leckie. They must have been proud. Imagine their disappointment when they appear on BBC’s Late Show when a technical hitch cuts their power. The presenter trying to explain the problem away while lead singer Ian Brown shouts “amateurs” in the background will forever be a classic nugget of TV gold.

8.Fugazi’s First UK TV Appearance

Snub TV was a great music show from the late 1980s, featuring the first UK TV appearances of the likes of the Stone Roses and this clip from Fugazi. Filmed during their first visit to the UK, lead singer Ian Mackaye can come across a bit pious, preaching to the crowd about rape, but the sheer intensity of the performance is not in doubt. Great, great performance.

9.Sex Pistols With Bill Grundy

This is the granddaddy, the godfather, the mother of all alternative music TV moments. Today Show presenter Bill Grundy attempted to wind up the Sex Pistols. Little did he realise that beneath the snarls, rips and safety pins lurked an intelligent man in John Lydon. Lydon takes the bait and throws it straight back at the hapless Grundy, whose career was in tatters by the next day. In contrast the Sex Pistols went on to become a household name.

10. XTC On So It Goes

So It Goes, the late 1970 music show fronted by the late Tony Wilson showcased some of the best acts of the punk/new wave era. Elvis Costello, The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Buzzcocks all appeared. To mark this show we’ve chosen this little seen clip of XTC performing ‘Neon Shuffle’. Another fantastic performance in which you’d never guess that seemingly extrovert lead singer Andy Partridge went on to develop stage fright.

Compiled by Joe Lepper


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