Author Archive

31. ‘Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ by Queens of the Stone Age (2000)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 5, 2017 by G.K. Reid


By the turn of the century, nu-metal and pop-punk had proven so appealing that you’d be forgiven for thinking that men could only express themselves through either ludicrous macho posturing (Limp Bizkit) or nasally ironic detachment (Blink 182). The male rock vocal had become either a furious, unwitting parody of itself (“Rollin'”) or an all-too-aware parody of nothing much in particular (“All the Small Things”). Either way, recognisable human emotion was kept at bay.

Whilst cynicism is what finally crowbarred QOTSA into mainstream consciousness (with “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”), Josh Homme was the first frontman in a long while to not be wholly off-putting. Capitalising on (and subverting) his hot ginger bigness, he also sang. Properly! And beautifully! With many nuances!

The lovely, tender strangle of his falsetto is foregrounded on the chorus of “Lost Art”, a song about not telling something that, cleverly, never tells you anything. What it does do is spend three beautiful minutes simultaneously agonising over and romanticising the burden/intimacy of a shared secret. The nature of which could be as sinister a deal as “Hands Clean” or as self-mythologising as “Bonnie and Clyde ’03”. The lasting impression from “Lost Art”, though, is that you’ll end up so paranoid and emotionally dysregulated by your efforts, you probably should have just said something to somebody.

BONUS POINTS: “We’ve got something to reveal… no one can know HOW WE FEEL!”

32. ‘What Would You Do?’ by City High (2001)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2016 by G.K. Reid


Unlike later socially conscious, question-title songs like The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”, WWYD dares to get gritty and specific. It also dares to have all of its talk of abominations against women culminate in a fucking stonking chorus.

What’s more, in a time before the concept of mansplaining was a widely discussed thing, the video includes a moment where the guy HALTS THE SONG just so he can demonstrate how little he’s grasped what the woman has just expressed to him… only to get smacked the fuck down and be forced to admit he’s always had a bad relationship with women because he thinks THEY ARE ALL HIS MOTHER.

BONUS POINTS: The ‘Oh Happy Day’ kid!

Although if you look into the shit that went down in this band, you will see there were very few happy days.

33. ‘That Green Gentleman’ by Panic at the Disco (2008)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2016 by G.K. Reid


Panic at the Disco (with an exclamation mark) launched to a captive audience in waiting. They were the perfect, cynical counter-programming effort to a half-decade’s worth of clean-cut Max Martin-fuelled pop and ugly red-capped dudes being weirdly aggressive. The Britney/Bizkit generation begat swathes of alienated teens hungry for soft pretty boys in eyeliner, and so emo was born.

PATD were the ‘Dawson’s Creek’ of pop groups – overcompensating for their formula by slapping long words everywhere. But while Britney, Xtina and JT extricated themselves through a “WE’RE SEX-HAVING GROWN UPS” narrative, PATD shook off their adolescence by regressing. Their completely joyous second album sounds like kids gleefully playing in a sandbox, albeit a sandbox rigorously governed by the semi-ghost of Brian Wilson.

BONUS POINTS: “Things have changed for me; and that’s ok” is a perfect, repeatedly handy, pop sentiment.

34. ‘Gravel Pit’ by Wu Tang Clan (2000)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2016 by G.K. Reid


I have loved this song for so many years and it occurs to me, coming to write about it, that I have never had much clue what the hell it’s about. I legit just checked Rap Genius.

It turns out it’s about people’s names.

‘Gravel Pit’ remains the only Wu Tang Clan song to crack the UK Top 40. I remember it as a reliable staple of MTV at the time, with Richard Blackwood doing inept “back back and forth” intros at every opportunity. That transition alone probably did a lot to develop UK teenagers’ powers of discernment between styles of rap, and possibly contributed to the immediate death of Blackwood’s music career. That the song itself acted as a handy triangulation of rapping prowess was a bonus.

The brash machismo of Method Man – as he defiantly rhymes “watch” with “watch” while (as evidenced in the video) wielding a plastic club with real authority and sense of timing – is followed by the snotty, slapdash delivery of Ghostface Killah, before U-God rounds things out with a proficient if unexciting “job done” closer. The killer chorus, delivered with detached coolness by Paulissa, bridges the disparity of the three beautifully.

BONUS POINTS: Only last week – unrelated to any of this – did I have a Whatsapp debate about whether or not a Gravel Pit was a vagina.

35. ‘Hands Clean’ by Alanis Morrissette (2002)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 by G.K. Reid


One of my very favourite things about Motown is that the saddest of sentiments would frequently be married to the jauntiest of melodies (cf Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’). It’s a very relatable instinct, to not just find ways to make your private pain palatable but to send it flying into something funny and – even better – something you can dance to. Ultimately this tension between sorrow and joy functions as a testament to human resilience, with the implication that that takes a certain amount of self-possession to pull off.

It may seem a huge leap to make from Motown to Morrissette, but I bring it up because – although pop music has a long, fine history of packaging unpleasant emotions into sparkly packages – it’s rare to take this approach when what you’re singing about isn’t just Smokey-esque heartbreak so much as actual adolescent trauma. Here, Alanis wields a jaunty melody to replicate the blase privelege involved in an adult man taking advantage of a young woman. It is by turns sinister and darkly comedic. It also took me about 10 years to realise what a fucking accomplishment it was.

BONUS POINTS: The song is so deft at disguising its subject matter that to a friend of mine and his girlfriend it was “their song” as teenagers (the “this could get messy, but you don’t seem to mind” bridge is such an appealing sentiment to young love). They didn’t last.

36. ‘Play’ by Jennifer Lopez (2001)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 by G.K. Reid


The story goes that, in the early 2000s, J.Lo robbed Princess Di of her title as “most photographed woman in the world”. I’m not sure what happened in the intervening years between Di’s death and J. Lo’s swerve into pop music; I can only assume we – as a mark of respect – stopped photographing women altogether. For what was the point of women anymore! They had reached their pinnacle! [candle/wind emojis]

Anyway, the important thing is that we could not get enough of looking at the exquisite squareness of J. Lo’s face and breaking into fevered Antiques-Roadshowing of her posterior (in a huge payback win for the British establishment, Pippa Middleton would ultimately snatch back the trophy for Most-Feverishly-Discussed-Lady Arse-in-The-World in 2011).

For a generation of white Brit teens, J. Lo was our first introduction to the concept of Latin women. Before J. Lo’s ascent, the closest I had come to this revelation was an old photograph of my sister piled high with a fruit medley, ostensibly dressed as Carmen Miranda for a party. Not that our vast exposure to J. Lo did much to broaden our horizons, of course. She was still subject to gauzy fetishising and, like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”-era Whitney, her ethnicity was simultaneously effaced and hinted at just enough.

What’s notable is that, as much as J. Lo’s image was whitewashed, her actual music – unlike with Whitney – had to reckon with the fact that black music was popular now! Her first album, confident in the re-novelty value of an Hispanic superstar, wavered between Latin-tinged ballads and balls-out Estefanny floor-fillers. By album 2, clearly, people had lost confidence, and so we had J. Lo insisting upon her realness and her non-costliness, throwing on shades and pretending that hip-hop vernacular came naturally to her. This inauthenticity wave crested with the notorious (but actually fucking great) “Jenny from the Block”.

An oasis in all this nonsense was “Play”, which remains one of the freshest and most futuristic-sounding MTV heavy play tracks of its time, even if that’s as simply accomplished as whacking a wiping-a-clean-window sound effect into the mix every other beat.

The precision in that window-wiper sound effect is echoed in the simplicity of the lyrical throughline: J Lo likes a song; she wants to hear that song in a public space; she will straight up murder you if you don’t play that motherfucking song.

BONUS POINTS: Let’s be clear. J. Lo is not about to be reasonable, or take other patrons into consideration. ALL NIGHT LONG is how frequently she wants to hear that motherfucking song.

37. ‘Bulletproof’ by La Roux (2009)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 by G.K. Reid


I was resistive to La Roux for a long time, until I realised that the ability to sing in the register of someone just recovering from a panic attack could actually be an asset, especially when delivering an unconvincing self-affirmation anthem such as this. Her androgynous image was often derided at the time as an 80s pose, but her subsequent records reveal a real anxiety about identity that was all there from the jump.

BONUS POINTS: The whole thing trundles along with the pace and unrepentant tinniness of a tense Tetris game, i.e. every child of the 80s introduction to the concept of anxiety.

38. ‘Let’s Dance’ by 5ive (2001)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 by G.K. Reid


5ive were exhausting. Britain’s teens, already enduring the vague Millennial dread of their parents and the potent same-such of The Daily Mail, but – more importantly – still reeling from the betrayal of Ginger Spice, were also forced to process the rock-rap pretensions of this peculiarly ugly-pretty boyband. Their contradictory instructions did not help. We were told to “get up” one minute only to “get down” the next, until ultimately we were expected to do both at the same time (“Keep on Movin'”).

When the Millennium finally came, maybe we realised we didn’t need 5ive anymore. A few months later they propped up the corpse of Brian May and donned leather (vests and cuffs!) to open the BRIT Awards, furiously insisting that they could (they-could) rock us. Their most assertive pose yet was also their most baldly insecure. Swiftly afterwards, their most doubtful-looking (and least utilised) member abandoned them. It was an inverse Halliwell moment. Sean did not get too big for his britches, for he never had britches to begin with. He was just in despair.

With nothing really left to do, 5ive got meta as shit. Finally given permission to, this mismatched bunch of boys gleefully pulled the curtain down upon themselves. They replaced Doubting Sean with an actual cardboard cut-out and, rather than telling us when to stand, they finally just invited us to dance.

BONUS POINTS: Vintage 90s gay panic.

39. ‘Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)’ by Svetlana Loboda (2009)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 25, 2012 by G.K. Reid

Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the most triumphant Eurovision Song Contest entry of our times. Triumphant not in the sense that it actually won the competition (still to this day I will stop dead in my tracks, AMAZED and INFURIATED that it only came in 12th), but triumphant in the sense that it is the very embodiment of what makes the song contest such an enduring and fascinating spectacle FESTIVAL OF LIFE.

The reasons are threefold:

1). A great Eurovision performance requires ‘WTF-just-happened?’ showmanship. Look what a well-mounted production this is. LOOK AT IT. The centurion choreography alone would make Madonna weep with envy.
2). A great Eurovision song should be simultaneously irresistable and nonsensical, littered with random sounds (e.g. “you are so sexy – BOM”). And you get extra points if it also functions as a snapshot (or at least a shoddy, blurred Xerox) of what is currently “hot” in music. ‘Be My Valentine’ essentially connects the dots between Timbaland and Lady Gaga; a squelchy, pulsating dancefloor anthem about demented co-dependency.
3). A great Eurovision performer takes it seriously. Svetlana Loboda not only remortgaged her house in order to buy those giant hamster wheels to frolic on (they are now collecting dust in her dad’s garage, apparently, possibly along with the centurions), but she also entered the competition to help her mount a campaign against domestic abuse of women. As pop platforms for political activism go, it’s at least more bonkers (and briefer) than Live Earth.

So, there we have it. Svetlana Loboda: better than Madonna, Timbaland, Lady Gaga and Bono. Well done, the Ukraine. Douze points.

Bonus points: Parentheses.

40. ‘Real Late Starter’ by Nerina Pallot (2009)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2011 by G.K. Reid

Through the course of his excellent Then That’s What They Called Music project, The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin has repeatedly coined the phrase “secretary rock” to handily sum up the commercially palatable confessionals of your Sheryl Crows, KT Tunstalls and Vanessa Carltons.  We all know how this stuff goes.   The workaday emotional dilemmas of the everywoman embedded in unfailingly catchy melodies.  There’s nothing challenging or even interesting about these songs but, without them, society as we know it would alter dramatically, and for the worse.  What would soundtrack Underappreciated-Working-Gal Kate Hudson as she bustles down a busy New York street and adorably spills latte on herself and gets her pants splashed by a passing cab? If secretary rock just STOPPED, then so too would Kate Hudson’s motor skills.  And how is Self-Centred-Careerist-Gal Kate Hudson ever going to learn to love (repeatedly) or raise her dead sister’s mongoloid children if she can’t even MOVE? And what about Anne Hathaway?  If it wasn’t for secretary rock, she’d still be stuck in a thankless job getting sighed at by Meryl Streep and having her scenes stolen by bitchy British girls.

And it’s not just Hollywood starlets that would suffer.   What are people in sofa ads going to kick off their shoes to as they fall beatifically upon their plush new, life-changing purchase? What would daytime radio stations organise their inane chatter around?

I’m only half-joking, here. It’s interesting how, going back to the Rabin articles, “secretary rock” is initially a pejorative, but as the project goes on, it’s deployed less dismissively and invoked more as an acknowledged subgenre.  The subgenre may essentially amount to constant rehashes of songs off Tapestry but, like any other, it has it’s good and bad practitioners. And, as far as I’m concerned, everyone needs at least one deeply unhip female singer-songwriter in their corner, be it Michelle Branch or Norah Jones or, as it’s increasingly been for me over the last couple of years, Nerina Pallot.

I was vaguely aware of Nerina Pallot when she first surfaced with that catchy (of course!) but borderline-offensive-in-its-naivete song about the war, and quickly dismissed her (of course!) as yet another guitar-jangling, kooky Vega-lyte. And then, one dreary day in the office (of course!), the neverending blandness of Steve Wright in the Afternoon was briefly brightened by the jaunty momentum and oh-so-resonant lyrics of this track, which essentially functions as a 9-to-5 for bemused and directionless late-twentysomethings (the album it led is aptly titled The Graduate).  Inspired to dig a bit deeper into the Pallot output, there was some honest-to-God first-rate songwriting to be found, and she’s been playing heavily on my iPod (albeit mostly when walking to and from work) ever since.

Given the airplay-friendliness of her material and that she’s Kylie’s current go-to girl for quality album tracks, it’s strange that a bonafide hit has so far eluded Pallot (although the video below evidences that she understands the paradox of having such a strong pop sensibility but not quite being able to convince as a popstar). But without that one hit, I guess that’s the deal with secretary rock; hierarchically, you’re always going to be the hoop-jumping Hathaway to Radio 2’s imperious, glowering Streep.

Bonus points: It helps that Real Late Starter is a total self-affirmation-but-not-really anthem.