Tagged: the beatles

Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder

Earlier this week Stevie Wonder turned 64. I meant to blog about it on the day but have been feeling a bit under the weather. Anyway, better late than never, here’s a post to celebrate the birthday of, arguably, the single most important musician of the 1970s. Bowie would possibly be a close 2nd*.

Like so many of the greats his work has fallen a long way since he was at his peak, but honestly, he’s still responsible for more great music, directly and indirectly, than pretty much any musicians of the 20th Century, apart from Lennon, McCartney and a few other people.

And, with that in mind, above we have a very apt McCartney track to which, where Stevie is concerned, the answer is yes, whilst below Mr Wonder shows that he could even improve on The Beatles.

Happy birthday Stevie, long may you be with us.


#shfl11: Jim Hendrix Experience – Gypsy Eyes

It seems quite apt that after James Brown, the next artists I should find as part of #shfl11 is Jim Hendrix. In many ways he’s been as influential as Brown, and is certainly as close to my heart as The Godfather of Soul.

On top of the fact that he rbought an entirely new dimension to rock in the late 60s, blending psychedelia, R&B and a type of guitar playing that left his peers dumb-struck (as did his chutzpah, including the time he opened a show, that Paul McCartney & George Harrison were attending, with a version of Sgt. Pepper’s, only days after it been released), he could almost be claimed as an honorary Englishman.

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Arriving in London under the wing of Chas Chandler, Hendrix hooked up with two white Englishmen, Noel Redding & Mitch Mitchell (something that Wesley Snipes’ character refuses to accept in the movie White Men Can’t Jump) and preceded to set the world on fire. The track Gypsy Eyes, whilst not their finest work by any means, highlights why. The riff is insinuatingly addictive, the rhythm section kick up a joyful noise, that brings to mind the urban heartbeat that Crosstown Traffic so brilliantly depicted, and the whole thing blends every genre under the sun.

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If, for some strange reason, you’ve never got into Hendrix (perhaps you were put off by the annoying use of Foxy Lady in Wayne’s World) then I’d suggest the The Essential Jimi Hendrix, which is how I first discovered the great man, and includes the classic as well as lesser known tracks such as Gypsy Eyes.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Gypsy by oliver on flickr


#shfl11: The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows

It’s quite apt that the latest track to pop up on my iPod as part of my plan to listen to, and write about, a random song every day in 2011 (I missed this weekend as I was travelling), is by The Beatles. Not only has it just been announced that they have racked up 5 million downloads in the 2 months since becoming available on iTunes, but whilst in London I picked up a rather lovely Beatles cushion, showing the band in their Sgt Pepper outfits.

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When Rolling Stone listed what they believed to be the 500 best albums of all time, they put Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at number 1. But, to paraphrase John Lennon (“Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?” “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles”), Sgt Pepper’s isn’t even the best Beatles album: which album that is is something that I change my mind on most days, but Revolver would probably win out 9 times out of 10. In many ways it’s the most perfect pop album ever recorded, it has a cooler cover than Sgt Pepper’s and Tomorrow Never Knows is an absolutely perfect finale.

Fittingly for a song recorded in the Swinging London of 1966, Tomorrow Never Knows was apparently written by John Lennon under the influence of LSD. What’s for certain is that the track is a brave statement of intent by a band who were about to abandon touring to concentrate on pushing the boundaries of popular music in their Abbey Road studio. It sounds like nothing that any popular act had ever recorded before, it could be used as an aural definition of the word psychedelia and, in many ways, as far as I’m concerned, it set the stage for what would later become techno: just play Setting Sun by The Chemical Brothers back to back with Tomorrow Never Knows if you don’t believe me.

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Anyway, there’s really nothing more than needs to be said about The Beatles, so I’ll leave you to enjoy this 20th Century masterpiece and get back to admiring my new cushion.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.


The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away

I’ve not written anything for a while, partly because it’s taking me ages to write my songs/albums of the year/decade posts.

But why I’m bothering I’m not really sure, as the only stories really worth telling this year have been the release of The Beatles Rock Band and AC/DC, another band who refuse to allow their music to be chunked up and sold as dowloads, overtaking The Beatles as the best selling act of all time. Problem with the music industry’s business model? Not for these guys.

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Who said nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?

Abbey Road homage by notsogoodphotography on flickr


What’s The Best Song Of The Decade?

It’s almost as if everyone is determined to make me feel old.

As if to highlight the fact that in less than 4 months time it will be 10 years since I saw in the year 2000 dancing on Bondi Beach, Absolute Radio are asking their listeners to help choose the Song of the Decade. What scares me almost as much as the fact that it’s now pretty much a decade since the Millennium Bug failed to bite (due to the hard work of a lot of people according to my old colleague Richard) is that I’m really struggling to think of any truly great tunes that will come to sum up the noughties as other songs have for decades past.

The Arctics’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’? Good, but I’m not sure it’s really great. ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow? I actually think this might win, but again don’t think it should. To paraphrase John Lennon, it’s not even the best song on that album. Maybe Eamon’s ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ or Frankee’s equally charming ‘Fuck You Right Back’. No, maybe not.

It’s strange, and slightly damning, as for the last 4 decades I can easily name the best song. Sometimes I struggle to name just one. So whilst I list off the defining tracks of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s (and for me a Song of the Decade has to really define that moment in time, as well as just being the best song released during that period), why don’t you use the comments to suggest what the best song since 2000 might be.


Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone: This is, for me, the finest song of a very strong decade by a country mile. It seems to encapsulate all the different cultural strands that converged between the deaths of JFK and his brother Bobby, which are probably the ‘true 60s’: the optimism, cynicism, hope & despair that all came together in a psychedelic sexual explosion. And the infamous ‘Judas’ version from the Manchester Free Trade Hall is probably the greatest live track ever recorded.

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The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows: With the release of a new video game and some remastered albums, it really seems pointless to try and write anything new about The Beatles at the moment. But what I will say is listen to this track that they made after abandoning touring for the studio, then listen to ‘Setting Sun’ by The Chemical Brothers and try to tell me that The Beatles didn’t create techno in 1966 at the same time as writing a soundtrack for the original Summer of Love.

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The Clash – London Calling: Though released in 1980 in the US, a year after its British release, this was very much a product of the 70s. From its denunciation of the sacred cow that was The Beatles (phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust) to its searing social conscience, this was the last gasp of punk before it was swallowed up by Thatcher & spat out as a tourist attraction to rank alongside the Pearly Kings & Queens.

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Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Whilst never a hit on the scale of the disco records that bestrode the 70s like glitter-laden giants, Scott-Heron’s slice of political beat-poetry would prove to be a defining influence on hip-hop, and as such should have its lyrics carved into Mount Rushmore, right alongside Lincoln’s head.


David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1999 Digital Remaster): When he created Ziggy Bowie created the first imaginary global rock-star: The Beatles might have dressed up as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but that’s all they did – dress up. Bowie became Stardust, and in the process dived into a narcotic nightmare. And in creating this persona he also created a template that rappers & rockers would follow for the next 3 decades. The fact that he also became the biggest British act after The Beatles, managed to invent glam-rock & inspired the New Romantics is all grist for the mill.

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Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection: Like ‘London Calling’, ‘I Am The Resurrection’ was released as a decade gasped its dying breath, was very much of its time, yet inspired a generation of bands that came after it. With the blend of Squire’s Hendrix-esque guitar, the hip-hop influenced groove of the rhythm section and Ian’s Mancunian drawl, dripping with arrogance, this track is surely the purest example of a band at their peak, blissfully unaware that they’re about to blow it all.

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Grandmaster Flash – The Message: ‘The Message’, strongly influenced by Scott-Heron, was one of the first great hip-hop tracks and would prove to be one that was hard to top: whilst it wasn’t till the 90s that hip-hop truly ruled the world, this record showed how it might change it. Though the band look like failed auditionees for the Village People, the track, with its minimal, electro-influenced tune, shone a torch on life in America’s ghettoes at the start of the Regan years. And what it showed wasn’t pretty. A million miles from P Diddy & Kanye, but something they should probably listen to a little more often.

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Inner City – Big Fun: Reach for the lasers, I said reach for the ****ing lasers! Somehow, music made by weirdoes in Germany influenced rappers in New York before inspiring producers making music for gay clubs in Chicago from where it touched a generation of young Brits discovering ecstasy in Ibiza. House music was born. And before it spawned bastards like handbag, it was amazing. Probably one of the most influential records of the 20th Century, ‘Big Fun’ is also one of the most, well, fun.

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Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: Like so many great records, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ spawned a genre that wasn’t worthy of its name – in this case trip hop. But whilst trip hop was all plodding beats and vague noodlings, Massive Attack created a true soul record: soaring, inspired, epic – ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ still raises the hairs on the back of the neck today, whilst its video is a classic of the genre, shamelessly ripped off by The Verve at the same time as they were ripping off the song.

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Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit: Whilst I’ve come to think that Nirvana are one of the most over-rated bands of the 90s, at the time this sounded like the freshest slice of rock since the Sex Pistols (another over-rated band, more worth talking about than listening to, who have been granted immortality by their singer’s untimely death). By forcing MTV to play indie, or alternative rock as our American cousins would describe it, Nirvana opened the flood-gates for everyone from Green Day to Foo Fighters (yeah, I know) but also, unwittingly, set the scene for Limp Bizkit and a million shite emo bands.

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Dr. Dre – Nothing But A G Thang: Wu Tang Clan’s ’36 Chambers’ may have received more plaudits, whilst Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ may be most commonly suggested as the greatest rap album of the decade, but there’s no doubt that few had as much of an impact as Dre’s ‘Chronic’. Whilst artists & acts from Ice T to Dre’s own NWA could claim to have invented gangsta rap, ‘The Chronic’ was probably the finest example of the genre that has, arguably, shaped hip-hop, and therefore popular music, more than any other over the last 20 years. And in ‘G Thang’ Dre produced probably the best example of the genre; all smooth samples, shocking lyrics and, in Snoop Doggy Dogg (before he ditched the Doggy) the first true rap superstar of the 90s.

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So, the greatest songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s, or at least the ones that, right now, strike me as being the most influential. Let me know yours, as well as your vote for song of the noughties.

2010 by doug88888 on flickr


100 Greatest Albums – Which Do You Own?

I was recently tagged on a Facbook meme which asks you to note which of the 100 Greatest Albums Ever, as decided by Rolling Stone, you own. Because I know a lot of people don’t like being tagged in these sort of things, I thought I’d bring it out on to the open web, and leave it to people to continue the meme if they would like to.

1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles YES
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys NO
3. Revolver, The Beatles YES
4. Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan NO
5. Rubber Soul, The Beatles YES
6. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye YES
7. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones NO
8. London Calling, The Clash NO
9. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan NO
10. The Beatles (“The White Album”), The Beatles YES
11. The Sun Sessions, Elvis Presley NO
12. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis YES
13. Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground YES
14. Abbey Road, The Beatles YES
15. Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
16. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan NO
17. Nevermind, Nirvana YES
18. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen NO
19. Astral Weeks, Van Morrison NO
20. Thriller, Michael Jackson YES
21. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry NO
22. Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon NO
23. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder YES
24. Live at the Apollo (1963), James Brown YES
25. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac YES
26. The Joshua Tree, U2 YES
27. King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. 1, Robert Johnson YES
28. Who’s Next, The Who NO
29. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin NO
30. Blue, Joni Mitchell NO
31. Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan NO
32. Let It Bleed, The Rolling Stones NO
33. Ramones, Ramones NO
34. Music From Big Pink, The Band NO
35. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, David Bowie YES
36. Tapestry, Carole King YES
37. Hotel California, The Eagles NO
38. The Anthology, 1947 – 1972, Muddy Waters NO
39. Please Please Me, The Beatles YES
40. Forever Changes, Love NO
41. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, The Sex Pistols YES
42. The Doors, The Doors YES
43. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd NO
44. Horses, Patti Smith NO
45. The Band, The Band NO
46. Legend, Bob Marley and the Wailers NO
47. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane YES
48. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy NO
49. At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band NO
50. Here’s Little Richard, Little Richard NO
51. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel YES
52. Greatest Hits, Al Green YES
53. The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Rhythm and Blues Recordings, 1952 – 1959, Ray Charles NO
54. Electric Ladyland, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
55. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley NO
56. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder YES
57. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones NO
58. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band NO
59. Meet the Beatles, The Beatles YES
60. Greatest Hits, Sly and the Family Stone YES
61. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses NO
62. Achtung Baby, U2 YES
63. Sticky Fingers, The Rolling Stones NO
64. Phil Spector, Back to Mono (1958 – 1969), Various Artists NO
65. Moondance, Van Morrison YES
66. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin YES
67. The Stranger, Billy Joel NO
68. Off the Wall, Michael Jackson YES
69. Superfly, Curtis Mayfield YES
70. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin NO
71. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young NO
72. Purple Rain, Prince NO
73. Back in Black, AC/DC NO
74. Otis Blue, Otis Redding NO
75. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin NO
76. Imagine, John Lennon NO
77. The Clash, The Clash NO
78. Harvest, Neil Young NO
79. Star Time, James Brown NO
80. Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies NO
81. Graceland, Paul Simon YES
82. Axis: Bold as Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience YES
83. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin NO
84. Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin NO
85. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen YES
86. Let It Be, The Beatles YES
87. The Wall, Pink Floyd NO
88. At Folsom Prison, Johnny Cash YES
89. Dusty in Memphis, Dusty Springfield NO
90. Talking Book, Stevie Wonder YES
91. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John NO
92. 20 Golden Greats, Buddy Holly NO
93. Sign ‘o’ the Times, Prince NO
94. Bitches Brew, Miles Davis NO
95. Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival NO
96. Tommy, The Who NO
97. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan NO
98. This Year’s Model, Elvis Costello NO
99. There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Sly and the Family Stone NO
100. In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra NO

So, I own 39 of the 100 greatest albums of all time: is that good or bad? I really have no idea. However the list made think a few things:

1. We really have produced an amazing amount of good music. I can’t be bothered to count how many albums are by British or Irish bands (and I’d be tempted to include Hendrix in that list, as he was the only American in the band and had to come to London to be appreciated), but there are a lot.

2. If this list had been written by a British magazine, say Q or NME*, it would have looked a lot different – probably a lot more varied and, I’d argue, more valid. Only 1 hip hop album? Where’s De La Soul for God’s sake? Or The Stone Roses? Or any Radiohead? Massive Attack? Screamadelica?

This list is essentially the most well known music of the 60s & 70s and is really quite lazy. How can a serious music magazine include Best Of albums (or Meet The Beatles, not a true album but a record company bastardisation) in a Top 100? Why not just include Now That’s What I Call 60s and be done with it?

3. What I think would make for a much more interesting insight into how good albums really are would be to ask which of the 100 albums you’ve listened to over, say, the last 12 months. Doing a very quick estimate, I’d guess that I’ve listened to around 11 or 12 of these albums in the last year (as in actually listened to the album, as opposed to individual tracks from the albums), with only U2, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder & John Coltrane in the last month or so.

Certainly, according to last.fm, none of the albums selected feature in my most listened to list, with What’s Goin’ On coming in at #21. Which just goes to show that it’s very easy to buy the appearance of being cultured/cool/whatever, but it doesn’t actually mean that you are. James Joyce’s Ullyses is regularly voted the best novel ever and, whilst its weight causes many a middle-class book-shelf to groan, I doubt that more than 10% of those who own it have actually read it.

Anyway, whatever the case, it is, after all, only meant to be a bit of fun. So feel free to fill in your own ‘How Cool Am I?’ questionnaire by continuing the meme in the comments or on your own blog/Facebook profile/wherever whilst I leave you with Jimi Hendrix, who features 3 times in the list, covering the title track from “The Greatest Album Ever”™. He originally covered it just two days after its release, and Paul was in the audience – talk about ‘anything you can do, I can do better’. Amazing.

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*The Q list was voted for by readers and so is open to the Angels Syndrome**, where the most recently popular albums get an undeservedly high ranking.

** A few years back Robbie Williams’ Angels was voted the best song of all time by, I think, listeners of Radio 1. It’s not.

100 image by Paul Keleher on flickr


Talent Imitates, Genius Steals

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Every so often I get very strange cravings for music – I’ll suddenly feel the need to download tracks by artists I haven’t listened to for years, or groups that most people would never admit to liking. Like the time I suddenly decided that I needed more 80s blue-eyed soul in my life and went on a download spree that took in Hue & Cry, Deacon Blue & Curiosity Killed The Cat. More recently I suddenly got an urge to listen to soft, accoustic rock and ended up buying tracks by Travis, the band that should have been bigger than Coldplay, and 70s cheese-meisters Bread.

Because I was listening to both of these bands at the same time I noticed something that had occurred to me years ago but which I’d forgotten: namely that if Travis weren’t listening to Bread’s Look What You’ve Done To Me when they wrote Flowers In The Window, then my name’s Chris Martin. You can see the Travis video above whilst the Bread song is below.

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They both have the same gentle guitar refrain, and you could pretty easily sing the lyrics to Flowers In The Window over the music of Look What You’ve Done To Me and vice versa. Admittedly Bread’s tracks is slightly slower, at least until it goes (by Bread’s standards) a bit rocky towards the end, but other than that the resemblance is amazing. I don’t blame Travis for taking this ‘inspiration’ (which may well have been unwitting) – it certainly puts them in good company.

Noel Gallagher has made a career out of recycling other people’s music, only being caught out when Stevie Wonder demanded a credit on Step Out due to the blatant pilfering of his song Uptight (the legal wranglings that accomapnied this demand were the reasons that the track wasn’t included on Morning Glory, instead being released as the b-side of Don’t Look Back In Anger). Noel probably took his inspiration for creative borrowing from Paul Weller who liked The Beatles so much he lifted the riff from Taxman for The Jam’s early single Start.

And whatever you think of the way that these artists use other’s work as a basis for their own (personally I don’t have a problem with it as long as they add something to it: it’s like sampling) at least they never stooped as low as walking cliche Bobby Gillespie who has raped the Rolling Stones’ back-catalogue so thoroughly that he’s been forced to nicking tunes from The Bluebells.

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The Beatles – Love

The new Beatles album Love, which mixes their classic songs together for a Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack, proves how far ahead of their time they were…

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The idea of a Beatles musical is one that would normally make me wince. But seeing as the creation of a Beatles themed spectacular from Cirque Du Soleil has resulted in the Love album, I won’t complain. George Martin, who produced all the best Beatles albums in the 60s, has worked with his son Giles to mix the best Beatles songs into an incredible composition.

It takes clips & excerpts from out-takes, live shows, and a miriad of sources and comes up with something that is, amazingly, even greater than the sum of it’s parts. And when you consider that those parts include songs such as Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Help and other tunes that are now part of the global consciousness, that is some achievement.

Classic songs are layered over each other (a particularly great example being the medling of Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, I Want You & Helter Skelter), songs considered untouchable are hinted at & then discarded. It’s truly amazing. And more than anything Love goes to show how far ahead of their time The Beatles were (every song still sounds fresh, and would win songs of the year contests even now) and just proves that The Beatles really are the best rock/pop band ever (& Radiohead shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath).

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Oasis – I Am The Walrus (Live Cover Version of Beatles’ Psychedelic Classic)

Oasis rocked my world back in 1994 with their full-on cover version of The Beatles classic song I Am The Walrus….

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In early 1994 I was listening to lots of different things and dressing like a skater (I couldn’t skate). Then along came Oasis; I listened to almost nothing but their music, and I got a bowl-cut. Having read about them in the NME & Meldoy Maker and having got hold of a few demos on various tapes, I was blown away. Hearing their version of I Am The Walrus on their 2nd single Cigarettes and Alcohol finished off the job.

Oasis managed to veer between drug-addled lyrics and blatant plagarism (think Shakermaker) and the most beautiful of accoustic songs about the loss of innocence (D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman). And then they could turn it up to 11 and absolutely rock out on an old Beatles classic, but at the same time sound (and look) like they weren’t even working up a sweat.

Their are very few cover versions of Beatles songs that even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the original, but when Oasis performed I Am The Walrus as the last track at their début Glastonbury appearance, I knew that the original version would never again be my favourite.

Liam Gallagher glared at the crowd through-out (we loved it) until walking off the stage during the instrumental; slowly the rest of the band walked off until just Noel and the drummer Tony McCarroll were left. As McCarroll continued to pound at his drums Noel leant his guitar against the speakers, causing a wail of feedback, waved at the crowd, and oh-so-cooly sauntered off.

At last, Britsih rock was cool again.

If you don’t already own this, download the definitive version of I Am The Walrus by Oasis now: it’s taken from the single Cigarettes and Alcohol, but you can also get a shorter version on their B-Sides compilation The Masterplan. But, unless you were there you’ll never have the memory of that amazing performance at Glastonbury on a Saturday afternoon in July 13 years ago. Whereas I’ve just had the shock of realising that it really was 13 years ago which must mean I’m officially old.

And whilst I recover from that shock, have a listen to what I mean here…

Oasis – I Am The Walrus [Live at The Soundcheck, Scotland]

The amazing photo at the top is of Oasis performing at Glastonbury in 1994 and is taken from what looks like a great new book called Oasis: A Year On The Road by Paul Slattery which I read about on NME.