Russ Litten: 50 Songs I Love

The Fall, Toots & Maytals, Shack, The Supremes and more feature in this barnstorming list of floor fillers and head shrinkers...
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The Fall, Toots & Maytals, Shack, The Supremes and more feature in this barnstorming list of floor fillers and head shrinkers...

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YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE – CANDI STATON

I’d like this played at my funeral. This is my Mam’s favourite song as well. She used to listen to soul music when she cleaned the house on a Sunday. The first few bars always evoke the heady smell of Mr. Sheen.

TWO SEVENS CLASH – CULTURE

I had older cousins who got me into reggae. I used to sit in their bedroom and spend hours trying to work the words out, a task made all the harder by the fragrant fumes drifting from the fingertips of my elders.

WALK ON BY – DIONNE WARWICK

The ultimate break-up record. Head held high, heart sinking like a stone. Dionne Warwick carried herself with real class. Shame she’s skint now, we should all send her a few bob.

STONED LOVE – THE SUPREMES

Mr. Exuberance and Miss Melancholy spinning each other round the dance floor in heaven. I loved Diana Ross, but The Supremes soared once the gaffer was out of the way.

WINTER – THE FALL

One of the strangest and most unsettling records I’ve ever heard. Most writers I know are transfixed by Mark E Smith and the way he lodges words and images into your head till they take root and take up residence, vaguely troubled ghosts at the edge of your subconscious. The band are tight as fuck as well.

JAMBALAYA – HANK WILLIAMS

My Nana used to sing this to me when I was little. Like a lot of fishing families, we had a lot of country music around the house, but Hank transcends country. He was an alien from Planet Heartbreak, shipwrecked on this earth.

SHILO – NEIL DIAMOND

I could have picked any one from his 12 Greatest Hits album but I like this one for the spiraling strings and the line about having dreams that fill you with wonder.

COMFORT YOU – VAN MORRISON

Veedon Fleece is his best album; raw, bleak and hypnotic. This paean to companionship is the tenderest thing on there. Van Morrison is one of the few artists out there who genuinely does not give a toss what people think of him.

100 MILES AND RUNNING – NWA

At their best, NWA made panoramic movies out of other bits of music. The shock of the posture may have been dimmed by time, but the sonic explosives on this record still send electric shocks down the spine.

ON YOUR OWN – THE VERVE

I listened to A Northern Soul non-stop when I moved to Prague in the late nineties. This song is the perfect soundtrack to stumbling around foreign streets half-pissed at three am with nobody to talk to.

ANARCHY IN THE UK – SEX PISTOLS

Our Dean played me this when I was nine. I was terrified and excited beyond words. I thought someone was going to come and murder me in my bed. Still the greatest rock n roll group ever invented.

MOONLIGHT MILE – THE ROLLING STONES

Louche, druggy, dreamy, vaguely aristocratic – everything that is superb about The Stones in six spaced out minutes. Makes you want to loll about on a tour bus and watch the world through a sun-dappled window.

CEREMONY – NEW ORDER

Peter Hook was a great inspiration when I was learning to play bass, mainly because he couldn’t really play the thing either. He mad a beautiful noise though, and that’s what counts. I always preferred New Order to Joy Division.

RIP IT UP – ORANGE JUICE

Leg warmers down the Youth Club on a Tuesday night. Who’s smuggled the Strongbow in? Who’s got the best fringe? What’s that weird squelchy noise at the start of the record?

FAMILY LIFE – THE BLUE NILE

The Blue Nile made music like Raymond Carver wrote stories – spare, heartfelt and emotionally devastating. That line about the starlight on the window like bike he once had at home in the yard is almost unbearably sad. And Paul Buchanan sings like a bruised angel.

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NAÏVE MELODY (THIS MUST BE THE PLACE) – TALKING HEADS

My mate Astrid got me into Talking Heads. She was the hippest fifteen-year old bohemian I ever met. Listening to Speaking In Tongues round her house whilst twagging school was the closest I ever got to living in a New York loft with Nico, which was my main ambition at the time.

THE CLASH – STRAIGHT TO HELL

That hypnotic four on the floor beat, the creeping sense of dread shimmering from Mick’s guitar and Joe hyperventilating those astonishingly cinematic lyrics. Plus, you got a stencil with the 12-inch which I used to spray the garages round the back of my Nana’s house. Never got caught either. Take that, Hull City Council!

TIMELESS MELODY – THE LA’S

Still the best band I ever saw live. At their peak The La’s had a kind of transcendent magic that was virtually supernatural. People say they George Bested it, but we should be grateful they walked among us when they did. Lee Mavers is one of the few true geniuses of the last twenty-five years.

KNOWLEDGE OF BEAUTY – DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS

My favourite song from my favourite ever band. The brilliant thing about Kevin Rowland was his utter fearlessness about baring his emotions. And his bollocks, in that dress. People label him an eccentric, but he’s much more than that. Kevin Rowland is a visionary and the pop charts probably don’t deserve him.

212 – AZEALIA BANKS

One of the few tracks from the last few years to stop me dead in my tracks. Apart from the stuff I’ve heard in prison, hip-hop has bored me shitless for a while now, but this was the freshest and most exciting thing for years. Anyone who can make an entire field in Hackney sing “I guess that cunt’s getting eaten” on live telly gets my vote.

ROADRUNNER – JONATHAN RICHMAN AND THE MODERN LOVERS

Modern girls and modern rock n roll. Sometimes that’s all you need.

SWEET JANE – THE VELVET UNDERGROUND

The greatest rock lyric ever put on plastic. I first heard the heavy metal version off Rock n Roll Animal and didn’t hear The Velvet’s original until a few years later, at which point I fell in love with Lou Reed all over again.

THE LARK ASCENDING – RALPH VAGHUAN WILLIAMS

I used to put this on every morning when I sat down to write. The full fourteen-minute version, mind, not that puny radio edit. You need the full glorious sweep to get the proper effect. Like a vacuum cleaner for the mind.

DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE – PUBLIC ENEMY

More ideas in one verse than most bands manage in their entire career. For a brief period Public Enemy were the most important band on the planet. Anger is an energy, true, but when you marry it to brains then you’re really in business.

SURVIVE IT – GHOSTPOET

The spare and spooky arrangement is ace, but the lyrics are just fantastic. The entire album perfectly captures that feeling of strung out urban alienation, but this song puts a proper chill in your heart.

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EYE KNOW – DE LA SOUL

Daft haircuts, primary colour videos and they got me into Steely Dan. Lost it a bit when they started to get all serious, and probably the worst live act I’ve ever seen in my life, but this record was an effortless ray of sunshine back in that gloomy Monday that seemed to last most of the late eighties.

SAVE IT FOR LATER – THE BEAT

Superb song from a criminally under-rated band. Pete Townshend did a cover version of this, which seemed odd at the time, but it does share some of that yearning, plaintive quality that the best of his solo stuff has.

ONLY A NORTHERN SONG – THE BEATLES

London has produced some amazing bands, but it always tickles me that the biggest band in the world were four scruffy gets with bad teeth from up North. And they can’t be topped. Ever.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM ROCKY 1 TO ROCKY 3 – CORNERSHOP

Cornershop should be number one in the pop charts every single week. This one makes you want to strut around like a demented rooster.

UNDECIDED – SHACK

Along with most of the rest of the UK I’d never heard of Shack until Johnny Lake and Keith Wildman put me right. This song is like something Alan A’Dale would have written if he was transported forwards through time onto a housing estate in Kensington. The Head brothers are everything the Gallaghers ever dreamed of being.

DO I LOVE YOU? – FRANK WILSON

Got to have a bit of Northern Soul. Lads who went away with City used to scour the local record shops in search of that elusive seven-inch worth twenty-eight grand, or whatever it was. Ridiculous price really, it’s worth much more than that.

5.15 – THE WHO

Out of my brain on the train! The entire Quadrophenia album makes you want to run out onto the street and fight the entire world in your best clobber. The horns on this are wonderfully bombastic.

THIRD FINGER LEFT HAND – MARTHA REEVES AND THE VANDELLAS

Another Sunday Morning classic. I saw Martha Reeves at the Hull Freedom Festival last year. She was brilliant, blew the place apart. Another song that mixes melancholy and triumph in strange and equal measure.

BATTERED OLD BIRD – ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS

This makes me think of damp attic rooms in anonymous boarding houses, shadowy figures flitting past each other on the stairs. The smell of fried food clinging to the hallways. Few people can paint such vivid pictures in your head like Elvis Costello. He’s got a brilliantly cracked and soulful voice too.

CONEY ISLAND BABY – LOU REED

A rambling rumination on childhood and lost love. Fell in love with Lou Reed when I was fifteen and he’s rarely let me down since. Wouldn’t like to be trapped in a lift with him though. The miserable old twat.

VERDI CRIES – 10,000 MANIACS

One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Some people seem to inhabit their own private planet, oblivious to the rest of the world spinning around them. People like this tend to make the best art. Natalie Merchant is one of those people.

THIN END OF THE WEDGE – PINK NOISE

Angry political band from Hull in the late eighties who should have been massive. Made The Housemartins look like Rod Jane and Freddy. This is about the north-south divide and that cunt of a woman who is now in the ground.

VOODOO RAY – A GUY CALLED GERALD

I met the lass who sang on this at a party in Liverpool in the late nineties. I didn’t believe it was her so she sang me the wooh ooh ooh bits and yeah, it was her. The soundtrack to a thousand spangled nights.

CHICAGO – SUFJAN STEVENS

The soundtrack to an imaginary film locked inside the head of an eccentric. The arrangement is gloriously over the top. Makes you want to run away to a strange city and live in a parking lot.

I BELIEVE IN YOU – TALK TALK

Haunting in its use of empty space and spare atmospherics. That entire Spirit of Eden album is a work of full-blown genius, but this song remains utterly transfixing every time you press play.  Meant to be about heroin, which kind of makes sense, the feeling of euphoria and dread it evokes.

HANG DOWN HEAD – TOM WAITS

The halfway house between California Crooner Tom and Psycho Fairground Barker Tom. I remember seeing Tom Waits do Raindogs on The Tube in the late eighties when I was sat on the couch eating my tea. Fork frozen halfway to mouth – WHO THE FUCK IS THAT!?!?!

PUMPING FOR JILL – IGGY POP

A voice like a Sinatra on crack. They let us have a record player at school in the fifth form and me and John Parky would annoy everybody by playing this over and over again. Remember the teacher coming in, listening intently, trying to work out wether to be outraged or not.

TIME TOUGH – TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS

The best party band to ever come out of Jamaica. I played this non-stop when I walked out of my old job and had no money. It kind of made everything seem alright. Jah would provide. He didn’t, as it turned out, but it was a good summer while it lasted.

ESTUARY BED – THE TRIFFIDS

Another criminally overlooked band. The line about children burning their feet on the sand is wonderful. Another cinematic record that conjures up visions of glistening highways and endless outback.

PEARL’S GIRL – UNDERWORLD

Like being trapped on a train that’s hurtling through the night towards destinations unknown. The lyrics are a brilliant jumble of images flashing by the minds eye. The entire “Second Toughest In The Infants” album is superb, but this track was a game changer for me. Pure adrenaline.

I’M NEW HERE – GIL SCOTT HERON

Has a voice ever sounded so cracked and world-weary? Gil Scott Heron was a genius who made many amazing records, but this last one before he died is the best. Poet, novelist, raconteur, visionary. Rest in Peace, sir.

RIBCAGE – ELBOW

The first Elbow song I ever heard and still my favourite. I remember walking into a recording studio and this was playing at full volume on the big speakers, that gospel choir singing that refrain over and over again. I was rooted to the spot, hypnotized. It was like music being beamed directly from heaven.

TROPICAL HOT DOG NIGHT – CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

Who can resist the Good Captain? This is insanely joyous stuff; words and images flying about with mad abandon, like a crazed toddler at his birthday party flinging handfuls of cake at the grown-ups.

PARTY FEARS TWO – THE ASSOCIATES

Like nothing else around at the time; lush, gorgeous romantic music with a genuine lunatic warbling away in the foreground, like his life depended upon it. Which, in retrospect, it probably did.

SO WHAT – MILES DAVIS

The best art rewards you further every time you re-visit, throws up fresh revelations and connections. You hear something new every time you listen to Miles Davis. He wore ace suits as well.