Features

Mixtape Mondays: The Black Book Mixtape

by Sarah Curristan

[Editor's note: Cover images of albums previously reviewed on the DV have been linked to the review.]

Flicking through my iPod the other day, the landslide of tracks titled with a name caught my attention. Trying to piece these together for a mixtape, however, left me obstacled with an obvious gender imbalance. Save for a handful of tracks, the majority of songs were about some girl or other, and were sung by a male artist. So what causes the gaping divide? It’s really hard to put into words without sounding tyrannically feminist or, oddly enough in my case, misogynistic.

Even looking at poetry, the same trend is followed and meticulously maintained. There are, of course, exceptions (Sara Teasdale being one that springs to mind), but typically, male names haven’t managed to wedge themselves into many titles, and any dedication is usually directed at some obscured second party who goes by the name of “you.”

Is using a name considered too strident and forward? Way back when, maybe, but in an age of Madonnas and Ladies GaGa, you can’t exactly agree. Is it, then, that using a name in a song gives a calculated boost of sentimentality when delivered by a male, but in the same situation, with a female, would just come across as gushingly emotive? Maybe the problem lies in the names themselves; do feminine names just naturally possess a more lyrical element than their male counterparts? In the case of Laylas and Lolas, it’s possible, but they still managed to create a song for the Prudences of the world, so perhaps that’s not it either. Whatever the reason, it’s something I’ve been mulling over for the past while.

In a way, the imbalance works; name tracks have provided some of the greatest songs of all time – maybe for sentimental reasons, maybe it’s your own name, or someone you know, or someone you used to… and as of yet, there’s been no complaints about the deficit of songs entitled “Sweet Frank” and “Dear Larry.” Without trying sounding in any way sexist, it doesn’t seem like they’d measure up. And now on to the marginally sexist part; the Black Book Mixtape.

The Beautiful South’s “Song For Whoever” stands as one of my favourite Black Book songs, a vacant confession of romancing and seduction to gain some cash and lyrical material. Heaton and Hemmingway absently recite a rolodex of misguided girls who have all been previous targets – “When you’ve gone upstairs I’ll creep / And write it all down / Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane / I wrote so many songs about you / I forget your name.” Like most of The Beautiful South’s work, it’s catty and cynical, leading you to question the sincerity of any name-song you hear in its wake. So here follows a taster list of the conquests and near-misses of music that seemed to warrant a means of preservation through song.


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“5 Rebbeccas” – The View

“I love the dress sense and the colour of your hair / The way you say that people who are working they are aiming to be posh” provides our introduction to the temerarious Rebbecca at the heart of the song, all before building up to a chorus that unexpectedly drops off with the line “And the one I love the most has turned into a junkie.” Taken from their far under-the-radar second album Which Bitch?, into which I have yet to fully venture, this is an absolute storm of a tune to kick things off with.
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 “Sally Cinnamon” – The Stone Roses

The instantly recognisable John Squire riff that opens “Sally Cinnamon” offers you pretty much all you need to sink into the song. It’d be fair to say that Ian Brown’s vocals are just a thinly diluted version of a Manchester accent, but this downplaying and simplicity pulls together the sound of The Stone Roses. Brown has the ability to bring something to the table that can turn any song to an anthem. And even when ambling into the alien setting of sentiment, that’s exactly what you get.

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“Sweet Jane” – The Velvet Underground

The stripped-down version of “Sweet Jane” taken from the live album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live is so far from the cut that appears on Loaded that you wonder how the two stemmed from the same material. Doing the usual lyrical autopsy for potential drug references as is customary with the work of any heroin-using songwriter unfairly picks the song apart. As is, it’s dizzy and mellow and calming and elated. Perfect.

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“Lola” – The Kinks

“It’s about a transvestite?!” “Sarah, have you actually listened to the song…?” And I had, lots, but still managed to overlook something that’s as glaringly evident as a last-minute fake tan job. In my defence, the amount of hooks that scaffold the song are enough to distract anyone as feebly attentive as I am. But with the last line of the song being “I’m glad I’m a man / And so is Lola,” it’s not exactly an airtight excuse. It’s a bit of an out-there choice, but I’m all for diversity, and in the name of great music, “Lola” still merits a place on the list.

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“Suzanne” – Leonard Cohen

I guess some people have a thing for out of the ordinary girls. Songs for the girls who chew intently on their hair on public buses are few and far between, but the carefree, hippie, dance-while-there’s-no-music type are pretty much regarded as a lyrical ore deposit. Suzanne falls in with the latter. The song took shape from a poem Cohen had written about Suzanne Verdal but seems less about any kind of involvement than just observing someone truly unique and unpredictable – “And you know that she’s half crazy, but that’s why you wanna be there.”

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“Cigarette Smoker Fiona” – Arctic Monkeys

From their EP, Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?, released shortly after their 2006 debut, “Cigarette Smoker Fiona” is a rework of shelved Monkeys track, “Cigarette Smoke,” which boasts the band’s natural grit and dark humor. Managing to find themselves among the ranks of the upper-class and anti-sober, the narrative of the song revolves around the affluent and inebriated Fiona who “could have been one of the bitches but is actually alright” – about the height of a compliment you can expect from Alex Turner. Granted, she’s a bit of a mess, but you’re still hanging about as “the dignity fucks off.” Alex, you cad.

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“Gloria” – Them

You know a song is a classic when it’s been covered by The Doors, Patti Smith, and Jimi Hendrix (who pretty much blew Them’s version out of the water). The pioneer version still stands strong, though. It’s lighter, easier to get into. The guttural wrench of Van Morrison’s vocals is both giddy and lustful, and coupled with bare rhythmic verses that launch into a charged chorus, the original “Gloria” plays out like an ear-to-ear smirk.

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“Layla” – Derek & The Dominoes

I almost wasn’t going to put this one on because it’s such a stare in the face obvious choice. It’s never been a song I would jump to put on, but I can’t seem to turn it off once it gets started. It just doesn’t get old. Added to this is that “Layla” makes for a great Black Book Mixtape track. Generally, it’s considered to be a bit of a social faux pas to steal your mate’s girlfriend (or in this case wife, so slightly worse), but apparently it’s not so much of an obstacle if you’re Eric Clapton. Pen a song here and there and she’s yours. Yep, it’s just that easy. 
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“Sexy Sadie” – The Beatles

Since the whole Maharishi story has been swept under the ever-bumpy rug of the discredited and disregarded, the song is just left with the make-do protagonist of the fictional Sexy Sadie. The sultry tone is set by the slink of the bass and piano intro, and by the time the vocals of the track have been introduced – Lennon’s playful purring on the verses and the tease of the chorus – whatever the original inspiration for the song is just thrown completely by the wayside.

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“Martha” – Tom Waits

“Martha,” from Waits’ Closing Time, is as near-perfect of a closer for this mixtape as you could muster from the myriad of name songs on tap. Waits’s voice sounds exhausted and defeated, helping to create the song’s overbearing taste of missed opportunity. The song uses that familiar formula of the consuming feelings surrounding choice, consequence, and what-ifs. But principally, “Martha” rests on the heartbreak of figuring out what you want when it’s all too late.

 

 



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