Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Top 10 songs not sung by the regular lead singer

In my description of this blog, I say the following:

Generally this blog will contain ramblings about music, with an emphasis on music lists of all sorts.

Ever since my many "top 10 years for music" posts, there haven't been many lists. So I figured it was time to pull the thumb out and churn a list out. I have many more ideas for lists, and these will all come in due course.

I would feel wrong to start this whole list concept without giving credit to Stylus Magazine, which is one of my favourite musical websites. They have a weekly feature called Staff Top 10, and this is what has inspired me to do a similar thing. As far as I know, all the lists I am going to include have not been included on Stylus Magazine. So just to make it clear, it's the concept of the top 10 which I'm "borrowing", not the actual lists.

We'll kick off this new (hopefully regular) feature with a list of songs by bands, in which the regular lead singer of the band is not the singer of the song. But I hear you say - "that's easy, just pick any George Harrison lead vocal from the Beatles catalogue". Not that easy. To qualify for this list, it has to be sung by a member of the band who is not known for singing. Unfortunately, the late Mr Harrison (or even Ringo Starr for that matter) have sung enough songs for the Beatles to make them semi-regular vocalists. So it really has to be a rare vocal appearance to make this list.

Before commencing with the list, I'd like to say that Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers need never get behind the mike again. His vocal performance on Wattsville blues (from their Know your enemy album) almost ruins that album for me. Stick with what you are good at, Nicky. Cross-dressing.

Shall we begin?

10. Italian Plastic - Crowded House (lead vocals: Paul Hester)

Late drummer Paul Hester took lead vocals on this fun Woodface cut. While some of Hester's songs (such as My telly's gone bung) should have been left on the cutting room floor, this song comes as a welcome bit of fun on the second half of the album. This song definitely has its haters, but I've always been a fan of it. It's also a very romantic song lyrically:

When you wake up with me
I'll be your glass of water
When you stick up for me
Then you're my Bella Bambina

Rest in peace, Mr Hester.

9. Coffee and TV - Blur (lead vocals: Graham Coxon)

This song is such a recognisable Blur tune that many probably don't realise that it isn't Damon Albarn on lead vocals, but lead guitarist Graham Coxon. I didn't realise myself until someone pointed it out to me. This song is a real red herring on their experimental 13 album, being the song which looked into the past on an album which predominantly looked into the future.

8. I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day - The Pogues (lead vocals: Cait O'Riordan)

Adding a nice twist of irony to this traditional song, female band member Cait O'Riordan (formerly Mrs Elvis Costello) sings this song about being a man that you don't meet every day. You can't help but smirk hearing her sing these lyrics, on their excellent Rum, sodomy & the lash album:

Oh my name is Jock Stewart
I’m a canny gun man
And a roving young fellow I’ve been
So be easy and free
When you’re drinking with me
I’m a man you don’t meet every day

As with almost any Pogues song, this is a great drinking song!

7. Cups and Cakes - Spinal Tap (lead vocals: Nigel Tufnel)

While Nigel is traditionally known for his brilliant (self-confessed) solos and his classical piano trilogy in D-Minor (including the superb piece Lick my love pump), you have to give him kudos for his brilliant lead on this old Spinal Tap song. On the surface it seems like a fairly shallow song about enjoying afternoon tea with a friend in the English countryside, but look deeper and you'll see deeper political statements:

Cups and cakes
Cups and cakes
I'm so full my tummy aches
How sad it must end
But I'm glad I've a friend
Sharing cups and cakes with me
And cakes with me...

Ahhh Spinal Tap, where are they now?

6. I'm Not Like Everybody Else - The Kinks (lead vocals: Dave Davies)

A great unknown Kinks song, this is a deeply personal song sung by Ray's younger brother Dave Davies. One of my favourite songs in their catalogue, this one makes me wish that he'd sung more of their stuff.

I won’t take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won’t take it all lying down,
’cause once I get started I go to town.

’cause I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else,
I’m not like everybody else.

5. I'm In Love With My Car - Queen (lead vocals: Roger Taylor)

While he's no Freddie Mercury vocally (but who is?), drummer Roger Taylor injected a dose of humour into their classic A night at the opera album. While many have written love songs about cars (Bruce Springsteen has based his whole career on this idea), nobody has written a song with so many classic double entendres as this one:

With the pistons a pumpin’
And the hub caps all gleam


When I’m holdin’ your wheel
All I hear is your gear
When my hand’s on your grease gun
Oh it’s like a disease son


Get a grip on my boy racer rollbar
Such a thrill when your radials squeal


Told my girl I’ll have to forget her
Rather buy me a new carburettor

One of the best songs on this classic album, and a great singalong.

4. Texarkarna - R.E.M. (lead vocals: Mike Mills)

This song has a great jangly guitar riff and a fantastic melody. Sounds like typical early period R.E.M., does it not? Except that you wouldn't even think this was an R.E.M. song after you've heard it, because it doesn't have Michael Stipe on vocals. It really makes you realise how integral Mr Stipe's vocals are to the R.E.M. sound.

This is definitely in my top 5 R.E.M. songs. Was this a single? If not, it should have been. I guess what makes this so good is that nobody except R.E.M. fans really know it. It's tucked away near the end of their Out of time album. It hasn't been overplayed like a lot of their other songs. In fact, it hasn't really been played at all as far as I know.

I'm listening to it on my new iPod now. This song makes me smile. Choice cut :-)

3. With A Little Help From My Friends - Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (lead vocals: Billy Shears)

Ahh, good old Billy Shears. Lots of people bag his vocals, but this is one of his most passionate performances. If you've only heard the Joe Cocker version of song, you need to hear the original.

Great vocals and a fantastic bassline. The 'Peppers only released one album in their brief lifetime, but what an album it was. And it's songs like this which make it so amazing.

2. You're So Great - Blur (lead vocals: Graham Coxon)

Yes, this is the 2nd Blur song to make this list. What can I say, I just love "lost classics". Songs tucked away on albums that nobody really knows about. Everybody knows Song 2 from Blur's self-titled album. It has been overplayed almost as much as Alanis Morrisette's Ironic. But nobody really knows this song. And that's what makes it so bloody good.

I could quote the lyrics from this song, but without the music to put it into perspective, it would come across as overly sentimental schmaltz. So I won't. This song sounds like a lost White Album cut. It's amazing. I wish Graham Coxon had sung more songs before he left the band.

1. The Guns of Brixton - The Clash (lead vocals: Paul Simonon)

I have stated the virtues of London Calling in a previous post, so I won't do it again. Instead I will talk about this song, because it's a great one. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote some fantastic songs for The Clash, but I'm pretty sure neither of them wrote a song as good as this one by bassist Paul Simonon. Not to be confused with Paul Simon, of Simon & Garfunkel and Graceland fame.

A sublime bassline and reggae beat holds this song together and odd sound effects add sparks of interest here and there. But it's Paul's vocal performance and the menacing political lyrics which elevate this song to the top of this list.

Situated perfectly at the end of Side-B on the original double vinyl (that's the 2nd side of the first record), the effect of this song relative to the album it lost a little bit on CD*. It just doesn't sound as menacing when it is following by the upbeat ska of Wrong 'em boyo.

* Before you start telling me to act my age, and stop acting all wanky about the old days (strange considering I was born in the same year that London Calling was released) - I will admit that I did hear this album on CD before I heard it on vinyl. But I own the vinyl now, so I am allowed to say that ;-)


  1. Nice list Jigs. (No Augie March? I seem to remember you loving a song of theirs that wasn't sung by Glenn...maybe I'm tired and delusional.)

    Anyway, what I thought was interesting was that for most of these entries you also displayed the lyrics. I'm wondering about that - perhaps we listen to the lyrics more because the music doesn't "wash over" us as easily had the usual suspect sung...

    Just a thought. :)

  2. BTW Jiggy, you should turn on "word verification" in Blogger to reduce comment spam.

    It's a form of captcha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captcha) that prompts the user for a garbled word when they try to submit a comment. Because the word is randomly garbled it's very difficult for spammers to use programs to automate their task. It reduced spam on my blogs from a few per post to zero.

    To turn it on go to your Blogger settings page, activate the "comments" tab and check "show word verification for comments".

  3. Thanks for the tip Matt - I was looking for where to turn that feature on. It's on now, so hopefully the spiced ham'ers will stay away now! [FYI, I have been deleting all the spam anyway]

    As far as I know there are no Augie March songs NOT sung by Glenn Richards, unless there's a B-Side on a single of theirs that I don't have. Pete would be able to comment more on this, considering he has all their singles. You may be thinking of Lazy pines (one of their B-sides), which is a great track, but it's still sung by Glenn.

    And regarding lyrics, I didn't read into that as much as you did, but maybe you have a point there. I just thought they were quote-worthy lyrics. Or maybe I was just trying to pad out the post to make it look like I wrote more :-)

  4. Nice, Jigs!
    I had no idea "Coffee and TV" was not Damon Albarn. Most edumacational :-)

    Another interesting list along similar lines might be "best guest vocals". I'd put in a vote for Tracey Thorn (EBTG) on Massive Attack's "Protection". She apparently nailed it in ONE take. Tidy.

    BTW when I see these Captchas I am always reminded of those crazy teens with their "omg 2 wkd 4 u i h8 ltrs txt speling" :-) Funny.

  5. Ah, Jiggy, will you ever win.

    I would have thought that someone as anally retentive as you when it comes to music would not have made such a glaring error in your list.

    How is Billy Shears a non regular lead singer of the Lonely Hearts club Band? To quote the the song itself - "I don't really want to stop the show,
    But I thought you might like to know,
    That the singer's going to sing a song
    And he wants you all to sing along,
    So let me introduce to you
    The one and only Billy Shears"

    Sure, that is not conclusive, but the song doesn't say "the drummer's going to sing a song" or the "piano player's going to sing a song".

    So I don't think Billy should be considered eligible for your list.

    But whilst we are talking about Billy, I would like to see a post discussing the various musical talents of Billy vs Dennis O'Bell. That would be fascinating.

    And one other thing - My Telly's Gong Bung is a fantastic song, so leave it alone!!!!

  6. Ahh, you can always count on Wally Raffles for a blog post retort.

    Tell me this though, if Billy Shears WAS the regular singer of the Lonely Hearts Club Band, who is that introducing him?

    And why is it that most of the other songs on that album sound like they are sung by this person introducing Billy Shears?

    Is it possible that the regular lead singer doesn't need introducing, making Billy Shears an exception to the rule because he requires an introduction?

    And My telly's gone bung sucks. Nuff said.

  7. All I'll say is they swear like 'ows yer father and they're very cool for cats...


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