Thursday, 8 June 2006

The "Timmy" marathon

No, I am not talking about the disabled kid from South Park. I'm talking about this dude, the lead singer of seminal Aussie act You Am I:

Every now and then, I decide to run a marathon on my iPod. This is where I put the iPod on shuffle, select an artist, and let it run through their whole discography (or as much of their discography that I have). I did this in lieu of purchasing their new album Convicts, which I will probably not be doing now after both Pete and Dean gave it their thumbs-down.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. I'd like to share some of the observations that I had while listening to their entire discography in shuffle, as the randomization of it all made me notice things that I wouldn't normally notice if I was only listening to their albums the natural way.

My own private gig

The experience felt like my own little personal gig, although instead of it going for 2 hours, it went for a few days! And there wasn't the chance that they weren't going to play one of my favourite songs, because I'd get to hear all their songs!

Pete and I have this game which we play at gigs where we try and guess the opening and closing songs. I bet you are dying to know what the opening and closing cuts of my "gig" were. No? Well I'm going to tell you anyway. The opener was City lights from Deliverance, and the closer was One trick tony from the same album. Neither particularly seem suited for those positions in a gig.

It was getting exciting as I neared the end of the marathon, trying to work out what songs haven't been played. Some cuts were held back to late in the marathon - Berlin chair didn't make an appearance until track 77 (out of 88). Heavy heart was track 71. Good mornin' didn't play until track 83.

Hourly, Daily is da bomb

I knew this before, but this marathon simply reinforced it - Hourly, daily is a fantastic album. Every time a cut from this album came up, it brought a smile to my face -- such songwriting perfection. What's great about this album is how brilliantly it works as a whole, but even when hearing a song out of context you can appreciate it just as much. For those who aren't familiar with this album, it's a suburban concept album. You could say it's You Am I's answer to Blur's The great escape, but oh-so-much better.

The sound of Hi Fi Way

I have always considered their second album Hi Fi Way to be a slightly less polished (and rockier) version of Hourly, Daily. But hearing Hi Fi Way and their debut Sound As Ever side-by-side, I'd say that the sound of Hi Fi Way is more similar in sound to their debut. While their debut is fairly average (except for a few choice cuts like Berlin chair), Hi Fi Way ups the songwriting stakes immensely and adds some much needed melodies to the mix.

And I just gotta say that How much is enough is a brilliant song and a great closing cut on that album.

Their path down the country road

Listening to their 2002 album Deliverance, you could almost mistake You Am I for a country-rock band. While Tim has definitely recorded a lot of country music as part of his solo work (his excellent solo album What rhymes with cars and girls being the best example), this sound did seem to come a little bit out of nowhere for the band. During the marathon, I discovered that he and the band started hinting at a country sound a lot earlier than Deliverance. Give another listen to the twang in Timmy's voice in End of the line (from Dress me slowly) and you will hear what I mean.

Their low points

I defended Deliverance when it came out, as some of my mates were bagging it a little bit. But there's no doubt that, together with Sound as ever, it represents the low-point of their catalogue (obviously I can't comment on Convicts, because I don't have it).

Having said that, there are some hidden gems on Deliverance that sound pretty great when listened to in isolation. Notably, Ribbons and bows is vintage You Am I and some of the ballads like The wrong side now are quite beautiful songs that make the most of Timmy's ailing vocal chords.

Timmy's vocals

And that's a great segue into the next discussion point, which is sure to be a controversial one. Even the biggest Timmy defenders will find it hard to deny that his voice has definitely degraded over the years, and not in a cool Tom Waits kinda way.

While most You Am I fans will point to Deliverance as the point at which his voice started to go downhill, I'd like to offer an alternate hypothesis. I think Timmy's voice started going a lot earlier, but the quality of the songwriting and the musical backing often shielded the listener from this. Exhibit A: Get up from Dress me slowly. Give a listen to this track, and try to separate his vocals from the rest of the mix. They aren't as good as they once were, are they? Luckily, it's a killer tune so you don't really care.

Change of sound over the years

I've already talked about their progression towards country-rock, now for a general overview of their evolution.

Sound as ever is generic garage rock. There's some great tunes that would hint at their future brilliance, like Berlin chair and Jaimme's got a gal. But I can honestly do without most of their debut album. Not many of the cuts gave me a what a song! feeling. And what's the deal with the penultimate track Off the field? Who is singing that song? Sure doesn't sound like Timmy.

Hi fi way really shows them carving out their niche in the Aussie rock circuit. The rockers have a purpose, ballads like Purple sneakers and Handwasher show that they have a lot more depth and that they aren't just one trick ponies. While this album has its fair share of brilliant moments, their best was yet to come.

Hourly, daily is where it all came together. The best ballads, the best rockers, classic pop songs. A suburban concept that weaved a thread throughout, making the album an experience rather than just a series of songs. This is the best place to start with the band.

They almost went back to their earlier sound on #4 record. It was definitely less polished than Hourly, daily but they also added horns here and there to make the sound a bit more interesting. It's probably their most standard rock record, with some of their most well-known songs like Heavy heart and Rumble thrown in for good measure. One thing that I really noticed in the marathon is that they are a lot of lesser known songs on this album that are really good -- Cream and the crock, Plans and Come home wit' me being some great examples.

Dress me slowly had them going back to the more polished sound of Hourly, daily. It's an incredibly solid album with one classic after another, and probably the only thing it lacks over that earlier album is flow and conceptual unity. But there's an abundance of excellent songs on this album, including some of my absolute favourites like Weeds and Damage.

Deliverance was a big step down. I've already talked a lot about this album, the one where the country sound was pushed to the front and you suddenly realised that they were quite a different band than the one you fell in love with. There are some great songs on this album, you just have to dig around to find them.

Perhaps Pete or Dean can reply with their comments on their new album Convicts, since I don't have this one.

Live shennanigans

My copy of #4 record has a bonus disc called Radio settee (Big Star fans will pick this as a tribute to their first 2 albums #1 record and Radio city). Often some of these lives cuts would show up in the mix, and there's some interesting covers on there that I hadn't noticed before. Fox on the run by 70's glam rockers The Sweet, Lookin' for a kiss by the New York Dolls and Live with me by the Rolling Stones. I actually have the New York Dolls album that has the original version of Lookin' for a kiss, so it was interesting to hear the You Am I version which I couldn't even remember existed.

It's all in the mix

The iPod has this feature called smart shuffle which is supposed to prevent tracks from the same album being played after each other when the iPod is in shuffle mode. After doing this marathon, I can honestly say that this shuffle ain't so smart.

Here's several examples where 3 tracks in a row came from the same album:

Trike, Junk and Fox on the run (all from Radio Settee)
Mr milk, Moon shines on trubble and Tuesday (all from Hourly, Daily)
Cathy's clown, Gray and Jewels and bullets (all from Hi Fi Way)
Billy, Berlin chair and Mr Milk (all from Radio Settee)
Off the field, Who's leaving you now? and Coprolalia (all from Sound As Ever)

The marathon experience

Overall, this You Am I music marathon was a great experience. This is the second time I have done something like this (the first time being The Replacements, which inspired this post). I hope to do it again some time, with another band. But it has to be a band that doesn't have too many songs, otherwise it will take a week to get through them all. Less than 100 is a good number. Any suggestions?

Some samples

Finally, here's some samples of their work for those who haven't heard much of them. Thanks for reading!

You Am I - If We Can't Get It Together [Link Removed]
You Am I - How Much Is Enough [Link Removed]
You Am I - Weeds [Link Removed]

Appendix - Marathon set list

For the really bored ;-)

Track# Song Album
1 City Lights Deliverance
2 Nifty Lil' Number Like You Deliverance
3 Jaimme's Got a Gal Sound As Ever
4 Trainspottin' Sound As Ever
5 Damage Dress Me Slowly
6 Soldiers Hourly, Daily
7 Flag Fall $1.80 Hourly, Daily
8 Handwasher Hi Fi Way
9 The Cream And The Crock #4 Record
10 Who Put The Devil In You Deliverance
11 Deliverance Deliverance
12 Ordinary Sound As Ever
13 Weeds Dress Me Slowly
14 Heavy Comfort Hourly, Daily
15 What I Dont Know About You #4 Record
16 Doug Sahm Dress Me Slowly
17 Come Home Wit' Me #4 Record
18 Trike Radio Settee
19 Junk Radio Settee
20 Fox On The Run Radio Settee
21 Bring Some Sun Back Dress Me Slowly
22 Punkarella Hi Fi Way
23 Mr Milk Hourly, Daily
24 Moon Shines On Trubble Hourly, Daily
25 Tuesday Hourly, Daily
26 When You Know What You Want Deliverance
27 Judge Roy Dress Me Slowly
28 Billy #4 Record
29 Ain't Gone and Open Hi Fi Way
30 Minor Byrd Hi Fi Way
31 Everyone's to Blame Sound As Ever
32 Gone, Gone, Gone Dress Me Slowly
33 Guys, Girls, Guitars #4 Record
34 Who Takes Who Home? Hourly, Daily
35 Words For Sadness Deliverance
36 How Much Is Enough Hi Fi Way
37 Satisified Mind Dress Me Slowly
38 End O' The Line Dress Me Slowly
39 Ken (The Mother Nature's Son) Hi Fi Way
40 Kick A Hole In The Sky Dress Me Slowly
41 Ribbons And Bows Deliverance
42 Live With Me Radio Settee
43 Dead Letter Chorus Hourly, Daily
44 Heavy Heart #4 Record
45 Hourly, Daily Hourly, Daily
46 Someone Else's Home Hourly, Daily
47 Cathy's Clown Hi Fi Way
48 Gray Hi Fi Way
49 Jewels And Bullets Hi Fi Way
50 Watcha Doin' To Me Dress Me Slowly
51 Billy Radio Settee
52 Berlin Chair Radio Settee
53 Mr. Milk Radio Settee
54 Crash Deliverance
55 'Til The Clouds Roll Away Deliverance
56 Junk #4 Record
57 The Applecross Wing Commander Hi Fi Way
58 Purple Sneakers Hi Fi Way
59 Adam's Rib Sound As Ever
60 If We Can't Get It Together Hourly, Daily
61 Sugar Dress Me Slowly
62 Looking For A Kiss Radio Settee
63 Beautiful Girl Dress Me Slowly
64 Nuthin's Ever Gone Be The Same Again Deliverance
65 Top Of The Morn' And Slip Of The Day #4 Record
66 Forever and Easy Sound As Ever
67 Plans #4 Record
68 Rumble #4 Record
69 Sound As Ever Sound As Ever
70 Heavy Heart Radio Settee
71 Baby Clothes Hourly, Daily
72 Rosedale Sound As Ever
73 Fifteen #4 Record
74 ...And Vandalism #4 Record
75 The Wrong Side Now Deliverance
76 Berlin Chair Sound As Ever
77 Wally Raffles Hourly, Daily
78 Stray Hi Fi Way
79 Pizza Guy Hi Fi Way
80 Please Don't Ask Me To Smile Hourly, Daily
81 You Scare Me Sound As Ever
82 Good Mornin' Hourly, Daily
83 Get Up Dress Me Slowly
84 She Digs Her Hi Fi Way
85 Off the Field Sound As Ever
86 Who's Leaving You Now? Sound As Ever
87 Coprolalia Sound As Ever
88 One Trick Tony Deliverance

UPDATE: Song links removed.

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