Features

Tom Cox

Tom Cox

Tom Cox is the author of seven books, including three about his cats - Under The Paw, Talk To The Tail and the top ten Sunday Times bestseller The Good, The Bad And The Furry - and two about his adventures as Britain's most inept golf professional. Tom writes a monthly column for The Guardian about his life in the Devon countryside, plus book reviews and other pieces for various other publications and hosts a show on Soundart Radio. His hobbies include walking, reading and listening to old folk songs about witches.

tomcoxblog.blogspot.co.uk

Selected releases

  • Big Star – ‘Thirteen’

    Probably a clichéd Big Star track to select, but still, if I'm honest, their most powerful for me, being one of the songs that stopped me listening to a great deal of difficult indie rock I thought might make me an interesting person when I was in my late teens. "Oh, you don't have to *try* to love this," I remember thinking, the first time I heard it. Most people probably arrive at Big Star after spending a lot of time as adults listening to better known, ultra melodic bands from the same era. But Big Star were responsible for sending me back to properly listen to the Byrds and the Beatles for the first time since I was a kid. "Could you be an outlaw for my love?" Has a more romantic question ever been asked in a song by a slightly dangerous-looking young man, ever? Sadly now Alex Chilton is no longer with us we'll never know what he and his girlfriend said about 'Paint It, Black'. My guess it that it was "We like it a lot but our feeling is that the comma in the title is ultimately unnecessary."

  • Funkadelic – everything

    I've tried to pick just one Funkadelic song and it's impossible, so I'm choosing the whole wild, psychedelic, pulsating, thermonuclear, hard-rocking, chaotic lot of it. They still sound like the most radical, boundary-pushing band of all time: emblematic of an era when "boundary-pushing" was still synonymous with "addictively listenable", when black and white music were at their most symbiotic, when the future still looked colourful and wild and exciting, when hair could be a person in its own right and when all the best discos looked like spaceships.

  • Bonnie Dobson – ‘Winter's Going’

    Little in Bonnie Dobson's canon of polite folk songs prepares you for this dark tune about revenge, and even the eerie, sitar-led beginning of ‘Winter's Going’ itself doesn't prepare you for the devastation of its second half. My favourite folk songs are nearly all a bit dark, but normally they get a bit cheerier when they're set in spring. Not this one. Bonnie's singing about crying in the soft spring light, not being able to be cheered up by flowers like she once was, being lied to in love, and you think, "Oh, this isn't good - she's been out with a right wanker, but maybe she'll get over it?" And then, finally, it arrives: "I'll kill your baby, and then I'll kill you." "HOLY BALLS," you think, "I was NOT expecting that." Best listened to on a dark country road, at night. Or maybe not, if you're a big scaredy pants, like me.

  • Steppenwolf – ‘Magic Carpet Ride’

    Every good club night plays ‘Magic Carpet Ride’. Any club night that doesn't play ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf, in fact, is automatically 23% less great. It's loads better than their most famous song, ‘Born To Be Wild’, and that's even with one of the most-half arsed endings ever, where you can almost hear John Kay say to the sound guy, "Shit, I don't know where we're actually going to go from here. Quick! Fade it out." It's even better if, like me on many dancefloors between 1997 and 2001, you have your mate Surreal Steve making up lyrics to it on the spot and shouting them in your ear ("I like fried chicken!" "Some young trucker took my jeans away!"). 

  • Strawberry Alarm Clock – ‘Incense and Peppermints’

    In a way, ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ sounds a bit like ‘Incense And Peppermints’ might, if it was played by caveman. So if you've heard ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, but not heard ‘Incense And Peppermints’, just imagine ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ played by normal American men, instead of by cave men - possibly after recently eating too many sweets and wandering down Carnaby Street pulling faces. To say something is "a bit Austin Powers" is often a derogatory phrase but here it's actually a compliment. This is also a very good song to dance too. I especially recommend a "pretending you're swimming during the 1960s" move during the chorus.

  • William Bell (with Judy Clay) – ‘Private Number’

    Probably the best song on the Stax Gold compilation, which is a bit like saying a pizza is the best pizza in the best restaurant in Rome. I'm still not quite sure if the story it tells makes complete sense: William and Judy are getting it on, William goes away for a bit, and Judy changes her number, because other, potentially much dodgier, blokes keep calling her. This leaves him no way to get in touch. Then, somehow, they reunite, and he gets her private number and all is well. Why was William gone in the first place? Could she not have written to tell him the new number? Whatever the case, it's sung in the most heartbreaking fashion, both of their voices soft but full of feeling. Of course, none of these agonising events would happen now. He'd just snapchat her a dick pic then they'd meet up and go down Oceania and get pissed.

  • Dion – ‘Your Own Back Yard’

    I once interviewed Dion over the phone. I don't really remember anything about it, other than I got to say, "Hello, could I speak to Dion please." Asking to remember more than that is probably a bit greedy. The reissue of the “Born To Be With You” album, which I was interviewing him about, is almost all sublime, but this song especially gets me: a track about recovering from addiction that will probably strike a chord whether they've been addicted to heroin, like a rock star, or addicted to salt and vinegar Pringles, like me, or just happen to be a human being who is alive. ‘Your Own Back Yard’ also features on of my favourite misheard lyrics: "You don't have to be stoned to grow a friend" which I originally thought, rather pleasingly, was "You don't have to be stoned to grow a fringe." I suppose it doesn't matter which one the real lyric is, in the end, as both things are true.

  • Rick Nelson – ‘Garden Party’

    Like Dion, Rick Nelson was a big 50s star who got even more interesting in the early 70s, when he went a bit more country and thoughtful. All of his “Rick Sings Nelson”, “Rudy The Fifth” and “Garden Party” albums are fit to stand against anything by Gram Parsons, and offer a swaggering, soulful arse-kicking to Mike Nesmith's solo records from the same era. The title track of the third of these is a defiant, self-aware statement of uncompromising creative autonomy ("You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself") and a slight dig at the fans who were nagging him to trot out his old rock and roll hits during this period ("If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck"). Investigation further into Nelson's life will - if you go directly on my own experience - probably lead to a fascination with his brilliant hair, and amazingly straight hair line, which is the exact hairline robots will have in 2067, when they finally become people and wipe out all actual people.

  • Mighty Baby – “Mighty Baby”

    Mighty Baby's second proper album, “Jug Of Love”, is great too, in a "British people sitting on a good carpet try to be the Grateful Dead during the brief period that they were a bit country and amazing" way, but their eponymous first is their best: the sound of mods becoming hippies - as all the best mods did - and discovering the spooky delights of rural Britain, and its accompanying fungi. Fortunately, the same good carpet that characterises the follow up seems to be present here too. I imagine it smells of patchouli, the remnants of a really nice Moroccan meal, and only a tiny bit of man sweat.

  • The Zombies – ‘Brief Candles’

    To be honest, I could have picked pretty much any track from The Zombies' “Odessey And Oracle”, apart from maybe ‘Friends Of Mine’, which essentially just sounds like a really big list of annoying wet people on an upper middle class night out in 1966. But I think ‘Brief Candles’ is an especially great example of lead singer Colin Blunstone's husky pipes, and the should-have-been-bigger-than-“Sgt-Pepper” webs of psychedelic sound that The Zombies were creating at this point. If a really great William Morris pattern was a record, this is probably what it would have sounded like. I interviewed The Zombies more than twenty years after it came out and they seemed baffled by the record's critical renaissance. They were extremely polite and still had their 1980s mullets. "Right," they announced as we said goodbye. "We're off to a barbecue at Mike Read's house!"

     

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