from The Sound of Being OK

Like the ginger one in Frozen once (partly) sang, for the first time in forever, I’m going to need a little help.

I’ll explain why.

As you will now know, KT wrote an ICA on the Manics,that was chosen for her by my iPod. Yesterday it was my turn to have a band selected for me, an even roll of a small red dice meant KT and an odd roll mean the iPod of Lord Badger of Bovey Tracey. I rolled a three. So Badger it was.

Roughly two hours later Badger reached track eleven on his iPod. He sends the email over.

“I’m sorry for this, track eight was Muse (and we’ve done them), track nine was Elastica, which would have been fun but rather first album heavy, and track ten was Crystal Castles, which you would have really enjoyed writing (true). Track Eleven was ‘A Drop In Time’ by Mercury Rev. I guess we could swap tracks ten and eleven around, only you and me would ever know”.

I sat and pondered this last sentence. It’s true that I would much rather write an ICA on Crystal Castles than I would Mercury Rev. I own like seven tracks by Mercury Rev, for years I avoided them after their (old) singer punched/slapped me in the face back in 1992 after he thought I called him a fat bastard (I didn’t, Graham did) outside Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone.

So I have to admit I was tempted. Then the realisation hit me that if I had Badger to thank for this ICA, that meant by the law of averages, he was going to have his ICA picked for him by the iPod of KT. Now, I’ve journeyed three hundred miles in KT’s car with the iPod on shuffle and I only recognised about three songs. It’s full of pop music, cheesy dance music and Outkast. Badger will never be able to write an ICA on Kelli Clarkson or James Morrison.

So I reply.

“Nope, Mercury Rev it is, but I will need you to send me over a bunch of tracks, because I own virtually nothing by them”. Three hours later I have a memory stick containing 42 tracks and a note saying, “this should see you right – remember no more than 4 singles, must contain a B Side or a cover or remix and have at least 4 album tracks. That’s the rules”.

Ok. Let’s do this.

Side One

Planet Caravan – Taken from ‘the Dark is Rising’ Single (and a Peel Session)

‘Planet Caravan’ was once described by one of Black Sabbath (I forget which one, definitely not Ozzy Osbourne though) as the sound of ‘floating through the universe with your lover’. Now, if you remove the every word of that apart from ‘floating’ you have an almost perfect description of Mercury Rev’s music. Their version of this is rather lovely as it happens, the vocals shimmer majestically over a backdrop of tinkling effects and barely there guitars.

Endlessly – Taken from Deserters Songs

Ok, I’ll get this out of the way now, there will be a lot of stuff from ‘Deserter’s Songs’ on this ICA because it is a pretty flawless album with not a second wasted. ‘Endlessly’ is a brilliant example of how good it is. It starts with this wailing that reminds me of the sort of music you used to get on 60s Hollywood melodramas starring the likes of Rock Hudson. That makes way to a quiet little vocal, an acoustic guitar and flute combo that at times comes at you like a misplaced Christmas Carol. All of which evokes the old tingly Goosebumps feeling.

Tides of The Moon – Taken from All Is Dream

I was dragged to see Mercury Rev at Glastonbury a few years back, and as I sat on the grass by the Other Stage trying not to listen I did a bit of people watching. When they played this, which was, if you ask me, the highlight of their set, I saw at least five grown men reached into their handily placed manbags and put on sunglasses. The sun was setting and the sunglasses were barely needed. That folks, is how good this song is. So good you need sunglasses to listen to it.

Chasing A Bee – taken from ‘Yerself Is Steam’

This is track one, side one of their debut album and it might just be the best thing that they recorded with David Baker on singing duties. The way his shifts from calm to angst, from humour to passion has to be heard to be believed. Then you get this amazing chorus and then you get something which I am struggling to even write, a brilliant flute riff. Yup, you read that right.

Goddess on a Hiway – From Deserters Songs

Which is easily the bands best song. A song which pulls on the heartstrings every time you listen to it. Donahue’s little cry of ‘I know it ain’t gonna last’ stirs emotions inside people that they didn’t even know they had. It is captivating, it is gorgeous, it is devastating and remains to this day a stunning piece of music. A track that is so vital to this band that if you suddenly deleted everything else that they had ever recorded, and just left this, it really wouldn’t matter.

Side Two

Lincolns Eyes – From ‘All is Dream’

In which Mercury Rev go all spooky and cinematic for a good seven minutes or so. Donahue adopts a creaky falsetto voice that sets us a series of creeping riddles that you think he wants us to solve but in reality he is just filling us in on the doubts that are rooted in his mind, nagging away at him.

Little Rhymes – from ‘All is Dream’

Turns out that I have included as much from ‘All is Dream’ as I have ‘Deserters Songs’ in this ICA. I think this largely because these are the two albums which showcase the band at their peak. This is track has a lovely little country inspired hue to it and is you ask me is slightly more commercial that most of their other tracks.

Tonite It Shows – From Deserters Songs

There are two things about this track. Firstly, the string arrangement on it reminds me of a Disney film. Secondly, Donahues voice on this, is spellbinding. The way he delivers the line ‘The way I lit your cigarette’ takes your breath away. It is immaculate.

The Dark Is Rising – From All Is Dream

At the start of this you get a load of strings sweeping in and crashing cymbals and you think ‘oh here we go, epic song alert’. Then all that stops and this sombre little piano starts up and you get something very different. Then the strings and cymbals are back conjuring up images of waves, darkness and stars twinkling away. Obviously there a thinly veiled messages about hope and fears going on here but underneath all that, this is very very good indeed.

Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp – From Deserters Songs

You know what I said up there about ‘Goddess on a Highway’ and deleting everything else they have ever recorded because that track is all you really need. Well ignore it. You need this track as well. Its nearly as good ‘Goddess on a Hiway’ but not quite, I’d still say that it’s something you need to own until your ears stop working though.


bonus track added by JC

Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers Remix)

Just because. (it’s a b-side and a remix)


Mercury Rev, after three poor-selling albums released between 1991 and 1995 came very close to calling it a day. What possibly saved them was that The Chemical Brothers had long been fans and had made a succesful approach to lead singer Jonathan Donahue to contribute a vocal to, and receive a writing credit for, the track The Private Psychedelic Reel which featured on the multi-million selling Dig Your Own Hole LP in 1997.

It not only brought Donahue to a wider audience than ever before but helped get him out of a creative lull in which he was showing no interest in writing any more material for his band. It also inspired him, and his band mate Sean Mackowiack, to try something different with the new material, moving away from rock guitars to a more gentle and melodic sound incorporating strings, horns and woodwinds along the way. It was something they had experimented with previously with one-off recordings not designed for commercial release.

The Chemical Brothers connection also led to renewed interest from record labels (the band had been dropped by Beggars Banquet in 1995) and a deal was struck with V2, the new label started up by Richard Branson with a decent budget afforded the recording process.

The album Deserter’s Songs was released in September 1998 to a fair bit of critical acclaim, helped by old friends The Chemical Brothers talking the record up in advance during the interviews they were giving to promote their live appearances at festivals over the summer months. Unusually, it was released without any single initially being lifted from it, a matter rectified the following month.

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Goddess On A Hiway

It transpired that this particular song was the best part of a decade old, having been written by Donahue during his time with The Flaming Lips, and having been forgotten about until being discovered on an old cassette tape. It was reworked beautifully into the style of music that Mercury Rev were encompassing for Deserter’s Songs.

The CD single came with two more tracks:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Ragtag
mp3 : Mercury Rev – I Only Have Eyes For You

The former, an instrumental,sounds exactly as the title would have you imagine….like a snippet that you would hear played in a nightclub scene of a movie set in the 1920s. It’s plain bonkers…..

The latter is a cover of the song written back in the 30s and made most famous by Art Garfunkel‘s cover which went to #1 in the UK in 1975. This version dates from a 1995 BBC session version on which there was a guest appearance by Sean O’Hagan, who first came to prominence as a founder member of Microdisney with Cathal Coughlan, before leaving to form The High Llamas and then in the mid 90s, becoming part of Stereolab. The recording may have been three years old, but it could now be seen as providing the pointer for the style that would be found on the new album.

Deserter’s Songs was named as album of the year for 1998 by NME. Anyone who had suggested that would be the case 12 months previously would have likely been locked up for their own safety.


THE £20 CHALLENGE (Week Nine)


S-WC writes…..

I’ve edited this at the start to issue an apology. I’ve been really busy in the last couple of weeks – so apologies if you have been (for some strange reason) eagerly awaiting (or even just mildly looking forward to it) this. It was beyond my control. Sometimes work gets in the way of fun. That obviously sucks, but, its pays my bills and keeps me in fluffy socks and allows me to fuel my Jaffa Cake addiction. Now on with the charity shop stuff.

“You know that I hate Mercury Rev why have you bought me a Mercury Rev CD?”

Badger smiles and says that it was time for me to put aside my hatred for Mercury Rev, because it wasn’t based on music but personality. He is right and this is why…Welcome to the (long drawn out) story of the night that the singer from Mercury Rev punched me in the face…Which to this day is the sole reason why I refuse to like Mercury Rev.

It is March 1992, I am sixteen an in the last year or so I have discovered music, live gigs, girls, Newcastle Brown Ale, Doc Martins Boots and cigarettes. I have abandoned a burgeoning career on the running track (at the time I am the two time Kent Under 16 Cross Country Champion), and thrown away my slippers with Scooby Doo on them. I think I am cool because I own ‘Come Home’ on 12” and a Carter T-shirt which has a swear word on the back.

By now I am a gig veteran (or I think I am), last summer I went to the Reading Festival and the much forgotten about Slough Festival and already this year I have seen about five bands live. Today I am in Folkestone to see Ride they are supported by Mercury Rev. Ride are touring in support of their second album ‘Going Blank Again’ and are at the height of their powers, the album has just gone Top 5 in the charts and ‘Leave Them All Behind’ has been pretty much glued to my stereo since its release – this is probably because its so long that it hasn’t quite finished yet.

mp3 : Ride – Leave Them All Behind

There are six of us, me, Graham (posh kid, doesn’t like Ride, but has come because he fancies one of the girls here), Martin (now in the band Thee Faction), Nick (thinks he is cooler than everyone because he has a girlfriend who is older than him), and two girls, Michelle (the one that Graham fancies I think) and Catherine (later starts going out with my best mate Richard). I at the time have been sniffing around Our Price Girl, I have yet to succeed (succeed? Probably not the right word) in that quest but I am at least on speaking terms with her. Oh, she is here at this gig, did I mention that? She is sitting in a café (looking divine in a Cure T Shirt and flowery skirt) drinking Pepsi, on the walkway up to the concert venue, which is why I am trying to convince everyone to go to that café instead of queuing up to get in like 700 other sadsacks.

Our Price Girl is with Jane one of her best friends, a chap called Dave who I sort of know and another guy, who is much older than them all (later revealed as Dave’s dad, Eric). In the end Michelle, me, and Graham (inevitably because where Michelle goes, he goes) go to the café and the others go and queue up. I pretend not to notice Our Price Girl and then act surprised when I see her at a table. It sort of works as her group and my group spend the rest of evening as one group.

We are wondering back to the queue, I think there are six of us (Dave’s Dad has gone somewhere else), when we spot Mark Gardener from Ride, just walking down the street. He is carrying a plate of sandwiches, which I have to say to this day remains the single most bizarre thing I have seen a rock star carrying (apart from the time I saw Billy Corgan carrying a goat into his hotel room and locking the door. That’s made up by the way, just in case he’s reading). That is important, remember the sandwiches. Seeing Mark pretty much sends the girls into some form of mental breakdown, they start fixing their hair, getting little mirrors out of their bags that sort of thing. We dash over and immediately Our Price Girl tells me to say hello to him. “Why me?” I say. She doesn’t answer but just stands that looking cross, so I shut up and wander over. Now for some reason, I have no idea why, I say to Mark Gardener, probably the coolest bloke on the planet at the time (well I thought so anyway), “Got any cheese and tomato in there?” He looks at me and smiles and says “I don’t know, they are for Mercury Rev”. Then I ask him if he would mind signing some stuff for me and my mates, which of course he agrees to. We then all chat some more and eventually we are outside the back of the venue – he then says he has to run off and do ‘shit interviews’ with the local papers but told us to enjoy the gig and he is gone. The girls sigh, and we all decide that he is a really nice guy. It is then that Graham realises that he is holding Mercury Rev’s sandwiches.

We knock on the back door until a security guy opens it and tells us politely to fuck off. I say that we have some sandwiches for Mercury Rev and he laughs and says ‘nice try’. We push Graham to the front and show him, he tells us to stay where we are. A strange thing happens then, the singer from Mercury Rev turns up and starts chatting to us, whilst opening the plate of sandwiches up and eating them. There are probably fifteen sandwiches on that plate. Now, I should say here, that this is the old singer from Mercury Rev, a large chap named, David Baker, not the current singer. I was pretty unaware of Mercury Rev and their music and when the singer asked us if we were fans instead of saying yes I said ‘I’ve never heard of you…’ and Graham and Dave both laughed. Our Price Girl shot me a look at this point.

He looked pretty pissed off with me at this point and he starts to wander off back into the venue, muttering something about having to get back. Now, at this point, the events are slightly blurred, but someone says something. I swear it wasn’t me, I think it was Graham, but I might be wrong. Anyway, the singer from Mercury Rev turns around and punched me in the face. It didn’t hurt to be honest, it was more of a slap than a punch it left a red mark rather than a bruise. With that he was gone and the security guard told us to do one again. By the way, David Baker had eaten nine sandwiches in around five minutes and not once did he offer us one or even say ‘Thank You’.

I turned to my friends and said “I bet Mercury Rev are shit”. I was right, that night they were awful, meandering, and pretentious. I vowed that from that day I would never like them, it was because the singer had slapped me, rather than their actual music, because there was one song about ‘Bees’ that was actually pretty good.

So that is why I have never really liked Mercury Rev. And by the way the only other musician to have punched me is the guitarist from long lost Pearl Jam wannabes (only from Guildford, not Seattle) Redwood, he punched me because I said their album was as interesting as reading the Chester City Bus Timetable. That one hurt though.

“The problem with this album”, Badger says as he hands me the copy of ‘All Is Dream’ “is that its not ‘Deserters Songs”. That album folk is in Badger’s Top Twenty Albums Ever. He loves it and every now and again forces me to listen to it on car journeys or something. I don’t mind it to be honest, but its not the masterpiece that everyone says it is.

However, I listen to ‘All is Dream’ the next day on the way to Torquay, and you know what, I enjoyed it. It’s a lovely album. Its intelligent, graceful and in parts emotional. The lead track from it ‘The Dark Is Rising’ is beautiful as is ‘Tides of the Moon’ and the ending of ‘Lincoln’s Eyes’ has one of best endings of a song I’ve heard in ages. It also has this piano led ballad on it called ‘Spider and Flies’ which is probably the finest song on the album, as the piano tinkles away, the singer (Jonathon Donahue) quietly goes mental, confessing all his fears about death and such like. You realise then that the whole album is a kind of ode to a love or lover I suppose. It’s a lovely thing.

Ok, Mercury Rev, I forgive you. Now let’s listen to ‘Deserter’s Songs’ again.

mp3 : Mercury Rev – The Dark Is Rising
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Tides of The Moon
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Lincoln’s Eyes
mp3 : Mercury Rev – Spiders and Flies

The Skinny

‘All is Dream’ bought from PDSA Exeter

Price £2.99

Left £3.50


Mercury Rev
were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.

Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.

But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..

This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.

Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.

It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp

What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers remix)

The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Vampire Blues (live)

Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young.  Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.