Friday, 26 December 2008

Top 5 Christmas Movies

Happy Christmas everyone, I hope Santa brought you everything you asked for. My final Top 5 of the year was a request in one of my Christmas cards (hello Libby!) that I thought was going to be easier than it turned out. It seems I've not watched as many Christmas films as I thought. Maybe I've only seen the bad ones. Either way I had to do a bit of cramming this week and took a few "personnel recommendations" but I reckon this is still a pretty decent top 5.

1. "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) - So I don't think I've actually watched this all the way through but reputation and recommendations suggest it's worthy of it's place as the best Christmas movie ever.

2. "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966) - Chuck Jones' near perfect animation of Dr Seuss' brilliant retelling of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol".

3. "Bad Santa" (2003) - Billy Bob Thornton excels as the drunk safe-cracking store Santa in a film that is the evil twin brother of "Miracle on 34th Street". Strewn with profanity and vulgarity this is not family entertainment but it is very very funny and still gets across it's little message of the magic of Christmas at the end.

4. "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) - A tale to warm the heart of even the most cynical of viewers.

5. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) - Tim Burton does stop motion.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday period, best wishes for the New Year. I'll be back with more top fives later in January.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Top 5 Danny Wallace projects

A slightly delayed Top 5 this weeks thanks to the perils of Alcohol. Tomorrow sees the release of "Yes Man" the Hollywood adaption of Danny Wallace's book of the same name. It stars Jim Carrey so I suspect it will be crap, but that's not the point. Danny Wallace has been making me laugh ever since I caught "The Dave Gorman Collection" on BBC2.

1. "Join Me" (Book) - In which Danny sets up and becomes the head of his own cult (well collective), The Karma Army and the principle of random acts of kindness and Good Fridays swung into life. I'm yet to receive an unexpected pint from a Joinee but have increasingly spent longer down the pub on a Friday to give them the opportunity.

2. "Are You Dave Gorman?" (Book of the TV Series of the Comedy Performance) - Whilst it was the TV show that first caught my eye, Danny's contribution, other than suggesting the whole thing during a drunken bet, is more obvious in the book. In many ways I guess this has set the template for pretty much everything Danny and Dave have done since, but it still makes me laugh.

3. "Yes Man" (Book) - Danny decides to say yes more often. In fact he decides to say Yes to everything.

4. "How To Start Your Own Country" (TV Series) - In which Danny attempts to turn his one-bedroom flat in the East End of London into an independent state. He gets his own flag, invades Britain, draws up a constitution, and forms a government out of his friends and neighbours.

5. "The Danny Wallace Radio Show" (XFM) - A four hour Saturday afternoon show that was the aural equivalent of a quiet afternoon spent in the village pub. It's dropped off the schedule at the moment and I'm not sure if it'll be back (Danny's probably too busy hob-knobbing with Hollywood big wigs) but it was fun while it lasted.

Might be back with a Christmas themed top 5 next Friday, if all goes to plan. If not Happy Crimbo and a very Merry New Year.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Top 5 Oliver Postgate shows

I don't want this to turn into a tribute site for the recently deceased but I couldn't let the passing of Oliver Postgate go without mention. Postgate was responsible for some of my earliest memories of television and made programmes that have remained close to my heart ever since. These are marvellous shows that fired my imagine as a child and still give me a sense of well being when I see them now. Thanks Oliver.

1. The Clangers (1969-1974)

2. Bagpuss (1974)

3. Ivor The Engine (1959, 1975-1977)

4. Noggin The Nog (1959-1965, 1979-80)

5. Pogles' Wood (1966-1968)


Friday, 5 December 2008

Top 5 Drummers I have seen live

A moment of happenstance last week led me from a post on Drowned In Sound about the best drummers you've actually seen to the news from Planet Rock that one of my choices, Micheal Lee, had died at the shockingly young age of 39.

My first recollection of Michael Lee was when he left a promising thrash metal band Holosade to join Little Angels. I was already a Little Angels fan at that point and was instantly impressed with his "if it moves hit it" style. He demonstrated an ambition for bigger things when he left Little Angels (actually I think he got chucked out after they found out he'd gone for an audition) in 1991 to join the Cult, playing with them on their Ceremony tour and featuring on the 1993 Live Cult album. Lee was a fabulous drummer, very much in the mould of John Bonham, and I got to saw him play with Robert Plant & Jimmy Page on the No Quarter tour. That was the last time I saw him live though he went on to drum with a succession of re-formed bands including Thin Lizzy, The Quireboys and Echo & The Bunnymen.

In tribute to Michael here's my top 5.

1. John Convertino (Calexico)

2. Todd Trainer (Shellac)

3. Michael Lee (Little Angels, Plant & Page)

4. George Hurley (The Minutemen)

5. Ian Mosley (Marillion)


Friday, 28 November 2008

Top 5 Bad Album Covers I Own

Well I couldn't move on from this topic without taking a peak through my record collection for the worst howlers I own. Having done so I reckon a couple of these could have been contenders for last weeks list.

1. The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" - This might be a classic album but it's a truly awful cover. Looks like something the art department knocked out at ten to five on a Friday afternoon. This'll do fine, a picture of the band with some animals, perfectly sums up the content and quality of the music contained ... no, wait ... those are farm animals! Ah - it'll do, probably won't sell many anyway.

2. Black Sabbath "Born Again" - Not a great period in Sabbath's history. Ian Gillan had been drafted in on vocals and never really fitted the band's style. The Born Again tour was also a major inspiration for the Spinal Tap film. Sabbath's Stonehenge was much bigger than expected after the company that built it mistook feet for metres. Over the years I've developed a sort of grudging respect for the cover despite the appearance of having been designed by someone who was drunk and high on speed. Thanks to the wonder of Wikipedia I've now discovered that designer Steve Joule WAS drunk and high on speed.

3. Manowar "Into Glory Ride" - You could lay out every Manowar album on the floor, stick a pin in one whilst blindfolded and find a contender for this. Manowar became a bit of a guilty pleasure during my METAL years. Muscle bound jocks who seemed preoccupied with sword and sorcery, and were probably better served by the later artistic interpretations of their looks than this, all too real, attempt at "looking buff".

4. Rush "Presto" - A major band on a major label (they'd just signed to Atlantic) and they produce a cover as shoddy as this. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the person responsible for "Pet Sounds" was involved with this design too. Presto? Rabbits out of a hat. Looks a bit naff though. Make it black and white then, everyone will think we're being arty.

5. The Scorpions "Lovedrive" - No top five bad covers list would be complete without an entry from The Scorpions, though I have to admit the cover was a major factor in me buying this album in the first place.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Top 5 Bad Album Covers

There's something special about poorly designed album covers. Some great websites if you want to see more, the original Museum of Bad Album Covers is a treasure trove of tat but also check out Cover Browser's Worst Album Cover section. These are my current favourite five though disappointingly I don't own any of them ... yet.

1. Freddie Gage "All My Friends Are Dead" - I would love to have been at the meeting when they decided this was going to be a good cover to go with. Though any artist who is happy to release an album with that sort of title must have serious issues. It's not even a good shade of blue.

2. John Bult "Julie's Sixteenth Birthday" - Wrong on so many levels.

3. Ken "By Request Only" - I seriously doubt it Ken.

4. Millie Jackson "Back to the S--t" - This would have been a good discussion too.

5. The Scorpions "Animal Magnetism" - Kings of the bad cover, check out "Virgin Killer" to see something in really poor taste. This one manages to be poorly executed and offensive at the same time.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Top 5 Little Songs

Time to move on from Mr Bond. A few of you will be aware that I'm currently trying to listen to all the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order. It's kind of a super shuffle in which I get to hear every single song once. Seemed like a good idea at the time, though I've been doing it since early August and have only just scrapped over the half way mark. Anyway, it's popped up some interesting combinations including a run of songs beginning with the word Little. You can see where I'm heading, yes?

1. Little Johnny Jewell (Television) - Television's debut single (split into parts 1 and 2 on the original 7") didn't even make it on to their seminal debut album. It is on the remastered CD release though, both parts united in a glorious 7 minute re-incarnation.

2. Little Doll (The Stooges) - Primal rock'n'roll from The Stooges at their best. Menacing riff at the start leads into Iggy's laid back but ice cool vocal before breaking down into a raw guitar solo.

3. Little Red Rooster (Howlin' Wolf) - This song ain't about no chicken that's for sure. Written by Willie Dixon and featuring Hubert Sumlin on Guitar this is a Blues classic.

4. Little Animal (The Raveonettes) - Brilliant tune from the Raveonettes first full length album, begins with a fantastic rhyming couplet that always makes me chuckle.
"My girl is a little animal, she always wants to fuck,
I can't find a reason why, I guess it's just my luck"

5. Little Bitch (The Specials) - Hard for me to dislike anything from The Specials debut album and this is no exception. Not their greatest song but a cool slice of two tone ska never the less.

A special mention for The White Stripes who have recorded a "Little" song for every album they've released. That's six songs so far; "Little People", "Little Bird", "Little Room", "Little Acorns", "Little Ghost" & "Little Cream Soda". It's things like this that endear a band to me, though not enough for any of them to make my final top 5.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Top 5 Bond Pre-Title Sequences

As requested then, these are my top 5 pre-title sequences - the opening scenes of most Bond movies that usually fit between the gun barrel sequence and the opening titles. My memory for this sort of stuff is pretty shocking, so I've spent a couple of hours trawling through YouTube to remind myself what sequence goes with what film. For a change I've managed to pick a few films that didn't feature Connery as Bond and were made after 1977.

1. The Spy Who Loved Me (Location: Austrian Alps)
This was, I believe, the first Bond film I saw in the cinema. Roger Moore leaves a "lady friend" behind in a alpine cabin to answer a call to return to HQ. Skies off, with a spectacular mountain backdrop, only to be attacked by a group of Russian agents. Despite some ropey effects (Moore clearly in a studio in front of a blue screen) and a worryingly camp yellow ski suit, it's a spectacular start to the film. Ends with Bond skiing over the edge of a massive cliff, heading into free fall before unfurling a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack.

2. Goldeneye (Location: Chemical Weapons Facility, USSR)
Brosnan's first movie, and the first Bond film for some six years, gets off to a stunning start with this fantastic sequence. An incredible bungee jump off the top of a dam, Bond uses a grapling hook to reach the bottom, then hooks up with 006 to infiltrate and plant explosives inside a Russian weapons factory. They get caught, 006 is shot and 007 is left to attempt an escape on his own. Despite being heavily outnumbered he manages to get out of the facility, rides a motorbike off a cliff before free falling after a light aircraft. Bond manages to board the plane, overpower the pilot and pull the aircraft out of a seemingly terminal nosedive, before flying to freedom as the factory explodes. Somehow I found all this perfectly acceptable despite my dislike of the Moore era. I'm so fickle.

3. Goldfinger (Location: unknown Latin American country)
A more subtle opening but one that displayed many of the devices that would become traditional in later films. Bond swims up to his target, with what looks like a fake duck stuck to his head. Plants explosives in an enemy base, departs, stepping out of his wetsuit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo. Plenty of close up opportunities on his Rolex Submariner. He arrives at a local bar for a quick drink, during which the bomb goes boom, Bond nips up stairs to see a "lady friend" who is waiting in the bath. Mid kiss he is attacked from behind, but manages to place the girl in the way. Eventually overpowers his attacker, before electrocuting him in the bath with an electric heater. Departs with a witty one liner "Shocking! Truly Shocking!".

4. The World Is Not Enough (Location: Bilbao & London)
Possibly a little on the long side, this is almost a mini-film in it's own right. It's the London scenes that do it for me. Bond talks with Q (Desmond Llewellyn's last performance as Q before his death) in Thames Bank house before smashing out the back in the Q-boat in pursuit of the same assassin he saw in Spain. The chase ends at the Millennium dome with the assassin attempting an escape in a hot-air balloon before taking her own life when it is clear escape is impossible.

5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Location: Lisbon)
Lazenby in a new Aston Martin DBS is overtaken by a mystery female in a Mercury Cougar. He spies her walking down a beach towards the sea about to take her own life. Bond races down to pull her out of the ocean only to be pounced on by a couple of armed thugs. Eventually overcomes them only to see the girl, Teresa Di Vincenzo, driving off in his DBS.

Top 5 Bond Theme Music

I'd originally planned to do five Bond top fives as a build up to the new film release but, as is so often the case when compiling them, I had one more subject I didn't want to leave out. How to fit six into five? I couldn't leave Bond without an opportunity to sing John Barry's praises. So, just one more I thought, but no, Rich from my work football team suggested another topic as well. I couldn't duck away from the challenge so, if my typing fingers are up to it, there should be a second top 5 up later today.

1. The James Bond Theme (Monty Norman, arr. John Barry)
The opening theme for "Dr No" has also become the ubiquitous theme for Bond in every film and I almost thought about removing it from contention. A fantastic instrumental that caused much debate over exactly who wrote it but remains as perfect a theme tune as your likely to hear.

2. Goldfinger (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse/Antony Newley, vocal-Shirley Bassey)Another tune that I nearly considered too obvious to include. I gave it a spin early in the week and realised it's just too good to ignore. Great vocal performance from Bassey.

3. Thunderball (John Barry/Don Black, vocal-Tom Jones)
Despite a bit of a struggle to fit the title of the film into the lyrics this is a fantastic song. Fabulous horns throughout (a sure sign of great production in my book), Tom Jones cranking out the words and a dramatically held last note that supposedly resulted in Jones collapsing to the floor when he'd finished. Superb stuff.

4. We Have All The Time In The World (John Barry/Hal David, vocal-Louis Armstrong) One of my all time favourite songs, the soppy romantic that I am. Not the official theme of the film ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was another corking Barry instrumental) but used as the love theme for Bond and Di Vincenzo as well as the closing theme following her death.

5. From Russia With Love (John Barry/Lionel Bart, vocal-Matt Munro)
A nice bit of lounge to lull you into a false sense of security and another wonderful vocal, this time from Matt Munro.

Disclaimer: Other composers have worked on Bond scores. They're just not as good as John Barry!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Top 5 Bond Films

The new Bond film "Quantum of Solace" goes on general release today. Not sure when I'll get to see it though, these days the only time I go to the cinema it's with a room full of excited children watching the latest release from Pixar or Dreamworks.

1. Goldfinger (Dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
The film that defined the template for all those that followed. A super villain with a super plan, a massive laser and two failed attempts to kill Bond, the Aston Martin making it's first appearance, Shirley Eaton painted in gold, Pussy Galore and her all-girl Flying Circus. Ticks all the boxes for me.

2. From Russia With Love (Dir. Terence Young, 1963)
I think this was probably the first Bond film I ever saw which gives it a special place in my heart. Slower paced than any of the films that followed, it possibly captures the atmosphere of the novels better than any other.

3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Dir. Peter R. Hunt, 1969)
I might be in a minority here, but I really like OHMSS. I like Lazenby's Bond and there's the added bonus, in Diana Rigg, of a Bond girl who can hold her own with our erstwhile hero. A bit of pathos at the end and that wonderful Louis Armstrong theme tune. Possibly the best ending of any Bond movie.

4. Live and Let Die (Dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
I'm not a fan of the Roger Moore era but have good memories of this, his debut Bond. Some dubious attempts to benefit from the Blaxploitation boom aside, "Live and Let Die" has some great action and maintains a pacey plot throughout.

5. Thunderball (Dir. Terence Young, 1965)
So good they made it twice. Decent story line, the return of the Aston and some great underwater scenes. Still not sure about the practicalities of that jet pack though.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Top 5 Bond Villains

You can't beat a good super-villain ... unless your name is Bond.

1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence, You Only Live Twice) - The head of SPECTRE had more opportunities than most to kill off Bond, having some involvement in six of the films. This must make him either the most resilient or the least successful of Bond adversaries. His first film appearances (From Russia With Love & Thunderball) kept his face and identity hidden, revealing only his hands and voice. This added an element of mystery to the character as the unseen controlling influence behind each villainous plot. However, it's Donald Pleasence's performance that brought Blofeld to life and confirmed his status as the greatest of Bond's opponents.

2. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe, Goldfinger) - With Bond strapped to a table and a massive laser about to slice him in two, 007 asks if Goldfinger expects this to make him to talk. Goldfingers response "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!" is undoubtedly my favourite quote from any Bond film. The irony is that even in this seemingly helpless situation, Goldfinger still fails to finish Bond off. In the end it's Goldfinger that croaks, getting sucked out of a plane after shooting at Bond and cracking the window.

3. Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman, Dr. No) - Initially comes across as an intelligent and ruthless foe, Dr No is eventually revealed to be a slightly unhinged psychotic nut. Despite several attempts to kill Bond off he never quite succeeds and is eventually killed by boiling to death in the coolant tank of his own nuclear reactor. In the novel he is killed by being buried under a massive heap of guano, the harvesting of which was supposed to provide a legitimate cover for his real activities.

4. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya, From Russia with Love) - Quite possibly the scariest of all Bond's enemies, Klebb is Blofeld's leading agent in From Russia With Love, having formally been a member of SMERSH. In the final scenes of the film, at a point when it seems the action is over, she gains entry to Bond's apartment dressed as a maid to try and recover a cryptographic device. After a brief scuffle she makes an unsuccessful attempt on Bond's life, attempting to kill him with poison tipped spikes in her shoes.

5. Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee, The Man with the Golden Gun) - Three nipples and a gold-plated single-shot pistol constructed from a pen, a lighter, some cuff links and a cigarette case. Scaramanga is a man very much in Bond's mold and proves a tricky foe to dispatch.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Top 5 Bond Gadgets

Bond's use of gadgetry is evident in the novels but it was in the films that they really came to the fore, becoming one of the key elements of any good Bond film.

1. Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger & Thunderball) - I make no apologies for the DB5 winning another category. It's a marvellous car but its the Q-Branch modifications that enable it to claim top gadget; revolving licence plates, tyre slashers that double as spinner hubcaps, a passenger ejector seat, a rear bulletproof shield, forward machine guns concealed behind the headlights, rearward defenses including smoke and oil slick sprayers. All essential items for the late 60's spy on the run in his vintage car.

2. Attaché Case (From Russia With Love) - This might not seem appropriate for the modern spy attempting to operate undercover in a foreign country but in 1963 this was an essential item for the British businessman abroad. Of course Bond's case came equipped with a foldaway AR-7 sniper’s rifle, a knife, 50 gold sovereigns and a canister of teargas primed to explode if it was opened by anyone other than it's owner. Makes an off-screen, and humorous, reappearance in Goldfinger when Bond is told it has been "damaged" whilst being examined by Goldfinger's henchmen.

3. Rolex Oyster Submariner (Live & Let Die) - The Rolex Submariner is worn by Bond in a number of films, but stakes it's claim for gadget glory when it is returned to Bond at the start of "Live & Let Die" after being "repaired" by Q-Branch. The modified watch has a powerful electro-magnet that can (and I'm really not quite convinced about the science of this) deflect bullets and also a spinning bezel which is subsequently used by Bond to free himself from his rope restraints and escape the pool of man-eating sharks.

4. Sony Ericsson Mobile Phone (Tomorrow Never Dies) - Now THIS is a phone that can multi-task. Never mind your mega pixel camera or MP3 player (though it probably has those as well) this phone loads up with a spectacular array of useful tools. A stun gun, a fingerprint scanner, analyzer and transmitter that can also be used for opening high-tech fingerprint-identification locks, and a lock pick. As if that weren't enough it also houses a flip-open remote control for the control of his BMW 750iL. I've got a Sony Ericsson phone, I've not yet worked out how to access these functions.

5. Jet packs (Thunderball)- Thunderball saw the use of two different types of jet pack. The standard variety enables Bond to escape after killing SPECTRE agent Colonel Bouvar. Though slightly ungainly in execution the scene did provide an iconic moment in the film. Later he uses an underwater jet pack, equipped with explosive tipped spear guns as he attempts to capture Largo and fend off his henchmen.

More gadget related information here, here and here.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Top 5 Bond Girls

Well, I have to confess this was quite fun putting together. So many beautiful women to choose from but it takes more than looks to be a great Bond Girl. A bit of savvy, a bit of style, a mischievous glint in the eye - I'm not sure I can quite define it. In fact I've struggled to write anything for the final five that wasn't either edging towards pervy or slightly too Terry Thomas. Think I'll leave it for the pictures to do the talking.

1. Honey Ryder - Ursula Andress (Dr No, 1962)

2. Teresa Di Vincenzo - Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969)

3. Domino Derval - Claudine Auger (Thunderball, 1964)

4. Jill Masterson - Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger, 1964)

5. Solitaire - Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die, 1973)

Friday, 3 October 2008

Top 5 Bond Cars

Bond is back! The new film "Quantum of Solace" is due for release on 31st October which gives me 5 weeks of Bond Top fives to get everyone in the mood. The Times ran their own top ten not that long ago too, check out the link if you're interested.

1. Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger, 1964) - This is THE Bond car. It's not the one Fleming used in the books but it's the first car used in the film series and the car I most associate with Bond. Packed full of gadgets including an ejector seat, machine guns and rotating number plates it was the look and style that really won me over. I've still got my Corgi model of it somewhere at home (though I think the man that got fired out of the ejector seat has long gone). It also made appearances in Thunderball (1965), Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Casino Royale (2006), which I think is more than any other car. I could quite easily completed a Top 5 of Aston Martins, they're lovely cars. The Aston Martin DBS used in OHMSS comes a close second for me and the Aston Martin DBS from Casino Royale is just as stunning.

2. Bentley Mark IV (From Russia With Love, 1963) - OK, so it never actually existed as a real car but this was Bond’s car in many of Ian Fleming’s novels. A Derby Bentley was used in it's place for a brief cameo during From Russia With Love and the car was mentioned obliquely during the 2006 version of Casino Royale.

3. Lotus Esprit S1 (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977) - It's a very eighties design and not the sort of car I'd normally like. All square corners and ugly angular styling. However, once you've seen it turn into a submarine it takes on a whole new aspect. I think this might have been the first Bond film I saw in the cinema and that moment, as the car dives into the sea, is one that has stayed with me ever since. Torpedoes too!

4. Ford Mustang Mach-1 (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971) - This car didn't belong to Bond but a wild chase through the streets of Las Vegas is enough to give me an excuse to get a Mustang in the list. You've gotta love an American muscle car.

5. AMC Hornet X (The Man With The Golden Gun, 1974) - Possibly not the most auspicious car Bond has driven, this gains all it's magic from a fabulous car chase in which Bond, having stolen the Hornet from a car dealership and with Sheriff J.W. Pepper alongside for "comic" interjection, pursues Scaramanga who has agent Goodnight locked in his boot. It's a great car chase, and the Hornet earns it's place with a spectacular corkscrew jump over the river. Scaramanga is also driving an AMC car, a Matador which also gains more kudos than it might otherwise achieve by transforming into a plane. Who wouldn't want a car like that? On a side note in trying to find out what cars these were I stumbled across this site which has a fairly damning description of AMC cars in general and a nice picture of a Matador.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Top 5 Pink Floyd Albums

Thought I'd do a Floyd related topic in tribute to Richard Wright who passed away last week. My first contact with Floyd came in 1979 with the massive hit "Another Brick In The Wall". I was eleven and only just getting to grips with "pop music" having been largely brought up on The Beatles, The Carpenters and Abba. Floyd seemed grown-up and exciting and I think I also mistook them for a punk band - I'd heard a lot about punk at school but other than a snatched moment of "Friggin' in the Riggin" had been largely unblemished by actually hearing any. Later one of my cousins played me the section of "The Wall" where the Stuka bombers come diving in on a pair of headphones. It scared the life out of me but also made me want to hear more. By the time I'd got to grips with all this Floyd were well and truly over, but I worked my way through all of their albums so that when they eventually got back together at the end of the 80's I was a serious fan desperate to see them live in whatever form they took. Richard Wright was a lovely bloke who played a bigger part in the Floyd story than he has probably been credited for. Hope he's enjoying his great gig in the sky.

1. Meddle (1971)

2. Wish You Were Here (1975)

3. Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

4. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)

5. The Wall (1979)


Friday, 19 September 2008

Top 5 Bad cover versions of great songs

Short but sweet this week.

1. "Suspicious Minds" Fine Young Cannibals - Crap Eighties band murder what I would only later discover was one of Elvis' best songs.

2. "Comfortably Numb" Scissor Sisters - I'm really not trying to be a mouldy old classic rock fan here, "Comfortably Numb" isn't some sacred cow for me, but this is truly appalling. More importantly any band responsible for an Elton John revival really does deserve to be the first against the wall when the revolution comes!

3. "How Soon Is Now" TATU - Please. Stop. Now.

4. "Teenage Kicks" Busted - So similar to the original and yet so completely bloody awful.

5. The entire recorded output of UB40 - Why UB40 had any reason to exist is something I never really understood.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Top 5 Sleeveheads

Been meaning to do this for a while. Fellow top-5-ophile Dan Whaley drew my attention to this rather wonderful pastime. Lots of great examples here and here. I had hoped to do one myself but in sorting through my vinyl I've not managed to find a decent contender yet.


Friday, 5 September 2008

Top 5 Songs with titles that pose a question

Sunday mornings usually give me a chance to listen to the radio whilst I'm pottering about and cooking the roast. Last week I was up early and caught the end of the Sunday Shuffle on Natasha's BBC 6Music breakfast show which was based on songs which pose a question. Good topic.

1. Pixies "Where Is My Mind?" - I don't need much of an excuse to pick a Pixies song and this is one of their best. Typically with so many songs that I really love I haven't got a great deal to say about it. In a desperate attempt to think of something though I just checked Wikipedia where I found out that James Blunt has covered it. I really don't know what to say.

2. The Smiths "How Soon Is Now?" - Around the time The Smiths were breaking into the mainstream my Gran had come to live with us. I was fifteen and developing alternative music tastes but still found time to watch Top Of The Pops every week. When Morrissey appeared, in flouncey clothes and with a bunch of twigs sticking out of his back pocket, my Gran was less than impressed. "What on earth does he think he looks like?" she said. "It's not my fault Gran! I couldn't agree more". The Smiths were the enemy. I was into Metal. Not just Metal but Thrash Metal. It was a long time before I was ready to give The Smiths a chance and this was the song that finally convinced me they actually had something worthwhile going on. My Gran was right about those twigs though.

3. Diamond Head "Am I Evil?" - Yes I am! I've got Metallica to thank for turning me onto Diamond Head. One of the best of the NWOBHM bands but never all that successful. This song is almost a template for the Metallica sound - it defined a generation of bands that would follow.

4. Buzzcocks "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)?" - A truly great song and the Buzzcocks finest moment. Also a rare opportunity to get away with a double contraction in a song title. In fact I wouldn't've thought there are many others ... Badum-tish! Sorry, won't do that again.

5. The Cramps "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?" - The Cramps remain to me a largely unsolved mystery. At some point I'll probably have a go at cracking their musical code but right now they're not one of my favourite bands. However, this is a decent song with a superlative double-entendre that thoroughly deserves it's place in this top 5.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Top 5 Tribute Band Names

Tribute bands were a 90's phenomenon. It all seemed such a brilliant idea when they first started appearing. A chance to see bands you'd never seen who'd split up or passed on playing all your favourite songs in a small venue. Typically things eventually got out of hand. Now tribute bands are playing larger venues and becoming almost as popular as the artists they are honouring. I feel there ought to be Tribute Band legislation to sort the wheat from the chaff. Thou shalt not form a tribute band of anyone who has not had a career lasting at least ten years. Thou shalt not play a venue bigger than 500 capacity. Thou shalt not employ a member of the band you are trying to impersonate. You get the idea.

1. By Jovi - Hands down, out and out winner. This is a genius name, in fact a name worthy of forming a Bon Jovi tribute band just to use. I can't think of many other reasons why you'd want to form a Bon Jovi tribute band. One day I will go and see them just so I can say that I have.

2. aRe wE theM - For some reason this makes me laugh. A lot. Really needs the capitalisation to get it but brilliant none the less.

3. Nearvana - I never saw Nirvana live. Had a close miss which I regret not taking, so this lot are as close as I'm likely to get.

4. Beatallica - Ok, not just a straight tribute band but a cunning combination of the Beatles and Metallica. When I first discovered this thought it was a smart idea. They used to offer their music for free but now seem to be charging for everything. Guess they worked their way around any potential law suits. Not sure what's going on with their image on the front page of the website - that guy in the middle looks more like King Diamond than any 'Tallica or Beatles member.

5. Geneside - The one band I've actually seen live. Geneside were an early Genesis tribute band. They were great actually, although I saw them far too many times to be healthy. Had to change their name (to the rather bland ReGenesis) when they realised most people thought they were a Death Metal band. I think they've been surpassed of late by a host of other early, mid and late Genesis tribute bands, but for me they were the first and the best.

A special mention for The Remainz who are the exception to the not using ex-band members in your line-up rule. They featured Dee-Dee and Tommy Ramone and there's a sort of tragic humour to the name. Also Lez Zepplin who are an all-female Led Zep tribute (obviously!). I'd rather go and see them than watch Zoso and Percy drag themselves around enormo-domes for the price of a small mortgage.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Top 5 Radio shows

Run out of time so just a brief one this week.

1. Mark Lamarr "God's Jukebox" (BBC Radio 2) - Any of the shows Lamarr does for Radio 2 are worth a listen. He really knows his stuff and his enthusiasm for the music he loves shines through. "God's Jukebox" covers a huge variety of style and continues to introduce me to bands and artists I knew far to little about.

2. Marc Riley (BBC 6Music) - Riley used to drive me up the wall in his prime time Radio 1 partnership with Mark Radcliffe. This weekday 6 Music show therefore caught me by surprise. More restrained, almost to the point of shyness but like Lamarr a real enthusiast for exciting music.

3. John Kennedy "Xposure" (XFM) - I don't get to hear this very often. It's on late and XFM don't have a decent Listen Again facility like the Beeb. John Kennedy has been with XFM since it's very earliest transmissions and in many ways is their very own Peel. A real advocate of new and unsigned bands.

4. Steve Lamacq (BBC 6Music) - Lamacq's where it's at when it comes to mainstream Indie. Some days I don't want to be challenged I just need a nice tune I can hum. A good line in self deprecating humour and stories of lower league football as well.

5. Breakfast with Alice Cooper (Planet Rock) - Breakfast with The Coop. Genius.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Top 5 Record Shops

The news a couple of weeks ago that Sister Ray had gone in to administration tweaked my coincidence. I spent quite a proportion of my teenage years browsing in record stores and by the time I started work was probably a major contributor to the annual cash flow of a number of stores. I generally resisted the lure of the big chain stores (except on Sale days when I felt it was justified) but as the Internet came to the fore and cheap CDs became more easily obtainable I found myself in a proper record shop less often. Family responsibilities take their place and value for money becomes more important. Amazon, CD-Wow and more recently HMV all offer albums at fantastic value if you keep an eye on fluctuations in price. However I do miss the excitement of finding an album you never knew existed or just flicking through the racks and taking a chance on a record with an interesting cover.

1. The Record Shop (Kingston) - I bought my very first records from W.H.Smiths and Woolworth's but when I started college I discovered the best record store in Kingston and my all time favourite. I spent a lot of my teenage years in here and became good friends with a lot of the staff. I'd moved away by the time they were forced to close down, suffering from the rise of the chain stores and the Internet. It was a sad day. The other record shop in Kingston was Beggar's Banquet. Beggar's was aimed at the Indie fan whilst The Record Shop was for the Rock and Metal fan so there was always a friendly rivalry between them. As my tastes changed I did occasionally sneak into Beggar's for a guilty browse through the latest Indie. The nineties saw the rise of Madchester and baggy and I was starting to expand my horizons. I still kept the faith with The Record Shop boys though. Beggar's is still operational now trading as Banquet Records and seemingly quite active in the local live gig scene.

2. Shades (London, Soho) - THE shop for Metal Heads during the 80's I'd often make the pilgrimage up to town to have a browse through the racks. The journey up to town to find a basement tucked away between the strip clubs and clip joints just to buy a couple of (probably fairly dire) thrash metal LPs or some new woven patches for my denim jacket probably seems a bit ludicrous now but it really was the only way to get hold of some of that music at the time. Shades was also famed for in-store appearances by most of the leading lights of the scene at the time. A nice article here at Thrash It's a cool name too.

3. The Rock Box (Camberley) - The first (and possibly only) of my Top 5 that's still alive and kicking. It's a bit of a trek but worth the effort. Specialising in Rock and Metal they cover a decent spectrum of genres. It's a good size for browsing and has a wide range of CDs and vinyl. Sold a couple of boxes of Vinyl to them the other week and got a reasonable price as well. If you live in the area you need to make a visit.

4. Select-a-disc (London, Berwick Street) - Select-a-disc was probably my favourite London based record emporium. Nice and roomy and with a broad selection of styles it was a shock to hear they had been taken over by Sister Ray (prior to their fall into administration). Sister Ray's original shop had never been up to much, too small and lacking an environment where you felt comfortable just having a browse. They did pioneer the mail order service though, thereby contributing to their own down fall to some extent. There's a Select-a-disc in Nottingham which I've not managed to visit yet. I believe it's still open so I will make the effort if I'm ever in the area again, before it's too late. and

5. Fopp (Glasgow, Byres Road) - This shop was a bit of an eye opener when I first encountered it. It seemed to be a bit of a chain store (similar to the briefly successful MVC) but had a good catalogue at reasonable prices. I'm happy to pay a little bit extra to buy music from a proper shop and Fopp's policy to offer classic albums at a fiver suited me down to the ground. Shortly after I first discovered them they made an attempt to expand that I think went badly wrong. They went into administration and were (if my memory is correct) bought out by HMV. Haven't been back to Glasgow since (nor to any other Fopp branch) so I don't know how this has affected their stock but I doubt it's a good thing.

A special mention for Langley Records in Molesey. A bizarrely large record shop for a fairly small catchment area. This was a spot I spent a bit of time in when I should have been studying for my A-Levels at Esher College. The details of my truancy are for another forum but a long walk to Molesey and a couple of hours browsing round the Langely racks were a favoured way to spend my time for a few months. I'm not sure I ever actually bought a great deal but I do know I picked up a rare Andy Bown album there (ex-member of The Herd and keyboard & harmonica player with Status Quo since the late seventies for the non-Quo fans amongst you). It wasn't very good. They were also located opposite a public toilet that had a certain reputation which may have been the site for the fall from grace of a certain member of eighties pop heroes Five Star. Langley Records aren't online (which is another good indication that they're a shop worth frequenting) so if you fancy a trip you can find them at 466 Walton Road, West Molesey, Surrey KT8 2JG (Tel: 020-8979-3648).

Friday, 8 August 2008

Top 5 Mild Swear Words.

Something quick and easy this week. I just finished reading George Orwell's "Down & Out in Paris and London" a thoroughly enjoyable account of his time surviving on very little money whilst working in appalling conditions as a "pongleur" in Paris before moving back to London where he lived as a tramp for several weeks. Throughout the book swear words are blanked out or replaced with the French translation, which is not so surprising in a book of it's time. However, late in the London half of the story Orwell expends a whole chapter on the evolution of slang and swearing and the way the power of these words change over time. It amused me that in this one chapter the swear words are printed in full. It's also interesting to discover the origins of words we still use today and also words that Orwell believed were falling into disuse that have since returned to our vocabulary (Bloody, Doss etc). This Top 5 therefore is a list of my favourite "not quite" swear words which I hope might return to fashion. They're also a handy set of expletives to resort to when in front of the kids.

1. Blige

2. Flippin' 'Eck

3. Crikey

4. Golly Gosh

5. Jiminy Cricket


Friday, 1 August 2008

Chop's Top Fives Supergroup: Final line-up

So after five weeks I've finally completed my Supergroup line-up. I've stuck with a fairly traditional dual guitar, bass & drums line-up. Gerry and Cat can take it in turns to sing and then play keyboards when they're not. My additional band member is Booker T Jones who was always going to make this line-up so I didn't feel the need to do another Top 5. Everyone in the band is still alive so I'm quite pleased that this group could actually play live. In fact if anyone listed fancies giving it a go they can drop me an email and I'll try and get something sorted! The venue we'll play is the 100 Club in London which came 5th in my Top 5 Gig Venues (don't know what I was thinking that day, it clearly should be higher) as we need a venue with a bit of history behind it (and a decent bar!). The set will be a mixture of garage rock and soul classics from the early 60's, starting with "Psycho" by The Sonics (just to get Gerry's vocal chords warmed up) and ending with a 15 minute jam featuring any of my other contenders that are still alive and lots of feedback.

Vocals - Gerry Rosalie & Cat Power
Guitar - Joey Santiago
Guitar - David Pajo
Drums - John Convertino
Bass - Mike Watt
Organ - Booker T. Jones

As an added bonus here's a quick Top 5 Supergroups

1. Blind Faith
2. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
3. This Mortal Coil
4. The Highwaymen
5. Fantômas


Friday, 25 July 2008

Top 5 Vocalists

I'm almost there. Vocals this week then an additional musician and the final supergroup line-up next week. The whole supergroup thing has proved more difficult to do than I first though. Lots of cheating going on (listing people who didn't quite make the Top 5) and lots of indecision. This week's no different. I was going to do a Top 5 Vocalists but having struggled to find a happy balance have ended up doing two lists one for boys and one for the girls.

Top 5 Male Vocalists
1. Gerry Rosalie (The Sonics) - A real wild rock'n'roll singer, if you've never heard The Sonics go out and buy an album now. No, really, stop what your doing and go and buy THIS right now. Good glad we got that sorted. The Sonics have blown me away. Active in the early sixties, they are still the most exciting band I've heard in the last five years. Maybe the last ten. Rosalie's screaming vocal allied with a fuzzed-up dirty rock'n'roll sound gave them an edge no other band of that era had.

2. Black Francis (Pixies) - Having made Joey Santiago my number one guitarist last week I was resisting placing Frank Black quite so high this week but I can't deny that I love his vocal style. Not a classically great singer by any means but a voice full of passion. The Pixies are my undisputed favourite band and I guess this is why.

3. Otis Redding - So many great soul singers to choose from but Otis is the one I get the most enjoyment from. It probably helps having the Bar-Keys as your back up band.

4. Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) - A great out and out rock singer who has long been one of my favourites.

5. Jeff Buckley - A unique and passionate singer.

Top 5 Female Vocalists
1. Cat Power - I'm on a serious Cat Power trip at the moment. In fact ever since I heard "The Greatest" in 2006. Chan Marshall has a voice that can genuinely send shivers down my spine.

2. Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention) - THE voice of British folk, I can think of no other singer in that genre who even comes close. She crammed a lot in to a short time and apparently lived life to the full. Good on her.

3. Ronnie Spector (The Ronettes) - I'm not sure she quite deserves the tag "the original bad girl of rock'n'roll" but she must have been one tough cookie to have survived a five year marriage to Phil.

4. Nina Simone - A stunning voice from a lady who I'm ashamed to say I've really not got a great deal by. In compiling this top 5 I've already knocked up an extensive list of singers I really need to investigate further.

5. Lucinda Williams - A voice full of character and experience and a great songwriter as well.

So, much happier with this than I was with my Top 5 Guitarists. I'll get this supergroup thing wrapped up next week before moving on to some easier topics for a bit!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Top 5 Guitarists

I was forty a few weeks back. Thereby managing to reach an age that I previously believed to be "old" with absolutely no musical talent at all. I have made at least three aborted attempts to learn guitar but lack of any hand co-ordination coupled with a healthy dose of bloody-laziness means that so far I've failed horribly. Attempt four is currently underway. Partly because of this lack of skill, the guitar has been the instrument that most fascinates me. Those people capable of producing amazing sounds from it, that can stir the soul and excite the heart, will always be my heroes. I knew this would be a tough five to complete and my working list stretched to over fifty possibles. In the end I stuck with the guitarists that made my favourite music rather than those who are more regularly selected as the greatest in their field.

Incidentally my new definition of "old" is sixty which gives me another twenty years of leeway and a bit more time to learn guitar.)

1. Joey Santiago (Pixies) - The Pixies are my all time favourite band and Joey's guitar plays a huge part in that. I've been struggling to find the words to adequately describe why I like Santiago so much. It's probably as much about the songs as anything he does specifically. After initially being wowed by guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai I realised that I actually prefer something less flashy. Santiago seems a laid back guy who doesn't look for the limelight, and his guitar added to that unique Pixies sound without dominating it.

2. David Pajo (Slint/Papa M/Pajo) - A post-rock alt-country genre-flitting legend. Pajo has been around a bit managing spells with Will Oldham, The For Carnation, Tortoise, Stereolab, Royal Trux, King Kong, Bush League, Zwan, and Peggy Honeywell as well as his prodigious solo output as Aerial M, Papa M and now Pajo. Just to rub it in he was born in the same year as me. I've got a bit of catching up to do.

3. Johnny Ramone (Ramones) - 1, 2, 3, 4! You have to respect Johnny's ability to play song after song of breakneck rock'n'roll guitar. His biceps must have been made of steel.

4. Larry Parypa (The Sonics) - My recent journey of discovery into Garage Punk and early 60's R&B began after hearing The Sonics first two albums. Their sound is astonishing when compared with their musical peers, the original protopunk band. Larry Parypa's fuzzy guitar and his customisation of the bands equipment helped achieve a wild and distorted rock'n'roll sound that was light years ahead of anyone else.

5. Kirk Hammett (Metallica) - I was a full on Metal fan when Metallica hit the scene. Their arrival took the genre to new levels and redefined what I considered to be heavy rock. Kirk Hammett had replaced Dave Mustaine (another great Thrash guitarist) and Mustaine was mightily pissed off about it for a long time. Hammett was on guitar by the time I saw them tour the UK and alongside James Hetfield's chugging rhythm set a new bar for those rock bands that would follow.

A special mention for Martin Barre of Jethro Tull (who was in this Top 5 until only a few hours ago). He is a brilliantly versatile guitarist who has coped with the changing styles of Tull and Ian Anderson's high expectations since he replaced Mick Abrahams on their second LP.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Top 5 Bassists

Week two of the Supergroup and it's time to find a bass player. This turned out to be almost as hard as drummers which doesn't bode well for finding a guitarist.

1. Mike Watt (Minutemen/Stooges) - I first discovered the Minutemen when they (well Watt and drummer George Hurley) supported Shellac at the Scala a few years back. At the time hearing their early 80's hardcore played on just bass and drums was an aural endurance test but I'm now a confirmed fan. Mike Watt's bass style is unlike anyone else I've ever seen and fits with the story that when starting out he didn't know bass guitars were different from guitars. Watt therefore removed two strings from a guitar and learnt to play with that. More recently he's taken on the role of bass player with The Stooges and seeing him perform their classic songs live took my appreciation of his skill to new levels.

2. Horace Panter (The Specials) - I've been going through a bit of a personnel Brit-ska revival this year and have played the first two Specials albums a lot over the last 6 months. More than a little excited about the prospect of a Specials reunion which I think will be more authentic than the usual in-it-for-the-money reformations.

3. John Entwistle (The Who) - I'm not muso enough to wax lyrical about the Ox's ability with a bass but he was definitely a bit special. Saw him live with The Who on one of their first reunion tours. He was good but I spent more time watching Pete Townsend to see if he was going to spear his hand with a tremolo arm again.

4. Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) - Much like Entwistle, I didn't truly appreciate Geezer's ability until I saw him live. Another reunion tour, this time in Birmingham with the four original Sabbath members. He was superb that night which made me wonder just how good he might have been in his heyday. Set the standard for all METAL bass players that followed.

5. Paul Simonon (The Clash) - Simonon could get in this list based solely on his ability to look very cool indeed. The shot of him smashing his bass on the cover of "London's Calling" says it all. I also like the fact that Mick Jones planned to teach Simonon guitar but when he found that was too difficult decided to teach him bass instead. I reckon at least 80% of bassists ended up playing the instrument for the same reason.

I'm not going to do a full list of everyone who missed out but special mentions must be made for Danny Thompson (Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated/Pentangle), Donald "Duck" Dunn (The Mar-Keys/Booker T and the MG's), Joe Lally (Fugazi) and Kim Deal (Pixies/Breeders).

Friday, 4 July 2008

Top 5 Drummers

Back to music for a bit and I thought I'd compile my contenders for a Top 5 supergroup. Drums, Bass, Guitar, Vocals and a wild card fifth choice. Starting at the back then with the Drummer and I'm in trouble straight away. Got quite a big list of contenders and at least seven I feel I can't miss out. Can I have a Top 5 Drummers that doesn't include Keith Moon or John Bonham? No.

1. John Convertino (Calexico) - I'm no musician and so my choices are not necessarily based on technical skill. That said I'm pretty sure John Convertino is an incredible drummer. He has a great variety of style which covers hard and heavy thumping to more subtle rhythm keeping. Not what you'd expect from an alt-country performer, really powerful and a slick dresser to boot!

2. Dave Grohl (Nirvana) - I tend to like drummers whose style basically involves hitting the drums really hard. Grohl has a little more in his technique than that but still knows when all you have to do is to make a very loud noise.

3. Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt) - Loud and fast. Somehow he provides vocals for the Bolt at the same time. Something you really HAVE to see live. Your head will be ringing by the time it's over. Your ears might be bleeding.

4. Keith Moon (The Who) - Mad but special. I never got to see him live which drops him down the list but there's no way I could leave him out. Unique.

5. John Bonham (Led Zepplin) - The founding father of "very loud drumming". Bonham deserves his spot for the drum beat on "When The Levee Breaks" alone. Then again he could easily have lost it for the interminably long live drum solos he used to play during "Moby Dick".

This is cheating but here are the contenders who missed the cut; Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull), Ian Mosley (Marillion), Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Neil Peart (Rush), Matt Tong (Bloc Party), Todd Trainer (Shellac), George Hurley (Minutemen), Micheal Lee (Little Angels), John Coghlan (Status Quo), Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Ginger Baker (Cream), Al Jackson Jr (Booker T & the MG's).

Friday, 27 June 2008

Top 5 Non-Premier League players at Euro 2008

Whilst I've been enjoying a break from Football since the close of the English season, I've still found time to enjoy the European Championships. England's absence has in many ways made it a much more enjoyable competition to watch. No anguish over our performances or unrealistic expectations about our chances of winning it, just a chance to sit back and watch some entertaining games and some players I wouldn't normally see. I've written this ahead of the semis so don't know who made the final but hope a couple of these players make it all the way.

1. Andrei Arshavin (Russia) - Russia have been one of the surprise packages of the tournament, playing neat passing football and showing great team spirit. Pavyluchenko caught my eye early on, with a vague thought he might be a potential McBride replacement at Fulham. Not very likely since they beat the wonderful Dutch. Yuri Zirkhov also impressed with his relentless runs up and down the wing. Arshavin, having missed the opening two games due to suspension, is the player that could make the difference for Russia. Playing a free role behind Pavyluchenko he's able to roam wherever he wants and is capable of creating chances out of nothing.

2. Deco (Portugal) - One of the few players I had seen quite a bit of before, Deco exudes class as he controls the attacking intent of the Portuguese side. I was also impressed by right back, Bosingwa and we will get to see him in the Prem next season. Pepe the tall ex-patriot Brazilian also looked very good.

3. Nihat (Turkey) - Turkey's progress has been remarkable but fully deserved. They've fought hard to stay in games when they appeared to be outclassed and have players capable of finding some magic to turn the game. The comeback from two goals down against the Czech's was one of the games of the tournament and Nihat's second goal one of the best.

4. Danijel Pranjić (Croatia) - Croatia were "my" team and I was hugely disappointed they didn't progress to the semi-finals. They've got lots of talented players but left winger Pranjić was the one to take my eye. Central defender Simunic looked solid and may be heading to Fulham and Tottenham bound Luka Modric looked a very exciting prospect as well, but Pranjić's constant running and keenness to get good balls in from the left won me over.

5. Marcos Senna (Spain) - Spain are full of talented players, Torres, Villa, Silva and Fabregas have all looked good but you still need someone in your team who can do the hard work. Marcos Senna has played this role excellently, prowling the depths of midfield to protect his defence and allowing the young guns to go off and have fun.

Holland have been the team of the tournament for me and yet I couldn't find one non-Prem player that had stood out for me. Ruud Van Nistleroy was excellent up front, Edwin Van Der Sar outstanding in goal and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst showing a remarkable turn of speed for a man in his thirties.

Germany may yet win it - I've got money on them to do so - but have been typically free of individuals. Ballack is their heart and soul, whilst both Lahm and Podolski have looked good. My favourite German player though is bearded centre back Christoph Metzelder.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Top 5 Big Brother's

Yeah, I know. Thought I'd follow my Top 5 Crap Comedy Movies with a crap TV topic. Big Brother 9 has just started and whilst I can't claim to have completely avoid it so far (Mrs C is still an occasional viewer) I'm trying hard not to start watching it. I know it's bad but what can you do.

1. Big Brother 2 (2001) - In which we enjoyed "Welsh" Helen's sparkling one liners ("I like blinking, I do" & "Cool your boots" being faves) and her "love affair" with "Dull" Paul. Winner and first openly gay contestant Brian Dowling's sharp wit and cutting humour ensured some genuinely funny moments. Elizabeth was nice and Surbiton boy Bubble added some eccentric interest. This series saw the advent of digital TV and extended coverage. I spent far too much of the summer that year watching live broadcasts of the happenings in the house.

2. Big Brother 3 (2002) - In which Sandy became the first housemate to escape. Scaling a wall and climbing over a roof whilst the rest of the housemates watched the England v Nigeria World Cup match. To add cool points, he'd also urinated in a bin before his departure. Kate Lawler was nice and another "love affair" of sorts was struck up with Spencer though every one knew that Jonny the fireman was the more likely suitor. The house was also split into rich & poor sides to add a bit of spice. Oh, this was the Jade Goody series too. The beginning of "car crash" TV and a road that eventually Channel 4 would probably regret going down.

3. Big Brother 1 (2000) - In which a nation tuned in hopefully only to discover this new show would not feature unexpurgated live sex. The star of the show was former novice-nun and Irish national netball player Anna. She should have won. She came second to Craig who went on to make a living doing DIY on daytime TV. Melanie was nice. "Nasty" Nick Bateman inadvertently recovered the viewers who'd left disappointed at the lack of sex, by attempting to influence the voting. He was forced to face an inquisition by his fellow housemates before admitting he was cheating. Channel 4 booted him out of the house via the back door. Then saw the ratings drop again. Hmmm.

4. Big Brother 5 (2004) - In which Channel 4 tried really hard to fill the house with oddballs and nutters so that there was no chance they'd loss them all. The house was smaller and more claustrophobic and (hopeful fans of live television sex) there was one bedroom! The contestants included an increase in the gay contingent (Marco, Dan and Kitten), a transsexual (Nadia), a former asylum seeker (Ahmed), and a couple of self obsessed alpha-males (Jason and Victor). The result was one of the biggest fights the show had ever seen, which probably would have been a ratings winner if Channel 4 hadn't got a bit scared and cut the transmission. The Police were called. Housemates were told off and Emma (who kicked the whole thing off) was taken out of the show. Becki was nice.

5. Big Brother 4 (2003) - In which Channel 4 tried all sorts of tricks to keep the "interesting" people in only to see the show won by an evangelical Christian. Jon Tickle was clearly a bit off the wall and kept us amused for some time. When (as always happens because "the nation" would rather keep the fit people in) he was voted off. Channel 4 surprised everyone by bringing him back for the final two weeks. It was a bit crap. Gos cooked well and was pretty cool. Tania was niiice. Eventual winner Cameron Stout was generally pleasant to everyone and also got to spend a week in the Big Brother Africa house (whilst one of the African housemates, Gaetano, spent time in the UK house).

Clear signs of the law of diminishing returns then, it's been steadily getting more debasing every year since.

My name is Chopper and I'm a TV-holic.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Top 5 Crap Comedy Movies

OK I've had enough of talking about Sitcoms for the time being, got a couple of more to do but they can wait for a few weeks. This started out as my favourite "crap" movies until I realised they were actually all comedies and maybe not that crap. Film comedy is pretty hard to pull off and in compiling this list I wondered if this was actually my Top 5 comedy movies. None of these films would have won any Oscars but then perhaps that's the nature of comedy. They have all been able to make me laugh with repeated viewing.

1. The Big Bus (1976) - A disaster movie spoof like no other. Set on a huge nuclear powered bus (equipped like a luxury liner, with bowling alley, swimming pool, formal dining room and piano bar) as it attempts to travel non-stop from New York to Denver. So many moments that make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I see it. In particular the "The Flags of Many Nations" used to slow down the bus after a bomb explodes damaging the braking system and co-pilot "Shoulders" O'Brien who, despite having big shoulders, actually got his nickname because he has narcolepsy which causes him to fall asleep and drive on the hard shoulder.

2. Mystery Men (1999) - Picked this up cheap on video. Any film with a super hero theme being something I want to see. It wasn't quite what I expected but as with most of this Top 5 repeated viewing has resulted in a greater appreciation. My boys had seen the box lying around and were keen to watch it too and for a while this became THE movie being watched at home. I must have seen it, or at least parts of it, at least ten times now. The Mystery Men themselves have some dubious names and fairly unimpressive powers; 'The Shoveler' can wield a shovel very well, 'The Blue Raja' throws cutlery with great accuracy and 'The Spleen' can aim his highly noxious flatulence with deadly precision. The cast (including William H. Macy, Eddie Izzard and Paul Ruebens - Ben Stiller too, but don't let that put you off. Tom Waits is an eccentric scientist so that balances things out) is fantastic and there's some brilliant dialogue.

3. Team America: World Police (2004) - Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame "Team America" parodies the current state of American foreign policy and in particular George Bush's "war on terror". Inspired primarily by "Thunderbirds" Parker and Stone move from animation to marionettes to great comic effect. Stand out scenes include an extended naked puppet sex scene, lead puppet Gary's descent into alcoholism and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's songs. Comedy at it's most basic level but very funny all the same.

4. Three Amigos (1986) - I'm no fan of Steve Martin and the first time I watched this film, a comedy western with a similar plot to the Magnificent Seven, I thought it was awful. However after a discussion with a friend who'd also seen it had us both in fits of laughter I returned to watch it again and found that I really enjoyed it. The search for the singing bush remains the standout moment for me.

5. Slap Shot (1977) - Cracking movie starring Paul Newman as the coach of an Ice Hockey team that is put up for sale by it's owner. Can't think of much to say about this other than go and watch it.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Top 5 British Sitcoms (21st Century)

Bang up to date and into the 21st Century then. It's harder to be objective about these show as they've not had the passage of time to help sort the great from the good. There does seem to be a resurgence in good comedy though, possibly thanks to the increase in channels wrought by the digital age.

1. Extras (2005-2007)
2 Series written by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
"The Office" may have been more groundbreaking but for me Extras wins out as it's got more laughs per episode. Stephen Merchant is outstanding as inept agent Darren Lamb, and the episode where Kate Winslet, whilst dressed as a nun, gives Maggie advice on how to talk dirty to attract a man is enough to claim first place on it's own.

2. Black Books (2000-2004)
3 Series written by Dylan Moran & Graham Linehan
A hidden gem in the Channel Four listings. Dylan Moran wrote and starred in this comedy about life in a small independent book shop in which the proprietor (Bernard Black) was more interested in downing quantities of red wine than selling books. Some great interaction between Moran, Bill Bailey and Tasmin Greig (often the only three participants of the episode) who bicker and goad each other to escape their insulated world only to repeatedly get sucked back in to old habits. Bernard's foul-mouthed, eccentric, misanthropic and nihilistic views on the world are oddly pretty accurate and in many ways chime pretty closely with my own.

3. Peep Show (2003 - ongoing)
5 Series written by Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
When I first started watching Peep Show it was on late at night which usually meant having to read the subtitles with the sound off. I think I properly discovered it flicking through the channels for anything to watch when I really should have been getting a good nights sleep. The "eye level" point of view created something a bit different that caught my attention as I flicked through endless channels of rubbish. Somewhere between then and now it's actually become quite successful and, having been moved to a more accessible time slot, is currently pushing the boundaries of taste during it's 5th series with a 6th series already commissioned.

4. The League of Gentlemen (1999-2003)
3 Series written by Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
As I write this I've realised that this is possibly more of a sketch show than a sitcom. Too late for me to take it out now, and in any case whatever genre you might think it belongs it's a show that pushes the boundaries of both.

5. The Office (2001-2003)
2 Series written by Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
Wasn't sure I really wanted to have two shows written by the same team in the Top 5 but it's impossible not to have this series included. Painfully cringeworthy at times but still very funny indeed.

Bubbling under but not quite making the final cut are The I.T. Crowd (2006 - ongoing - 2 Series written by Graham Linehan) which I may enjoy more than I should as it so closely resembles my own working life and The Mighty Boosh (2004 - ongoing - 3 series written by Julian Barrett & Noel Fielding) which I'm only just getting to grips with and still haven't decided if it's genuinely funny or just plain weird (could also be a sketch show not a sitcom. Damn! I think I'm losing the plot after 4 weeks of comedy).

Friday, 30 May 2008

Top 5 British Sitcoms (Nineties)

The third week of Sitcom Top fives and we're into the Nineties, a decade that seems so much more recent to me than it actually is. I'm fast running out of ways to say this show is really funny so by next week's Noughties (I hate that if you've got a better way of describing the decade please let me know) it'll probably be just a straight list!

1. Father Ted (1995-1998)
3 Series written by Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews
Genius from start to finish. Dermot Morgan was outstanding as the scheming Father Ted and perfectly matched with Ardal O'Hanlon as simple-minded Father Dougal. Father Jack became something of a legend and gave me a new way to swear politely. Mrs Doyle was just as important to the humour. Great characters and great writing.

2. Men Behaving Badly (1992-1998)
6 Series written by Simon Nye
Partly responsible for "New Laddism" or just reflecting the times? I think it probably just showed what blokes have always been like. Deep down we all just want to slob out on the sofa, drink beer and talk about Kylie Minogue. Incidentally this was rubbish when Harry Enfield was in the original series which just goes to prove that ITV cannot do comedy. Best leave it to the Beeb chaps.

3. One Foot In The Grave (1990-2000)
6 Series written by David Renwick
Richard Wilson was outstanding as Victor Meldrew and although this did little to break away from the traditional white middle class suburban setting that still dominates mainstream television this was comedy with a dark edge.

4. Red Dwarf (1988-2000)
8 Series written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor
At its peak used all the possibilities of science-fiction to their full comedy potential. Rimmer and Lister were perfect antagonists but for me it was the introduction of Kryten that really made the series take off. Ran out of steam a bit in the last couple of series but I don't think I'd ever tire of hearing "Space Corp Directive" jokes - Rimmer: "May I remind you all of Space Corp Directive 34124". Kryten: "34124? No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity".

5. The Royle Family (1998-2000)
3 Series written by Caroline Aherne & Craig Cash
There's a subtlety to the humour that works really well, and, although it is very Northern and working class in it's references, I'm sure everyone can recognise some aspects of it that matches their own family upbringing. Jim and Twiggy dancing to the radio, whilst failing to make any discernible progress with the decorating they're supposed to be doing is an image that will live with me for some time.