heard on the wire

I’m lost in a world of digital sound


Metal music, in all its multifarious incarnations, is a strange beast, lurching from the unlistenable to the uninhabitable, from the incoherent to the, well, even more incoherent.

And it’s not something that bothers me too often; there’s only so much a tattoo-free, short-haired, undenimmed 40–something-year-old man can listen to. Then something like this comes along.

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The grapes that went ripe in the sun


Four is the only number that has the same number of characters, in English, as its value, a fact so useless that it deserves to be in the opening paragraph of four’s Wikipedia entry—and with dodgy syntax to boot.

There are four gospels, four horsemen of the apocalypse, four elements and four books in James Ellroy’s LA Quartet. In cricket, contrast the elegance of a beautifully-timed four with the crudity of a six, while football gives us the balanced symmetry of the back four.

Rock ’n’ pop music couldn’t exist without four. It’s timing, it’s the audio controls on a hi-fi and it’s the classic line up: voice, guitar, bass and drums. There were four Beatles, four in the Clash, four in Joy Division and New Order, four Smiths (most of the time) and Four Tops.

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Everybody ready? Let’s go 1, 2, 3!

Lithium 3

This song means something
Every song means something

According to a Latin adage, everything that comes in threes is perfect. Two’s company, three’s a crowd, according to anyone trying to get rid of unwanted company.

All of which is little help when we assess the part that the number three has played in the history of rock ’n’ pop. Unlike one and two, it plays no part in the soundcheck and while most music fans can name a favourite chart topper or runner-up, few recall a beloved hit parade bronze medalist.

And rare is the drummer who counts one, two, three before launching into the next song. Unless four is “Go!”. Ado has three letters and without further of it…

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You don’t have to be Prince if you want to dance

Peel Warhol

I talked in my last post about BBC Radio 2’s poll to find the most popular number two records ever. Although their selection was restricted to the popular chart and thus based on the crudest of metrics, it wasn’t without merit. The rundown of 40 tracks chosen from a shortlist of 100 would make a listenable compilation, albeit with finger poised over the skip button.

But what of the best number two records of all time, the ones chosen by the discerning listener? I am, of course, referring to the legendary (ie. relatively obscure) festive fifty, the chart that John Peel compiled every year from 1982 to 2003, the chart based on listeners’ selections of the best three records of the year.

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The alcohol loves you while turning you blue


Ten months ago I wrote, “And then there was one. Which, as you all know, is the most important number in the history of rock ’n’ pop music.” And now there is two, which as anyone who’s ever been to a sound check will know is the second most important.

For the commercially minded, number two may conjure up memories of those records that famously and narrowly failed to reach the top of the charts. Most famously of course was Vienna, the Ultravox single recently voted as the best number two of all-time.

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Quotes as jokes and coke

Grace Kelly

I have to temper my expectations when a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart record is in the offing.

It’s a requirement born of experience. Back in 2011 I couldn’t have been more excited about an LP than I was about the band’s follow-up to their self-titled 2009 debut.

Because while the debut had been impressive enough, 2010 saw the band release not only the two best singles of the year, in the process scattering the dust that had settled on my fantasy desert island disc selection.

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