The vinyl record format was supposed to have been badly wounded by the introduction of CDs and killed off completely by the ipod-generation that bought music online.
But the latest phenomenon (once again) in a notoriously fickle industry is one nobody dared predict: a vinyl revival. Latest figures show a big jump in vinyl sales in the first half of this year, confirming the anecdotal evidence from specialist shops throughout the UK.
So, deciding what songs everyone must hear on vinyl, is like films we must see in 70 mm it becomes a process of rigorous debate and insults. So, I’ve come up with twenty I’d love to hear on vinyl.
And I’m asking what’s missing for you? Songs you feel you’d love to hear on vinyl.
So here I go and in no particular order of preference.
CRAZY IN LOVE
If Jay-Z and Beyoncé were slightly coy about their relationship before this single, it was pointless being in denial thereafter. Producer Rich Harrison sampled the horns from Are You My Woman (Tell Me So) by the Chi-Lites for the infectious hook and the sexual frission between America’s first couple (pre-Obama) did the rest. Perhaps the greatest single of this millennium, it will still sound great in 50 years, and there aren’t many songs you can say that about nowadays.
Bowie’s greatest song concerns love’s ability to transcend anything, even the nuclear face-off between Nato and the Warsaw Pact. While recording the album of the same name in cold war Berlin, he glimpsed a couple kissing in front of the wall, finding inspiration in the juxtaposition of romance and barbed wire. Knowing the lovers helped: it was Bowie’s then-married producer Tony Visconti sneaking off with backing singer Antonia Maass.
KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG
The 1996 Fugees version was the bigger hit, but Flack’s original is far superior. Though she didn’t write it herself, she sings it as if her life depends on it, and the simple, piano-based arrangement underscores her quiet urgency. Flack started out singing jazz, and you can hear it here, in her restrained and elegant treatment. By contrast, the Fugees felt the song wasn’t complete without lumpen rapping, and their cover is well-nigh unlistenable.
SWEET CHILD O’ MINE
Axl Rose could go back into hibernation for another 17 years and still not better the rock majesty of Sweet Child O’ Mine. Slash’s opening riff, which he originally dismissed as filler, defines the sound of a band who could have ruled the world, and for a year or two, pretty much did. Rose wrote his “first positive love song” about his then girlfriend and, beneath the bombast and bacchanalia of the band themselves, it displayed a rare, tender glimpse into Rose’s psyche.
The song that made a cult Canadian les country singer into a Grammy-winning crossover chanteuse never mentions love by name. But there are few songs that convey the essence of desire so seductively. As the acoustic guitars, piano, accordion and Byrdsian twangs find a midway point between swagger and swoon, Lang’s lush voice sounds like a giddy dream of love‘s rapture. “Always someone marches brave. Here beneath my skin,” she croons, and you feel the fear that keeps the dream at bay.
I’LL STAND BY YOU
Classic pop ballads evoke that “Ooh, where have I heard this before?” feeling on first listen. Always a strong singles band, the Pretenders’ swelling tale of unswerving loyalty (“Nothing you confess. Could make me love you less”), co-written with Like a Virgin veterans Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, treads that fine line between wedding reception schmaltz and fist-in-the-air defiance with a consummate, understated ease. Even a Children in Need version by Girls Aloud couldn’t wreck this one, although they gave it their best shot.
YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE
A much-loved example of the Supremes’ irresistible innocence, this Holland-Dozier-Holland classic remains a staple of any self-respecting girl-group DJ set. The lyric makes the case for patience and the sound advice of a girl’s loving mum, but it’s also about Diana Ross’s unique ability to express youthful longing, and the peerless Funk Brothers rhythm section of Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson creating one of the most imitated up-tempo dance riffs in pop history.
Damon Gough’s early lo-fi EPs on the Twisted Nerve label he launched with Andy Votel had already made him a cult figure, but it was his debut album The Hour of the Bewilder beast that really signalled Badly’s arrival. On the opener, a cello and French horn give way to Gough’s acoustic guitar as he recalls meeting his girlfriend for the first time: “Remembering when I saw your face. Shining my way, pure timing”.
SHE LOVES YOU
The Fab Four’s biggest-selling UK single remains one of the most exhilarating examples of pop joy ever recorded. A high point of Lennon and McCartney’s early, shared song writing, the harmonised “yeah yeah yeah”s and wild “ooh”s became the early Beatles’ most recognisable sonic trademarks. But the lyric – inspired by a McCartney idea to write a song in the third person – is intriguingly odd, slyly suggesting that the singer has been doing the dirty with his friend’s heartbroken ex.
It’s often suggested that only Americans can write songs using evocative place names. But Duffy’s debut single, Rock ferry, was an ode to self-imposed seclusion in grandma’s Wirral outpost and Warwick Avenue maintained this knack for giving her songs a sense of place. It’s a situation that’s easy to identify with – the writer running through her thoughts on a tube ride towards a meeting which will mean the end of a relationship – and Warwick Avenue has an equally familiar Bacharach-like swing. Thanks to a typically gutsy vocal, we’re left in no doubt that, for the song’s recipient, Warwick Avenue marks the end of the line.
YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME
Co-written with Kanye West, this languorous, amorous daydream of a song eventually finds its happy ending. Keys sings as a frustrated cafe waitress, yearning for a regular customer who is blithely oblivious to her very existence. After wishing her days away with dreams of first dates and sweet kisses, she finally plucks up the courage to call him and unrequited love blossoms into a beguiling fairy story.
Prompted by the personal intervention of monster US label head Clive Davis, Simon Cowell broke reality-show convention with Leona Lewis, eschewing his familiar convention of farming out winners to Scandinavian hit factories for an instant return on their recognition. Instead, he dedicated a year to turning her into an international star. The singer herself first heard Bleeding Love at writing sessions, under Davis’s direct auspices, with heavyweights in LA and couldn’t rid herself of its curious, thunderous hook. Was it about self-harm? Menstruation? Or the simple old wound of heartbreak? At her insistence, it became her first single, lending Cowell the one thing he had failed to secure driving a commercial juggernaut across culture: credibility.
UR SO GAY
Perry’s debut single carefully courted controversy: was it a shameless slice of tired homophobia or, as Perry would have it, a swipe at lame straight boys “wearing guy liner and taking emo pictures of [themselves] in the bathroom mirror”. While there’s a sense that – as with I Kissed a Girl – the shock-horror attitude is grafted on for effect, it did what all good pop music is supposed to so: get under people’s skin. Nice whistling, too.
ALWAYS ON MY MIND
The original version was sung by Brenda Lee in 1972, and Always on My Mind has since been recorded more than 300 times by a plethora of musicians. It’s the King’s version, however, sung with seductive intensity, that stands out. Recorded shortly after his divorce from Priscilla, there’s a mien of genuine regret running through the track like a silver thread. It’s the sort of confessional ballad that Elvis did so well. Pining, lovesick, full of sombre epiphanies but, here, he never resorts to sentimentality.
Though a song written with teenagers in mind, this stand-out ballad from the Automatic For the People album was an object lesson in how to attain universality without becoming vague or trite. Whether heard as a break-up song or an attempt to counsel against suicide (“When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life – hang on”), Michael Stipe’s impassioned vocal offers a comforting shoulder to anyone lost and alone. The orchestra was arranged by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.
WITH OR WITHOUT YOU
A brooding, hypnotic song about the violence of love and lust – “On a bed of nails she makes me wait” – apparently inspired by repeated listens to Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter album. It’s a deceptively odd song, with no clearly defined verse or chorus. Instead, the intensity slowly builds around a pulsing four-note bass pattern as Bono unwinds one of his most wracked vocal performances. An emotionally draining tour de force.
SAY YOU WILL
Knocked sideaways by what he called the “Shakespearean tragedy” of the death of his devoted mother following plastic surgery, and the split from his fiancée, West poured out his soul on his 2008 album, 808s and Heartbreak, showing glimpses of a hitherto unseen humility. In a complete departure, the rapper barely rapped on his fourth album, instead half singing, half talking, his voice given a cracked, ethereal feel by Auto-Tune, nowhere more than on the epic opening track Say You Will. It’s lonely at the top.
YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD
The second single from the Back in Black album is an unusual heartbreak song in that the disdain and bitterness is reserved for its author. “I told you I was trouble” she warns, before “little carpet burns” give away her infidelity when she is in the bath. The version of the song with Ghost face Killah, on his More Fish album, is equally good.
AIN’T NO SUNSHINE
West Virginian singer-songwriter Withers was still making toilet seats in a factory when he recorded this first of his much-loved major hits. An elegant cross between down home folk-blues and uptown orchestral soul, Ain’t No Sunshine’s melancholy melody is perfect for its resigned images of a man alone in the dark, waiting for a lover who may never return. Withers repeats “I know” 26 times in the bridge because he hadn’t got around to finishing the lyric.
Wonder may have been in artistic decline by 1980, but he still possessed enough of his old brilliance to craft three-minute epics, if not flawless albums. Fuelled by his joy at Zimbabwe’s independence and his regard for his fellow great Bob Marley, with whom he had toured earlier in the year, this highlight of the patchy Hotter Than July is characterised by Wonder’s infectious optimism as he bids farewell to minority white rule over a thrusting, exultant reggae rhythm. Little did he know how Zimbabwe would later unfold.