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"All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque

I’ve read a lot of great books about World War One - and this is the best. 

In a mere 200 or so pages, Erich Maria Remarque perfectly captures the absurdity, tragedy, humour, horror, camaraderie and waste of war. This book packs so much in, and it is beautifully and simply written. 

A room full of German schoolboys, in 1914, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their teacher into enlisting for Germany’s glorious war, where inevitably the young boys become old men in a matter of months. No one back at home can ever understand the horror of this new mechanised style of warfare and quickly the boys, robbed of their lives and their youth, realise they only have each other. Inevitably, one by one the boys die or get injured. 

Erich Maria Remarque touches on many aspects of the conflict: the violence, the terror, the politics, the home front, the pettiness, and so on. 

If you only have time to read one book about World War One then read this. It’s stunning.

5/5

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"The Ministry of Fear" by Graham Greene

A perfect book: accessible, clever, beautifully written, evocative, tense, and quietly profound. A palpable sense of dread and unease runs throughout the story set in the early years of World War 2 in England, primarily London.

On one level the book is a simple story of espionage, fifth columnists, and a hapless man who gets caught up in things he does not understand however there is far more to it than that. The story, which starts at a sinister fete, and rattles along from the word go, also muses on innocence, patriotism, self-delusion, psychology, memory, complexity, love, deceit and heroism.

5/5

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It’s Friday.  Hurrah.

Let’s get this part started with one of the finest songs of all time…

The Clash - White Man In Hammersmith Palais

After all that excitement you’ll need a bit of a lie down.  Here’s something to set yourself adrift on memory bliss…

Fleetwood Mac - Albatross

Here’s a magnificent Curtis Mayfield production from 1973 to take things up a notch

Patti Jo - Make Me Believe In You

Quite enough excitement there so let’s have one of the saddest songs ever made, and remember Joy Division at the same time.

Joy Division - Decades

No, wait, come back.  We’re going to finish on a high.

Dexys Midnight Runners - Plan B

Have a great weekend.

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"Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" by Bob Stanley

Arresting, beguiling, comprehensive, diverting, exciting, fabulous, groovy, hit-filled, inspiring, joyous… you get the idea.

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is a trove of fascinating opinions and insights from Professor Bob Stanley who - in addition to being a a member of Saint Etienne, a journalist, compiler of fine compilations, and a film producer - has a PhD In Musicology.

If, like me you ever listened with impatient anticipation to the latest top thirty chart run down, pen in hand, or pause button primed, then “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" is your Bible. It’s all here, the entire modern pop era, from NME’s first chart published on 14 November 1952 (Al Martino’s "Here In My Heart" at number one pop pickers) to "Crazy In Love" when, as we know, the story becomes far less interesting.

750 pages of illuminating excellence. I came away with a c500 song poptastic playlist. Yes, it’s really that good.

5/5 

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Hey ho let’s go

Farewell Frankie Knuckles, a true innovator and legend.  I regard disco and punk as flip sides of the same coin - both genres, at their inception, were genuine outsider scenes for the freaks and the misfits. Both genres crossed over into the mainstream, with all the compromises and dilution that inevitably brought with it.  Frankie was there at the beginning.  RIP.  I absolutely adore this track…

Frankie Knuckles - Your Love

I’ve been absolutely loving “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop" by Bob Stanley and every page sends me back to classic tunes from yesteryear.  Here’s one of many examples..

Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine

This next song popped up on my iPod earlier this week and reminded me about the timeless majesty of Slade’s 1970s singles.

Slade’s songs weren’t music, they were aural graffiti, slabs of working class consciousness spray painted across the wall of the Establishment, each new song more misspelled than the last. - Dave Thompson

Slade - Mama Weer All Crazee Now

Here’s another Bob Stanley inspired choice.  The greatest b side ever released?  

The Beatles - Rain

And finally, for no reason in particular, here’s…

The Smiths - Girlfriend In A Coma

Have a wonderful weekend.

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It’s Friday.  Here’s five…

Ask me what my favourite track of the moment is.  Go on.  Well, seeing as you asked, it’s Todd Terje’s version of “Johnny and Mary” with guest vocals from Bryan Ferry.  It’s from Todd’s forthcoming debut album. This slowed down, slurred, melancholic take on the Robert Palmer song is total genius.

Todd Terje - Johnny and Mary (featuring Bryan Ferry)

Recently there’s been a plethora of amazing dub releases.. Killing Joke, Dubblestandart, Dub Club, Bill Callahan…. dubtastic..

Dubblestandart - Golden Life feat. AmA

There’s some songs that I just come back to again and again and again - and I’d say not a week goes by when I don’t play at least one song from “Astral Weeks”.  I’d probably take it to that island if I could only take one album with me.

Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

A new Tackhead album is always cause for celebration and the new covers album is a very funky affair and one I recommend, anyway that took me back to one of their very best…

Tackhead - Stealing

I find it quite surprising that J Mascis’ solo albums are so pared back and  so beautiful and such a contrast to Dinosaur Jr, but they are, and I love them.  This is one of my favourite songs from “Several Shades Of Why”..

J Mascis - Where Are You

See you next week.  Have a great weekend.

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The Human Kind by Alexander Baron

I can now add a third book about World War Two to my growing list of masterpieces about the conflict. The Human Kind wasAlexander Baron's third work, first published in 1953, and based on his World War Two experiences. It was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011. 

Alexander Baron's first novel, From the City, from the Plough(1948), was a best seller. It was based on Alexander Baron's own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches. 

Baron went on to write many London novels which were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation. 

This is the second book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999), the first was the excellent King Dido (1969). I now intend reading everything he ever wrote. 

The Human Kind is a fascinating little book, a sequence of unconnected though clearly autobiographical vignettes of life as a young soldier. The stories appear chronologically and chart the journey of the narrator from enthusiastic conscript to war-weary veteran. The beautifully written stories provide little glimpses of a wide variety of personalities. It’s all here: the young, the old, cynics, idealists, corruption, depravity, wisdom, kindness, culture clashes, intolerance, violence, surprises, and the surreal. I cannot praise this book highly enough. It’s extraordinary. Each tale has the ring of authenticity and each vividly illuminates an aspect of life during World War Two. The only caveat being the final story, which is an anomaly, however this does not detract from the magnificence of this short, punch, memorable collection.

5/5

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Hurrah - it’s Friday.

It’s always good to see Dreadzone come to town, and that’s exactly what happened last weekend.  Choosing “Little Britain” is perhaps a bit predictable but what the heck…

Dreadzone - Little Britain

Here’s one of my favourite Faces tracks and one that never fails to get me grooving.  Great clip of the band too…

Faces - Bad N Ruin

I’ve been enjoying a lot of Ramones this week.  Here’s…

Ramones - Swallow My Pride

In a parallel universe this Junkshop Glam classic was number one for five weeks…

Hector - Wired Up

Things don’t seem to have worked out quite as well as they might for Willy Moon but I still say this is a superb track that always brings a smile to my face and my hips a-swivelling..

Willy Moon - Yeah Yeah

Well groovers - that’s it for another week.  Here’s to a great weekend.

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It’s Friday - let joy be unconfined.  

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I’m not quite sure why I’ve only just come across Congo Natty but, there it is.  I’ve never been totally convinced about Jungle however his 2013 “Jungle Revolution" album seems to my ears to be the perfect  mix of roots, dancehall, jungle, rave and punk.  It’s inventive, energetic, eclectic and is getting a lot of air time on my various music players. Jah Warriors is a good illustration of all that’s great about Congo Natty…

Congo Natty - Jah Warriors

I’ve also been listening to a lot of classic 1960s pop music.  I finally got my mitts on the Small Faces Immediate Box Set, in addition to dipping into the Amen Corner back catalogue (most of it, again, on Immediate).  For a brief period this week Spring seemed to have arrived here in southern England and that made me think of Summer and all the Summer classics including the sublime…

The Lovin’ Spoonful - Summer In The City

A new Metronomy album is always a cause for celebration.  I’m still getting to grips with his however “I’m Aquarius” leapt out at me

Play "I’m Aquarius" two or three times and you will be humming it all day.  It also makes me want to compile a playlist of my favourite horoscope-referencing tracks which would obviously be topped by “Float on” by The Floaters….
"I’m Larry…Cancer"

Metronomy - I’m Aquarius

Here’s an album I discovered when working in the Our Price record shop in London’s Oxford Street as a teenager.  There were a lot of older guys in the shop who introduced me to some incredible older music that I was blissfully ignorant of until then.  One artist was Tim Buckley and in particular his 1972 album "Greetings From L.A." which everyone in the shop grew to love.  It’s a masterpiece.  You probably already know that.

Here’s “Make It Right”…

Tim Buckley - Make It Right

Well, that’s all well and groovy but it is Friday, and it is the weekend, so we need something to get us jumping about and feeling good to be alive so I’m going to go for my favourite Glam Rock track of all time, actually it’s one of my favourite pop records in the world ever…

"Are you ready Steve?…"

Sweet - Ballroom Blitz

Have a great weekend.

Over and out.

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"The Railway Man" by Eric Lomax

The Japanese treatment of their Prisoners Of War during World War Two is about as monstrous as it’s possible to imagine. Curiously though, and despite some horrific personal experiences at the hands of his captors, Eric Lomax's account is most memorable as an inspiring, humbling and remarkable reminder of much that is good about humanity. 


There is so much in this book: early Scottish childhood memories; a lifelong obsession with railways; joining a Christian sect as a teenager; travelling to India as a Royal Signals soldier; the disastrous fall of Singapore in 1942; torture and beatings by the Kempetai (the Japanese secret police); Changi, the notorious labour camp in Singapore in 1945; survival against the odds; liberation; Eric’s undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Eric’s eventually rehabilitation; an unlikely love story; and finally, acceptance, forgiveness, and friendship and reconciliation with one of his captors.

The writing is simple and accessible, the contents profound and memorable. An exceptional memoir.

5/5