Top Pops: Featuring Kanye West

As well as being a Beatles admirer I’m also a big Kanye West fan.  This one’s a little more controversial because he’s obviously a complete idiot, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying his unique brand of hip-hop.  Most of his albums so far have been superb, but today I’ve decided to go a little outside the box and look at my favourite songs including Kanye as a featured artist (thus also excluding anything from 2011’s Watch the Throne as well as Cruel Summer from the Kanye-led collective GOOD Music.). Kanye is a popular featured performer as he usually adds something different while bringing some much-appreciated star power.  I’m sure there are a few that I don’t know, but these are my favourites of the ones I do:

#7 E.T.  (Katy Perry, Teenage Dream, 2010)

Teenage Dream is an album I like a lot, and although in my opinion E.T. is probably the least remarkable of the five singles I still consider it worthy of inclusion as one of the most successful songs of 2011.

#6 This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race (remix) (Fall Out Boy, 2007)

This one is included more out of sentiment and suspicion than merit if truth be told.  I still don’t really know why Fall Out Boy collaborated with an artist of such a different style, but I think it’s an intriguing song that captured my attention a long time ago.

#5 Make Her Say (Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, 2009)

This song is a lot of fun; originally called “I Poke Her Face” Cudi was coerced into renaming it to make it radio-friendly.  It also features Common and an acoustic sample of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, around which the chorus is based.

#4 Run this Town (Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3, 2009)

Into the more serious contenders comes “Run This Town”.  Kanye and Jay-Z are long-time friends and collaborators, and this song, also featuring Rihanna, was a big success.  Kanye’s verse is good enough that it’s even been criticised for overshadowing the rest of the song.

#3 Supernova (Mr Hudson, Straight No Chaser, 2009)

Far more successful in Europe than the US, Kanye’s collaboration with British artist Mr Hudson is a song I have a lot of time for.  Hudson was signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label the year before and the two wrote “Supernova” together.

#2 Knock You Down (Keri Hilson, In a Perfect World…, 2009)

This song, from Hilson’s debut album, is very close to being my favourite.  Hilson, West and Ne-Yo come together to create an R&B classic about love and heartbreak that I really enjoy.

#1 American Boy (Estelle, Shine, 2008)

In truth, “American Boy” was always going to be top of my list.  Estelle’s vocals mix perfectly with Kanye’s humorous verses and the song was a big hit across the world, being nominated for the Grammy for Song of the Year and winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

So it appears that for four years from 2007-2010 Kanye West entered a golden age of collaborations while releasing two excellent albums of his own (and one mediocre one – no prizes for guessing).  2009 in particular was a standout year and the songs from that year take me back to a time in my life I enjoyed; a lot of people don’t like the guy, but he was undoubtedly a big part of my teenage years.

Top Pops: Brad Pitt

William Bradley “Brad” Pitt was born on the 18th of December 1963.  This means that yesterday was his 50th birthday, and what better way to celebrate than by examining some of my favourite films of one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the last few decades?  He’s not a particular favourite of mine, but there’s no denying that he’s been a big part of some terrific films.  There are also a couple of his major pictures I haven’t seen, but these are my top picks of the ones I have.

#7 Thelma & Louise (1991)
Although he plays a relatively minor role in this classic tale of two women on the run, Pitt appears in one of his earliest significant roles as J.D., a young man who hitches a ride with the title characters.  He showcases the carefree attitude for which he would become particularly known later in his career.

#6 Babel (2006)
In an altogether more serious role, Pitt stars as part of an ensemble cast in this 2006 drama from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu.  In one strand of this interwoven film, he plays the husband of an American tourist inexplicably shot in the Moroccan desert.  Pitt doesn’t get too much screen time, but he takes hold of what he has and makes the most of it.

#5 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Pitt gives an  Academy award-nominated performance as the titular Benjamin Button, a man who is born an old man and grows young.  It’s an intriguing concept for a story, and Brad produces a worthy portrayal of a very difficult character to come to terms with.  I’ve only seen this film once and need to dig it out again some time soon.

#4 Moneyball (2011)
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the infamous manager of the Oakland Athletics who tried (and almost  succeeded) to assemble a winning team from a bunch of outcasts and misfits based on their game statistics.  The fact that I enjoyed this tale despite having zero interest in baseball whatsoever tells me that Pitt’s performance was central to its appeal, and his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role backs this up.

#3 Snatch. (2000)
In Guy Ritchie’s very British hit, the man with the same name as two British Prime Ministers plays an Irish-traveller bare-knuckle fighter who cares about very little outside of his caravan and his ma.  It’s a crucial role to the development of the film, and Snatch wouldn’t have all the appeal it does without Brad.

#2 Fight Club (1999)
In an inclusion which will surprise nobody, Pitt plays underground social activist, soap maker and secret fighter Tyler Durden, who wreaks havoc on cities worldwide as well as on the mind of Edward Norton’s unnamed narrator.  This is perhaps his best-known role, and for good reason, as he plays ruthless Durden remarkably convincingly.

#1 Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Basterds was to me undoubtedly Tarantino’s masterpiece until Django Unchained this year (which makes a two-horse race).  Pitt excels as Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a troupe of Nazi-hunting American Jews.  This performance, although somewhat overshadowed by Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa, is a vital part of a superb film and brings a lot of the humour which prevents the movie becoming perhaps too dark.

So it’s clear to see that Brad Pitt is a solid performer, and probably deserves most of the fame he’s accrued.  And at 50, he’s probably got a good few years left in him yet!

Top Pops: Opening Tracks on Début Albums

It takes a certain skill to dive straight into the music business and capture your audience, and not everyone pulls it off as well. Eminem is an excellent example of this; although the opener to his major-label début The Slim Shady LP is the unforgettable My Name Is, the majority of Mathers’ true first album, Infinite, is rather mediocre by comparison (although I’m sure I’ve probably written it off too soon). So today I’m looking at traditionally accepted début albums, not necessarily major label (but at the same time not mixtapes or EPs), that jumped straight into my head from the off and hooked me from then on. (For the record, I’m not counting skits or intros as opening tracks). These are only somewhat in order, and it’s certainly not an exhaustive list (so may produce a sequel some time in the future).

#6 Papercut (Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory, 2001)

Linkin Park let everyone know who they are in the opening track to the best-selling début album of the 21st century, introducing the surprisingly fluent combination of Mike Shinoda’s rap vocals and Chester Bennington’s harder approach, a staple of their success.

#5 Nobody (Skindred, Babylon, 2002)

Nobody is right; nobody expected heavy metal and reggae to blend as well as they do in this opener from the so-called “ragga-metal” ensemble from Newport, Wales. Skindred are a band who I only discovered a few years ago, but I wish I’d heard this record when it first came out.

#4 We Don’t Care (Kanye West, The College Dropout, 2004)

They didn’t care in the industry about Kanye’s ambitions as a rapper for years, having viewed him as more of a producer, but when he finally persuaded them to give him a chance following a near-fatal road accident, he showed them why they should.

#3 Feels Like the First Time (Foreigner, Foreigner, 1977)

Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, and yet so easy to fall for; Foreigner have been showing everyone how the power ballad is really done ever since the aptly-named first track from 1977’s eponymous introduction.

#2 I Saw Her Standing There (The Beatles, Please Please Me, 1963)

Among my favourite Beatles tracks, but then again, what isn’t (step forward Revolution 9); this was a strong contender for my first of the firsts of the firsts. Although unsurprisingly not the first Beatles song I heard, had you bought this LP upon release and stuck on side #1, track #1, I don’t know how you could ever have danced with another.

#1 Bombtrack (Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine, 1992)

This scrapes the top spot simply because I consider it such an appropriate introduction to Rage as a band – every Rage Against the Machine song is a Bombtrack in its own right, and if you hear this song and like it, as I did, then you know immediately that Rage are the band for you. The track introduces the trademarks of almost all RATM songs; Zack de la Rocha’s somewhat unnecessary yet endearing repetition of political-type mantras over Tom Morello’s punishing guitar riffs.

Top Pops: Songs about Mondays

So as I don’t believe I’ve mentioned yet, beyond music and films and books and the like I have a passion for listing, categorising and cataloguing everything I can. In this blog I intend to have an occasional (i.e. when I’ve been too busy to truly pay attention to anything) segment in which I reel off some of my favourite “pops” according to whatever criteria I feel like at the time. I almost called this “Top of the Pops”, but that was too easy (as well as being frankly ridiculous). As such, I’m settling on “Top Pops”, which is less plagiaristic. I’m also not going to commit to a specific number of items in any given post, as I don’t want to call it my top 5 and have to cut out something I actually like, nor do I want to scrape a top 10 from the bottom of a barrel every time. So I’m listing as many as I want to.

And as I’m writing this on a Monday morning (mostly), and Monday morning is always a hot topic, here are my top five songs about (you guessed it): Mondays.

#5 New Order – Blue Monday

I’m including this song because I like it, it’s catchy, and it has good memories for me. Oh, and it has the word “Monday” in the title. However, I’m yet to be convinced that the song really has anything to do with this most miserable of days other than assuring us in the title that they can be, yes, Blue.

#4 Fleetwood Mac – Monday Morning

A nice upbeat song about Monday for once, representing the first day of the week as fresh and exciting. As the opening track on the first album featuring the band’s classic lineup, this song certainly signals the start of something remarkable for me.

#3 The Mamas and the Papas – Monday Monday

This song is a traditional depressing M&Ps number, and although it does give a true impression of how most people feel at the start of the week (slightly melodramatically), listening to this tune isn’t going to help anybody get out of bed.

#2 The Bangles – Manic Monday

A ballad to the archetypal Monday, on which everything goes wrong. As opposed to #3, this song makes me think “It may be Monday, but my day’s not going nearly as bad as hers”. But still. I wish it was Sunday too, girls.

#1 The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays

Well, it had to be this really. The song that (as far as I’m concerned) is the only reason Bob Geldof is actually famous in the first place. Does anybody know another Boomtown Rats song? This one sums up my feelings towards Mondays perfectly, with an almost humorous annoyance. Of course we all wish we could get rid of them altogether, but they’re not the worst thing in the world (ironic, perhaps, that the song was apparently written about a girl who went on a shooting spree and explained herself with the titular phrase). Nobody likes Mondays. The charitable saint that is Bob Geldof doesn’t even like Mondays. And guess what?

I don’t like Mondays either.