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.

Film Pop: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Year: 2013
Director: Adam McKay
Stars:  Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd etc.

2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is widely regarded as one of the most popular comedy films of the last ten years, and so when in 2012 a long-awaited sequel was finally announced, there was a lot of excitement surrounding its release.  This ultimately came about in December 2013, and on the weekend, in a much-appreciated trip to the cinema, I went with my girlfriend to see Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues.  We’re both fans of the original, and while there was a little apprehension (on my part at least) that it would be unworthy it was the anticipation of a good laugh that was the overriding feeling.  Spoiler alert:  we weren’t disappointed.

legendcont1Anchorman 2 finds Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) as a successful anchor-couple for a high-profile news network in New York City, until Veronica is offered the nightly news alone and Ron fired by outgoing news legend Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford).  Ron, unable to accept his wife’s success, abandons her and his young son before spiralling into depression and alcoholism in his native San Diego.  He is offered a chance to join the revolutionary 24-hour news channel, which he accepts having rounded up his old news team of suave reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd), ignorant sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and unique weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell).  At the new network, Ron and his team are handed the graveyard slot by boss Linda (Meagan Good) and strike up a rivalry with classy anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) while Ron tries to win back his wife from new “psychic” boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear).  The team devise an ingenious plan to boost ratings with popular stories about cats, cars and America while Brick strikes up a relationship with fellow oddball Chani (Kristen Wiig).  At the height of his popularity, Ron alienates his friends before becoming blind and moving to a lighthouse where he reconnects with his wife and son before regaining his sight and returning to news.  While on his way to his son’s piano recital, proving his worth as a father, Ron and the team are caught up in an epic newsteam battle including reporters from ESPN (Will Smith et al), CBC (Jim Carrey, Marion Cotillard et al), the BBC (Sacha Baron Cohen et al), the History Channel (Liam Neeson et al), Entertainment Tonight (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler et al) and MTV News (Kanye West et al).  Ron is rescued by his old San Diego rival Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn), with a little help from Gary’s psychic powers and Brick’s gun from the future.  The film ends, but not before Brick and Chani marry and Ron is saved from a shark by his faithful dog Baxter.

Man’s best friend… Shark’s worst enemy

So in the end my fears were almost totally unfounded, and The Legend Continues was a very funny watch.  The original cast remain dependably amusing (with a special mention to Steve Carell) while new additions such as Kristen Wiig and Greg Kinnear provide their fair share of laughs.  Although of course some of the plot is a little questionable, the outrageous nature of some of the humour as well as a ridiculous, unexpected series of cameos towards the end more than make up for this.  It’s not winning any serious awards, but it’s a seriously funny film if you like the kind of base humour characterised by the first film (and most Will Ferrell movies, to be honest).  It’s an entirely worthy sequel to 2004’s blockbuster, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

My Rating:  7.5/10

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.