FOR MOJO’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY issue, it was important that the customary CD covermount was something special, so we set ourselves a quest: to collect together our favourite music from the entire lifetime of the world’s greatest music magazine (yes, we’re still talking about MOJO).
So we got on the phone to Jack White, Alex Turner, Björk, Bill Fay et al and somehow persuaded them to donate tracks. 20 of them. That’s five more than usual. So unprecedented quality and quantity are in festive alignment. It’s the soundtrack to MOJO’s birthday party and you’re invited. Just add the nibbles and beverages of your choice.
Read the track-by-track below and if you get as over-excited as we did, run out and snaffle a copy of our celebratory MOJO20 package (including amazing CD) before they sell out.
1. Arctic Monkeys – Teddy Picker (2007) Released as the third single from the band's second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, Teddy Picker was the sound of a band confronting the foul pressures and desperate individuals of the early noughties fame game. The band defend themselves with an attack of pugilistic, elastic punk while Alex Turner likens the process to being a dumb plush toy in a claw crane fairground game.
2. The Black Keys – Set You Free (2003) Recorded in “medium fidelity” in Patrick Carney’s basement in Akron, Ohio on a Tascam 388 8-track recorder, Set You Free was a groaning fuzz belter that became the blues-rock duo’s break-out track. Appearing on Richard Linklater’s smash-hit 2003 comedy, School Of Rock, and, more controversially, a Nissan car commercial, Set You Free broke taboos of band “authenticity” and set the duo on the path to stardom.
3. Teenage Fanclub – Sparky’s Dream (1995) Taken from the Glasgow quartet’s fifth studio album, the sweetly disarming Grand Prix, Sparky's Dream was the sound of bassist and co-vocalist Gerard Love coming into his own as a songwriter, an exhausted paean to a girl just too far away, bolstered by ascending Byrds harmonies, images of space and summer and the solid weight and heft of a band playing at their peak.
4. Raconteurs – Steady, As She Goes (2006) Originally released as a limited-edition vinyl 7-inch, this debut single from the quartet formed by Jack White, Brendan Benson and Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of the Greenhornes was heavy-rocking swamp soul, with an angular New Wave beat. At its heart, however, was lightness of touch, a vulnerability that led to remarkable interpretations from both Adele and Corinne Bailey Rae.
5. Midlake – Roscoe (2006) Now that the Tim Smith incarnation of Midlake is no more, the foggy resignation and spooked FM atmospherics of this opening track from the group's sui generis 2006 album The Trials Of Van Occupanther now sounds more extraordinary than ever, a Blair Witch cousin of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, so haunted by melancholy and loss it somehow sounds like it’s prophesying the group’s dissolution, even in the moment of its creation.
6. Mercury Rev – Opus 40 (1999) Possibly inspired by the flickering surrealism of Canadian director Guy Maddin, Anton Corbijn's film for the third single from 1998’s Deserter’s Songs depicted singer Jonathan Donahue as some shivering astronaut Nosferatu, trapped in a school-play moonscape diorama in the American Midwest. Both saccharine and terrifying, small-scale and epic, it perfectly captured the album’s strange brew of lysergic magic and otherworldly vernacular Americana.
7. Fleet Foxes – Sun It Rises (2008) This opening track from the debut album by the Washington baroque collective fronted by Seattle-born Robin Pecknold set out the group’s stall perfectly, bringing 21st Century production voltage to a canny blend of CSNY harmonies, late ’60s UK folk-rock and a lyrical simplicity that hinted at a new kind of pastoral idealism.
8. Palace Brothers – (I Was Drunk At The) Pulpit (1993) A songwriter who helped define the early MOJO aesthetic, in 1993 Kentucky-born Will Oldham was recording as Palace and Palace Brothers, crafting tracks like this heady whisky narrative from There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You. It spins like a badly warped 7" fighting against the needle, referencing strange pasts but looking defiantly forward to new weird kinds of American folk music.
9. Bill Fay – Thank You Lord (2012) It’s an honour to have a track from Bill Fay on MOJO’s 20th Anniversary CD. Jim Irvin first wrote about Fay’s early-’70s solo albums in MOJO in 1998 and Fay has kept up an intermittent correspondence with the magazine since. The reclusive songwriter’s return to the studio in 2012 was nothing short of a miracle, especially with songs as beautiful as this.
10. My Morning Jacket – Golden (2003) My Morning Jacket have undergone many wild incarnations since 2003’s It Still Moves but for many it remains their most affecting record. One of its many stand-out tracks, Golden is a gently rocking blend of Laurel Canyon harmonies and DIY indie production, like the late ’60s warmth of a Capitol Records session echoing up from the bottom of a country well.
11. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Johnny Appleseed (2001) With its easy blend of folk rock and world music, 2001’s Global a Go-Go perfectly defined the late Strummer aesthetic of the universal busker. The opening theme to the short-lived HBO series (and possible Christ allegory) John From Cincinnati, Johnny Appleseed now feels more like a warning from history, the late singer warning us about pollution, global warming and, gulp, dying bees.
12. Jack White – Take Me With You When You Go (2012) With its piano, organ and drums count-in, electric fiddle and fuzzed guitar backing and White’s agitated harmonising with Ruby Amanfu, Take Me With You When You Go remains the perfect showcase for the insane (over)achievement of Blunderbuss, MOJO’s 2012 Album Of The Year. If anything, it sounds more strange, deranged and wonderful 12 months on.
13. John Grant – Marz (2010) It’s a testament to the soaring strength of the melodies and the pure mesmeric power of John Grant’s voice that one of the stand-out tracks on his still-stunning solo debut – Queen Of Denmark – is little more than a stock-list of sweets sold in a drugstore in Buchanan, Michigan. Add a simple nostalgic chorus and we’re in space, in childhood, in raptures.
14. Aimee Mann – Save Me (1999) Thanks to a dispute with her label Interscope, the first place many fans were able to hear the remarkable results of Mann’s second-coming as a songwriter was on the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 portmanteau masterpiece Magnolia, the director’s intimate scenes of familial heartbreak the perfect home for the Virginia native’s songs of melancholy wit and razor-sharp self-deprecation.
15. Ali Farka Toure/Ry Cooder – Soukora (1994) Another track that could be regarded as a point of departure for the ongoing MOJO aesthetic is this Grammy award-winning collaboration between the Malian guitarist and sonic anthropologist Cooder. A sweetly hypnotic melding of African and American vernacular guitar stylings it set in place a collaborative style that would significantly alter the direction of world music and the career of one Damon Albarn.
16. Björk – Mouth’s Cradle (2004) Even for an artist as proudly experimental and defiantly original as Björk, Medúlla was a remarkable achievement: an album crafted almost entirely from voices. Using technology in a quest for music of almost primal force was a distinctly Björkian conceit and resulted in one of the most unlikely pop albums of the past 20 years.
17. Animal Collective – My Girls (2009) On page 79 of this month’s MOJO magazine Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox admits that with their eighth album, 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion “everything flowed really easily... It was all in sync for that moment.” That explains why this track feels so joyous, and it’s the point where the Baltimore group’s psychedelic folk noise playfulness meshed into a new kind of cosmic pop euphoria.
18. Boards Of Canada – Roygbiv (1998) The beautiful electronic soundtracks created by Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin on their 1998 debut album, Music Has The Right To Children have been so quietly influential that to listen to them now is to hear echoes of their influence. From that hauntingly familiar incidental music on last night’s BBC4 documentary to the disquieting experimental electronica of the Ghost Box label, Boards’ legacy is everywhere.
19. Cornershop – Candyman (1997) 1997: a year of leaden rock conformity, but also a time of sonic playfulness with Daft Punk, Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy all diving into a post …..Endtroducing world of samples and cut-ups. Most joyful were the creations of Midlands agit-popsters Cornershop, in which Tjinder Singh's cryptic dream raps were threaded through multicultural collages of deep booming bass and multi-genre joy.
20. Eric Matthews – Fanfare (1996) There aren’t many 1996 albums that still sound simultaneously modern and timeless, but this debut solo release from the Oregon-born musical polymath is certainly one. As evidenced by the album’s sole single, Fanfare, here was bright ’90s pop that allied Nick Drake-esque vocals with the ambitious ’60s studio productions of The Bee Gees, Bacharach, Boettcher and The Beach Boys. It still deserves a wider audience.