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Good Songs, Good Covers.

Okay, I admit - there were some truly abysmal covers in that list. That Sugababes action… yeah, I have to make up for that. So this time, here are some really great covers of genuinely good songs. 

Lake Street Dive - "Faith"

George Michael’s biggest hit from his 1987 debut solo album Faith was the titular song, "Faith". With it’s Bo Diddley beat and George in the peak of his post-Wham bad boy image, "Faith" isn’t a song you’d ever forget. It also isn't a song you could do justice to easily - so why try to do it George’s way at all? 

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Covers: The Best of the Worst

Giorgio Moroder ft. Britney Spears - "Tom's Diner" (Craig Vanity / Dimitri Vegas / Martin Garrix Remix) (2015)

Recently, the editor of this website sent me a link to a strange thing - the Britney Spears cover version of Suzanne Vega’s "Tom’s Diner". It was so bad, it was good. Well, no - it wasn’t good but it was catchy. It sent me into a hopeless downward spiral of terrible covers that I hadn’t heard in years and so of course, I must now put you through the same pain.

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The Joy of the Soundtrack: Misfits, Nashville and American Horror Story

Nashville

I’m a big fan of television show soundtracks.

Not scores - I find those fairly boring, personally - but I love a well soundtracked TV show and find that it adds an excellent layer to the narrative. There are many, many TV shows with fantastic soundtracks - here are two that stand out in my TV-watching experience over the last few years. Well, and I may mention a third - although I don’t mind admitting that it is a bit of a sneaky indulgence that probably just deserves its own post.

Misfits

This British show started off with some of the best, most fun episodes I’d seen on TV in a while. The first series was just 6 episodes and that was the worst thing about it - that there just wasn’t enough of it. The show did go on for another few seasons, but let’s never, ever even mention 4 and 5, ‘kay?

So what happens when a group of delinquents in South London who are just starting community service for various crimes are hit by a freak electrical storm and gain strange powers? Do you really think they’ll become superheroes? They’re not ‘good’ people - they’re all here because they’ve done something wrong, so who is to say they’ll then use their powers for good? And, anyway, haven’t we had enough of using your powers for good? And I don’t mean in the super-villain sense, just in the "oh shit, but how can I use what I’ve got to fix my life" sense. You know, ordinary petty criminals with selfish desires - they’re just like you and me, really.

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Power Ballads: Vampires, Cheetahs and Thunderdome

Every_Rose_Has_Its_Thorn-CoverWhen your editor says "Power Ballads!" and your mind doesn’t immediately start hearing Poison’s "Every Rose Has It’s Thorn", it means you may not have the same understanding of power ballads as everyone else. Hell, if you even heard Miley’s version of that track, you’d be okay - but if you didn’t, then you’d better explain just what you think power ballads are. 

And by you, I mean me.

With that in mind, here are some songs that I consider power ballads. You may notice they are all big melodramatic numbers with power vocals and lyrics that are easy enough to remember. A solid chorus can take a power ballad a long way - even further if comes with a defiant rhythm that forces you to sit up and chair dance. Sometimes they go acoustic, sometimes they don’t. But there is always an element of great theatricality in them, sometimes verging on camp. (And they’re not all from the 80s.)

 

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7 Songs That Defined Pop Music

Pop!Pop music as we know is a strange little beastie, all sparkly and prickly, brash and uber-opinionated. But it wasn’t born this way.

Most of the roots of contemporary pop music can be traced back to early American blues and soul, with a steady stream of influences all pouring down and becoming what we now know as pop, rock and hip hop - or what I sometimes think of as poprockhop because there are frequently just so many blurred lines.

It probably isn’t possible - or right, or fair - to trace the roots of popular music to just a handful of songs, but I’m going to try anyway.

Here are seven songs that explain to me where contemporary pop has come from, seven songs that define the cultural heritage of popular music today...

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7 Deadly Sins: The Best Earworm Pop of 2014

When writing about music from 2014, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that you just hate it all. And that’s fine - a lot of it was really, really bad. There were also some really cool releases from people like St. Vincent, Damon Albarn, Beck, The Black Keys, but the smart, thoughtful music is never the stuff that plays everywhere and is heard by everyone. No, that's the lethal stuff, the earworms that make you sing along and chair dance before you’ve even worked out the name of the song.

The obvious earworms for 2014 were by Beyonce, Pharrell and "Let It Go", but they weren't the only ones. Here are a few of my own favourites (or... at least the ones I found wormiest) from 2014. I do not claim they are all fantastic pop songs - only that they dig their long sparkly highly manicured nails deep in your brain. 

So here they are, my 2014 ear worms, in no particular order. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course Tay-Tay goes first.

Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"

Taylor Swift Shake It Off on Vimeo

Taylor Swift and the Cult of the Awkward White Girl, they called it. Taylor Swift the Hurricane, they said, as she stormed up the charts with "Shake It Off", the first single from her fourth studio album, and the very first to be overtly stated as a pop album. The country super star had been a crossover hit before but never like this. And finally, all those thinly disguised confessional lyrics from her previous albums gave way to a cool, pure, from-the-heart bird-flip to everyone who ever made fun of Taylor Swift, while drawing her fans in closer than ever before. This isn’t Taylor lashing out in anger or resentment, this is Taylor beyond anger and resentment, this is Taylor rising above, while accepting that America’s sweetheart is a great big goof and it’s okay

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Gaga Ooh La La

GagagagagagagagaWhen I sat down to write about Lady Gaga this month, what I didn’t know was just how much the critics had panned her last major solo studio album, ArtPop.

Sure, she seems to be having a successful run with Cheek to Cheek, her 2014 collaborative album of jazz standards with Tony Bennett (more on that later because it may be crazier than most of the obviously crazy things she’s known for), but there’s been a lull in the fame and celebrity surrounding Gaga for a few months now. The woman who arrived in an egg at the Grammys, the woman who wore the meat dress (which apparently really stank), the woman who performed with a ‘vomit painter’ on stage, the monstrous feminine, the mother creature, the weird fiction narrative come to life... is now wearing jumpsuits and her original hair colour, and crooning with an 88 year old performer of show tunes. She’s doing it well, by all reports, but it’s just not as interesting, is it? 

With Tony Bennett, Gaga is a tempered-down version of herself. She's still occasionally seen with green hair or pink, but when she's with Bennett, she has gone back to her original dark brows and hair (even if styled as a 70’s Cher style ‘fro or Princess Leia braid) and her patented get-ups are reduced to swishy long dresses made of regular boring materials like silk. She’s relying totally on her voice to carry her through this, which is great since, surprise - she really can sing. I do miss the spectacle element, because that’s something so much a part of what she does, but in a way it’s sweet that she’s respecting the much older, more experienced entertainer she’s with by not distracting from what they accomplish with their voices alone. 

What no one wants to talk about is 2013’s ArtPop - the album and accompanying music videos that seem to have left everyone cold. Maybe Gaga went her own way and she just didn’t connect with as many people, maybe it all finally just got too weird, maybe the music industry is crazy to not consider an album that still sold over 2 million copies a success, but still, I have to agree: nothing that came from ArtPop felt like it had the longevity of something from The Fame Monster.

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Thunder In Our Hearts: the Music of Kate Bush

Kate BushI’m just going to say it: Kate Bush is the Angela Carter of music.

For both, the following apply: people who have been exposed to her work are left changed and will cite her as an inspiration at every turn; a generation above or below may never know of her and the loss is entirely theirs; her fans have a cult-like love for her; she always knew exactly who she was as a creator, as an artist; no one will ever be able to work out just how she did what she did. Visceral, earthy and effortlessly charming, both Bush and Carter are iconoclasts who have informed so much music and writing that it is impossible to measure the breadth of their influence. They’re also both genre artists.

Kate Bush isn’t someone you can listen to without having your attention torn away from everything else - she’s never going to be background music. She’s never written a conventional pop song, even when she wrote a conventional pop song. She uses disruptive rhythms, changes key all over the place and sings with ferocity even when she’s whispering. You can’t not give her your ears, your eyes and probably your soul too. Even when she couldn't possibly have known who she was or who she wanted to be as an artist - at age 13, 16, 19 - she still somehow figured it out in a secret way, a way that allowed her to retain creative control over her work and win almost each battle with her recording company. It’s quite something that Kate Bush always got to do what she wanted to, that she could make a commercial label like EMI release an album as strange, as surreal and as esoteric as, say, 1984’s The Dreaming. Maybe it was the 80s. Maybe she just had better contracts drawn up for creative control than Prince did back then. But it’s a feat in itself to be able to control your career the way she did at such a young age.

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Friday Five: 5 Pakistani Action Heroes

What does it mean to be an action hero? Is it not just saving the world via a great many well-choreographed fight scenes? Or is it enough that you’ve changed the course of history, silently, sneakily? What about if you’ve spent your time making sure kids don’t get typhoid? Does that count? And what if you’ve been an actual action hero - a stuntman? Because Pakistan has had each of these, each celebrated locally and, for some, internationally too. And no, they’re not all men. They are, however, exceedingly camp. Because you wouldn’t want them any other way. 

Sultan GoldenSultan Muhammed Khan Golden

A true action hero. And by "true action", I mean In Real Life. Like Evil Knieval, only third world and so probably facing more danger with every stunt. Sultan Golden was Pakistan’s premier stuntman, known for his elaborate and death defying stunts involving a variety of automobiles, motorbikes, fire and a curly mullet. A CURLY MULLET. In Pakistan. The man  defied reason in every way.

Sultan Golden, dressed in a snazzy gold jumpsuit would ‘jump’ a golden Datsun (that’s right - a Datsun. Pakistan’s been big on Japanese cars for decades) over a string of a dozen parked cars. He’d ‘fly’ a motorbike through a ring of fire. He’d drive through three burning wooden walls. He’d speed through a sixty foot tunnel of flames. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1984, he broke world records by ‘jumping’ his motorbike over 22 cars. In 1990 he performed a reverse motorbike jump over 15 cars. It wasn’t enough to jump over cars and risk death facing the front - he had to do it backwards. All of this with only home-made ramps, a leather jumpsuit, and a helmet to protect his fantastic hair. I mean head.

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Friday Five: The Apocalypse in Music (2000s Edition)

This week's guest is radio host and book reviewer Mahvesh Murad. Mahvesh can be found interviewing authors for 89 Chapters and spinning the blues [does one spin blues? I'm so not cool] for Voodoo Nights, both for City89, Pakistan's top radio network (and both shows can also be heard through your computerbox). 

As an afficinado of both genre fiction and fine music, Mahvesh has done a list of... well, er... see for yourself. It is pretty spectacular...


Making a list of songs about the end of the world is easy. Making a list of songs from the last decade about the end of the world isn’t as easy - especially when you’re looking for good songs from a decade you don’t appreciate so much. But, it isn’t impossible. Here’s my list of five songs about the apocalypse from the last decade, in no order of preference. 

Britney Spears - Till the World Ends

When Britney was good she was fantastic. When she was bad, well, she was a mess and we all know it. What was the very worst though, was when she was neither good nor bad - tracks like If U Seek Amy languished in that middle ground: so boring, so bored. Britney with her dead eyes and her limp moves; Britney, with everything that made her that glistening snake goddess in 2001’s I’m a Slave for You stripped away; Britney, hair grown out, sobriety claimed, and without soul. This Britney tried very hard to fake it, but it didn’t always work. What did work though, was 2011’s Till the World Ends. A solid dance floor anthem with a chorus that even Cher would have been proud of in her 90s disco days, Till the World Ends is probably Britney’s best song, post-comeback.

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