Leafing through this morning’s Sunday Times, I thought for a moment that US presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a new nickname of “Roomy”, which I hadn’t heard before. But it would appear to be that in a tempestuous late night battle at the newspaper, a plucky little Spellchecker had taken on the might of the subs desk and slipped in a classic while they weren’t looking. “Romney? Do you mean Roomy?” it sneakily asked. “Replace All”, they happily clicked. “What, 28 times?”, asked the Spellchecker, nervously…
Now, we’re not talking here about looking at the list of your 100 favourite songs of all time and marking which ones happen to be the final track on an album. That would be silly. We’re talking about the tracks which bring an album to a fitting climax, leaving you thinking “Wow!” and perhaps feeling much better disposed towards the body of work than you might have done otherwise. Perhaps they might inspire you to simply let the album play through for a second (or third, or tenth) time when you really should have got on with something else. So many albums start off with the best songs and gradually tail off, after all. And nowadays lots of them “finish”, only to reprise with umpteen “bonus” tracks of questionable quality. So I’m disregarding that sort of rubbish.
I’m also disallowing albums where the final track is the bulk of the album, and the rest is filler (I’m thinking mainly of prog rock stuff where side 2 of the vinyl version is a single epic).
OK then, here we go. Fifteen tracks which lifted an album right through the playoffs into an automatic promotion spot. In alphabetical band order only!
- A Day In The Life – The Beatles (from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
- Play Dead – Björk (from Debut) Play
- Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen (from Born To Run) Play
- Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Utopia Planitia) – The Flaming Lips (from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots) Play
- Afterglow – Genesis (from Wind and Wuthering) Play
- Tour Jacket With Detachable Sleeves – Half Man Half Biscuit (from Some Call It Godcore)
- Tenement Symphony VI: My Hand Over My Heart – Marc Almond (from Tenement Symphony)
- Knights Of Cydonia – Muse (from Black Holes and Revelations) Play
- Champagne Supernova – Oasis (from What’s The Story) Morning Glory?) Play
- Tomorrow Never Knows – Phil Collins (from Face Value) Play
- Brain Damage/Eclipse – Pink Floyd (from Dark Side Of The Moon)
- I Hope You Meet Again – The Saw Doctors (from If This Is Rock And Roll, I Want My Old Job Back)
- Meat Is Murder – The Smiths (from Meat Is Murder) Play
- Empty Cans – The Streets (from A Grand Don’t Come For Free) Play
- Walls Come Tumbling Down!* – The Style Council (from Our Favourite Shop) Play
* The CD version added Shout To The Top. It’d still make it, even with that change.
So Stuart Maconie reckons the golden age of pop is now, does he? Well, I see his point, but for the first time in many years – perhaps ever – I just haven’t been able to put together a top ten albums of the year, because I can’t find ten I like. My initial conclusion from that is, naturally, that I’ve just become a grumpy old reactionary, but it’s equally possible that 2007 was just rubbish for new recorded music. I went to the best list of lists of top albums of the year and found very little decent stuff which I’d forgotten about. Sure, it was nice to have Bruce back with the E Street Band, but I wasn’t that inspired by the albums you could have written into these lists before they were released, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. Even Hvarf/Heim by Sigur Ros, which did enthuse me, wasn’t their best.
Lots of the published top albums lists come from American sources, who are lucky enough to get to include releases like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black because they got that a year later than we did. Otherwise, the outstanding feature of the lists was their eclectic nature – hardly any album got on more than a small handful of them. Consequently, the proportion of the recommended releases which I actually heard was smaller than ever, probably, and not because I spent any less on new music.
I should put a word in for Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Out Of The Woods by Tracey Thorn and Awkward Annie by Kate Rusby, all of which improved my year. But just to make a point, my album of 2007 is the remastered reissue of Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout, one of the finest albums of all time, and allowed in here because it was accompanied by a CD of all-new acoustic versions which are quite sublime.
So, my God-daughter called me a few months before her wedding in Canada to ask: “Would it be possible to broadcast the wedding live on the internet for the family back in the UK?”
And my answer was: “Er… I’ll find out”. Which led me into the fledgling world of live event streaming on the internet. After a short while Googling for appropriate services, I decided the most usable was Ustream.tv, which, incredibly, was also free to use. I set myself up with an account, and made my first broadcast, using my Mac’s built-in camera. It worked fine! I rang up a friend and got him to “tune in” to me waving at the screen, and all seemed well. So far, nothing different from using Instant Messenger or Skype Video, of course, but the difference was that there could have been any number of people watching on their browsers, not just my single correspondent.
Following that success, I just needed to do a few more things. Firstly – of course – I had to check that the church had a broadband internet connection, which I could connect to from a laptop on the big day. The laptop would, in turn, be connected to a video camera. Assured that all the technology was in place, I set up my own web page with the broadcast from my Ustream.tv account embedded in it. This wasn’t strictly necessary (I could have just given people the Ustream.tv page for my account), but it gave me a nice URL on my own web site to direct people towards.
Fortunately there was a wedding rehearsal the day before the marriage ceremony, so I could test everything out. It worked really nicely, and we watched our efforts over the web live on a separate PC. On the big day itself, we had a few minutes of panic in trying to recreate the settings on the laptop to receive the video input, but we went live with a few minutes to spare, and the whole exercise was a huge success. At its peak, the broadcast had 78 viewers (the Ustream.tv page shows you how many people are watching), and by remembering to press the “record broadcast” button, we made an archive copy of our video stream for people to visit in the future. In fact, I later went and embedded this into a special web page on my own site which serves as a nice record (you may wish to ignore the first four minutes!).
A final feature offered by Ustream.tv was taken up enthusiastically by viewers – a “live chat” service. With this, a chatroom is opened alongside the broadcast, which is really great for the viewers to comment on what’s going on. As you can see on my archive page, many of them had a lot of fun with this.
So, in summary, here’s what you need to do if you’d like to broadcast your own video over the internet.
- Get yourself a video camera and laptop which plug together easily. If you’re borrowing or buying a laptop, Macbooks are far easier for this than Windows PCs.
- Set up an account with Ustream.tv
- Broadcast yourself to your Ustream.tv account in the comfort of your own home
- Get someone else to watch your broadcast, live (that’ll force you to find out the URL to quote to people!)
- Work out how you’re going to get broadband internet access at the venue
- Take the video camera and laptop to the venue, connect to the net, and repeat your test broadcast
- Tell the world the time and the URL of the broadcast
- Cross your fingers that it all works on the day. Don’t forget to click “record” as well as just “broadcast” to make an archive copy of your video stream.
Wow. Just back from the wedding of my God-daughter Mel in Canada. To say she looked pretty would be an understatement. A really nice service and a good send-off for Kevin and Mel in the evening. Of course I wish them all my love and best wishes for the future together.