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Stephen Pennell ©

To mark a hundred blogs on King City Online, editor Stephen Pennell lists a hot one hundred of his favourite West Midlands tunes…

I’m A Man - The Spencer Davis Group

Gimme Some Lovin’ is also considered a masterpiece but speaking as a Mod this one just edges it for me. (Both sold a million copies in the US by the way). Quite simply the greatest British Mod single of all time, sung by the greatest ever white soul singer, and I say that as no fan of cultural appropriation. There’s an interview somewhere on the ‘net in which Winwood is asked about his influences and (if my memory serves me correctly) he talks about Ray Charles (obvs) and Otis Redding. “Any white singers?” asks the interviewer, to which Stevie replies with a curt “no”. A shame he left the Spencer Davis Group when he did as they were taking Soul Music to places that even Black America hadn't reached, but four top ten albums in the US for Traffic and his incredible later solo success screams 'what the hell do I know?' Fun facts; The SDG were signed by Chris Blackwell of Island Records after a gig at The Golden Eagle in Hill Street, and Traffic were formed at the notorious Elbow Room in Aston.

Free Nelson Mandela - The Specials

A keen politico, I was aware of the plight of Mandela long before hearing this anthem, but there’s no doubt it increased awareness and opposition to the disgusting apartheid regime in South Africa, and received the ultimate co-sign as it was adopted by protestors in the streets and townships of that rapidly-changing nation. So with all due respect to Woody Guthrie and Bobby D, that for me makes it the greatest protest song of all time.

This Is What She’s Like - Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Have you got ten minutes? It’s worth it to hear this epic symphony of blue-eyed Brummie soul, including a wonderful spoken intro that mentions The Little Nibble, a long lost cafe in Bearwood. Warning: the lyric contains a rather harsh judgement on Moseleyites. I lived there for a while myself but I try not to be offended!

Blue Lights - Jorja Smith

Take a Dizzy Rascal sample, add your own atmospheric instrumental, emotional narrative and evocative chorus, upload it to Soundcloud and fame, fortune, Brit awards and fawning critics will surely follow - on two provisos: it has to be an utterly brilliant song sung by a stunningly talented singer.

Day Is Done - Nick Drake

When Chris Blackwell sold Island Records, he did so on the proviso that the buyers would always keep Drake’s three albums on the label’s catalogue, such was his regard for the Tanworth-in-Arden troubadour. Drake was a true songwriting genius, his family’s ‘Midlands legends’ status further enhanced by the fact that his sister Gabrielle was in Crossroads, which in turn prompts me to recall that this song once played over the closing credits of a particularly dramatic episode of Corrie. Stitch that M*nchester…

Tyler - UB40

Signing Off is one of the most important Brummie albums, and the beginning of a sparkling career for the band. Every track is a contender, but I picked the opener because it sets the agenda for everything that follows. Brian Travers’ signature sax, the yearning for political change and racial justice - I liked it so much I named a son after it. Many artists do a great job of representing the city of Birmingham - UB40 embody it.

Toothache - Jaykae

The icy beats, atmospheric backing vocals and intense delivery of dozens of great bars led to this song being included on the soundtrack to iconic, 50 Cent-produced hit TV show Power. Shaquille O’Neal was watching, tweeted about it, and now here we are, 14 million views later. That’s for the official video though - I think this one one better showcases the genius of the lyrics:

We’ll Live and Die in These Towns - The Enemy

Which towns? Well, considering group leader Tom Clarke is from Castle Bromwich in Birmingham and attended Park Hall school, then met the rest of the band when his family moved to Coventry in search of a better education for him, it’s safe to assume that it’s those towns he’s referring to. The song itself reminds me a little bit of The Smiths’ urban melancholy, but with bigger balls and more empathy for the people being sung about.

From Under Liquid Glass - Peace

Are you wearing your steel toe-caps? I’m about to drop some names…

Kurt Cobain’s daughter Francis Bean cited this as her favourite song of the decade (2010s) and I’m minded to agree, but then again for three days out of every seven Peace are my favourite band in the world, and Harri’s voice and lyrics have never sounded better than on this one. The song will always remind me of a triumphant return journey from a gig in Bristol by The Novus, the band’s drummer Euan giving this the full beans next to me on the back seat as it played out on the aux, with lead singer Connor Hill driving and Edie from Cage Park in the passie.

Blinded By The Lights - The Streets

A blurry-eyed reminder of nightlife at the turn of the millenium, when coachloads of 24-hour party people from all over the country came to let their hair down at Wobble, Miss Moneypennys, God’s Kitchen and Sundissential in the rave capital of the UK - Birmingham. And no-one summed it up better than Mike Skinner on this absolute masterpiece. Enjoy the video, then listen to The Streets’ classic album A Grand Don’t Come For Free to find out what was really going on in the song.

I Must Be Mad - The Craig

More Mod magic from the King City. A fantastic frisson of Freakbeat, voted the second best psychedelic song of the sixties by The Observer (after Pink Floyd's Arnold Layne - a track like this one with a Brummie drummer). The Craig were short-lived but Handsworth's Carl Palmer went on to great success revolutionising rock drumming with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster, Asia and of course Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

TBC - AffieJam

47 - MIST, Stefflon Don, Sidhu Moose, Wala, Steel Banglez

King City - Swim Deep

BBT - Sanity

Iron Deficiency - Yikes

Cum On Feel The Noize - Slade

Journey With No End - The Novus

In My Element - The Clause

Joy Affair - Sugarthief

On Your Own - Overpass

Ugly - Tydal

BX19 - M1llionz

Mirror In The Bathroom - The Beat

DIV - Lady Leshurr

Mood Ring - TrueMendous

Livin’ Thing - Electric Light Orchestra

Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag - Pigbag

Hundred Mile High City - Ocean Colour Scene

Guapa - The Twang

Fire Brigade - The Move

Ride My See-Saw - The Moody Blues

Erdz Boy - Mowgs

My Life - Depzman, Jaykae, Dapz On The Map

The Stranger - Call Me Unique

Please Be Kind - Jaws

Coconut - Macka B

Ku Klux Klan - Steel Pulse

Arranged Marriage - Apache Indian

Saharan King - Lycio

Mundian To Bach Ke - Panjabi MC

Whatever I Do - Certain ft. Ange Lloyd

I Don’t Mind - Glass Ceilings

Edge of This - Eliza May

Gales Doc - The Nightingales

Beady Eyes - Sipho

Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out - Poppy and The Jezebels

Don’t Let Me Down (Gently) - The Wonder Stuff

Turtleneck Boy - Spilt Milk Society

No Don - Lotto Boyzz

Three Wish Genie - The Elements

Esse - White Flag Dares

Opening Up - The Circles

The New Consistent - The New Consistent

Sirens - LaDharma

Drum and Bass Father - Devilman

To Isabelle - The Assist

Love and Affection - Joan Armatrading

Indigo - Katherine Priddy

That’s Alright - Laura Mvula

Heartache - Table Scraps

The King (You and Me) - Sam Lambeth

Your Balloon Is Rising - Stone Foundation, Paul Weller

Chicken Bones - Cult Figures

Emergence of Forgotten Power - Pagans SOH

All Sparks - Editors

Lightning - Cage Park

When You’re Depressed - Go-Kart Mozart

Is There Anyone Out There? - Mighty Mighty

Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth

Where The Rhythm Takes You - Makin’ Time

Mood Bomb - Superfood

Cross Me - Point A

Rudi’s In Love - Locomotive

Higher Heights - Young Culture Band, Ben Mckone Dub Mix

I’m Not The Man I Used To Be - Fine Young Cannibals

Good Enough - Dodgy

Comin' Over Here - Stewart Lee, Asian Dub Foundation

The Girl Who Waves At Trains - The Lilac Time

Track of the Cat - Pram

Where Could I Go? - The Singing Stewarts

Since I’ve Been Loving You - Led Zeppelin

Mighty Hard Time (A Prayer) - Ruby Turner

Come On, Let’s Go - Broadcast

Thank You - Jamelia

Nazi Punks Fuck Off - Napalm Death

Talking With Myself - Electribe 101

International Rescue - Swell Maps

Made Up Love Song #43 - Guillemots

Leopard Print Onesie - The Humdrum Express

Long Gone - Lekky ft Sanity

World Shut Your Mouth - Julian Cope

The Bristol Road Leads To Dachau - The Prefects

Birmingham Crew - Yatez ft. Latisha Gordon, Mowgs

Def Con One - Pop Will Eat Itself

The Wizard - Black Sabbath

She Wants A Man From Brum - Safone, Trilla, PRessure0121, Bomma B

Wound Up - Namiwa Jazz

The Tunnel of Love - Fun Boy Three

You Don’t - Ruth Kokumo





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