Playlist of the month: Eurovision hits

Unlike last month, I’m actually publishing this month’s playlist mid-month. And seeing as it’s Eurovision week, these are all my favourite hits from previous Eurovision years. My verdicts on this year’s songs are here.

You can listen along to this playlist on Spotify if you wish.

  • “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” by Verka Serduchka. A memorable performance from Ukraine in 2007. Allegedly ‘Lasha Tumbai’ was changed from ‘Russia goodbye’, as Eurovision tries to be non-political (but invariably is). It came second, losing to Serbia. It’s one of those very silly songs that epitomises Eurovision.
  • “Euphoria” by Loreen. Currently holds the record for most votes for any song performed in a Eurovision final and rightly a winner for Sweden in 2012. Loreen went on to win Eurovision again for Sweden last year, although I’m not so keen on her 2023 song “Tattoo”.
  • “Ooh ahh… Just A Little Bit” by Gina G. The British entry from 1996, and an absolute gay anthem. It didn’t win, although it came seventh which is pretty good compared to recent British Eurovision performances (2022 excepted). Gina G is actually Australian, and now Australia competes in Eurovision. Please don’t think too hard about the geographical implications of this.
  • “Satellite” by Lena. A fun little song which won for Germany in 2010. Lena would represent Germany again in 2011 but wasn’t as successful.
  • “Je Me Casse” by Destiny. The Maltese entry in 2021. A friend described this as Lizzo meets Mr Saxobeat (an Alexandra Stan song) and I agree, but it works. It came seventh. 2021 was an unusual event as it was the first show since 2019 and had a significantly smaller audience. Also, four countries (including the UK) got nul points that year.
  • “Only Teardrops” by Emmelie de Forest. This was the 2013 winner for Denmark.
  • “Thing About Things” by Daði Freyr. The probable winner for the contest that never was. This was Iceland’s entry for the 2020 contest that was cancelled due to you know what. Daði Freyr came back with a new song for 2021 but didn’t win.
  • “Diva” by Dana International. This won in 1998 in Birmingham, following Britain’s most recent win in 1997. Dana International was the first openly transgender Eurovision contestant and won with a great song.
  • “Toy” by Netta. Israel’s win in 1998 was followed by another win 20 years later, with this unusual but catchy song.
  • “Glorious” by Cascada. Whilst Cascada’s lead singer is British, this was the German entry for 2013. It didn’t do so well, coming 21st overall.

Eurovision 2024 – my verdicts

An AI-generated image of a performer at Eurovision waving a Swedish flag

It’s Eurovision time again! It’s in Sweden again this year, after Loreen chalked up her second victory last year. The first semi-final was last night, and the second semi-final is tomorrow, with the main event on Saturday.

Watching the Eurovision finals used to be a big thing for us, and we would either go to friends’ houses for a Eurovision watching party or host our own in previous years. However, with an eight-year-old to get to bed, it’s not proved practical in recent years. Still, I’ve listened to all 37 entries on Spotify, and here are my highlights and lowlights:

Douze points

  • “The Code” by Nemo (Switzerland). Heartfelt lyrics by the singer about coming to terms with their non-binary identity.
  • “No Rules” by Windows95Man (Finland). This was the first song that I heard, due to its video going moderately viral on social media a few weeks ago. Very much a novelty song, but catchy.
  • “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” by Baby Lasagna (Croatia). A thumping beat drives this song.
  • “We Will Rave” by Kaleen (Austria). Feels like 1990s Eurodance, but in a good way.
  • “Always on the run” by ISAAK (Germany). A good voice; Germany came last in 2023 (they should have chosen Patty Gurdy) and this is a much stronger entry.
  • “Unforgettable” by Marcus & Martinus (Sweden). Not as strong as some of Sweden’s previous entries but a good performance on Saturday could see Sweden hosting two years in a row.
  • “Liar” by Silia Kapsis (Cyprus). This was ranked top in last night’s first semi final, and rightly so. Silia is only 17 too.
  • “SAND” by SABA (Denmark).
  • “Loop” by Sarah Bonnici (Malta). Malta have put entered some good songs over the years but never seem to win, which is a shame. This is a good one.
  • “Ulveham” by Gåte (Norway). I like this one. It won’t win because songs that aren’t in English rarely do well.
  • “11:11” by Megara (San Marino). As above, unlikely to win but this is a pretty storming song.

Nul points

  • “Europapa” by Joost (Netherlands). Like Austria’s entry, sounds like 1990s Eurodance but not in a good way. More suited to kids birthday parties.
  • “Doomsday Blue” by Bambie Thug (Ireland). This just sounds like a lot of noise and unnecessary shouting to me, but it made it through last night’s semi final.
  • “Hurricane” by Eden Golan (Israel). This is a by-the-numbers Eurovision entry that will probably not get through the semi-finals because of who the host country is. I’m surprised Israel was permitted to take part this year, as Russia and Belarus have been banned for the past three years.

The UK Eurovision entry

This year, the UK will be represented by Olly Alexander from Years & Years with “Dizzy”. It’s not bad; I don’t think it’s the best song, but often success is determined by the quality of the performance on the night.

The UK has had mixed success in recent Eurovision competitions; Sam Ryder’s “Spaceman” came second in 2022, leading us to host last year through Clearing as Ukraine (the actual winners) couldn’t host, due to being invaded by Russia, another Eurovision country. However, last year, Mae Muller’s “I Wrote A Song” didn’t achieve the same success and came second from bottom. Which was a shame as I felt it deserved to do better.

It would be nice if the UK could repeat its 2022 success, but I don’t think it’ll be our year.

Playlist of the month: Covers

Screenshot of the Covers Spotify playlist that I created for this blog post.

So I’m leaving this month’s playlist to the very end of the month. Again. This month, I’m doing some of my favourite cover versions of songs – some of which you may not realise were covers. Here’s the Spotify playlist.

  • Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn”. This was Imbruglia’s debut single, and most well-known. If you haven’t seen David Aramand’s interpretive dance version, you should. Most people don’t realise that this was a cover and was originally sung in Danish.
  • Rage of Light – “Lollipop (Candyman)”. British music fans may be less familiar with the original song by Aqua, as it was never released as a single in the UK. I really like this cover by Swiss heavy metal band Rage of Light.
  • Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse – “Valerie”. I’m sure Amy Winehouse would still be wowing us nowadays in different circumstances. She lent her vocals to this upbeat cover version of a song originally by the band The Zutons.
  • Disturbed – “The Sound of Silence”. Disturbed have done some slower songs in the past (Darkness, for example) but this cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song is superb. I much prefer it to the original.
  • Leona Lewis – “Run”. Originally Lewis sang this as part of BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, but it was subsequently recorded for her album and became a number one single on downloads alone. It’s a cover of a Snow Patrol song, a band that I also like, and both versions stand up well.
  • Aurora featuring Naimee Coleman – “Ordinary World”. This was originally by Duran Duran, but this trance cover version features vocals from Naimee Coleman which were allegedly recorded in one take. A more acoustic version appears on Aurora’s album, Dreaming.
  • My Darkest Days – “Come Undone”. Come Undone is my favourite of Duran Duran’s songs, but this rock cover is also excellent.
  • Bastille – “Of The Night”. This opens with lyrics from Snap’s ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’, but then switches to Corona’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’. I love Dan from Bastille’s voice and this takes Corona’s song in a different direction.
  • Bowling for Soup – “1985”. This was a more well-known version of a song by the band SR-71, but both have different lyrics. There’s also “2002” by Davvn which uses the same melody but updates the lyrics.
  • Kerry Ellis – “Defying Gravity”. This is the best known song from the musical Wicked, and whilst it was originally performed by Idina Menzel, Ellis has also played the role of Elphaba in London’s West End. This version was produced by Queen guitarist Brian May and makes it more of a rock anthem. This is one of my go-to pick-me-up songs.

Patty Gurdy

I’ve been getting a little obsessed with the song Melodies of Hope by Patty Gurdy. Imagine folk-pop music, but instead of a guitar solo, there’s the sound of a Hurdy-Gurdy instead.

I’ve only recently come across Patty Gurdy, through her recent collaboration with Alestorm on their recent single Voyage of the Dead Marauder – which is excellent by the way, and a real return to form. She’s apparently quite big on TikTok, although I’ve decided that I’m too old for TikTok which is why I haven’t heard of her until now.

If Melodies of Hope sounds like it would make a really good Eurovision entry, that’s because it was a finalist for Germany’s entry for 2023. Had Patty Gurdy won, she would have represented her native Germany in the Eurovision finals in Liverpool last year, but her song wasn’t selected. A shame, because I expect it would have done really well. As it was, Germany went for Blood and Glitter by Lord of the Lost, and came last.

I also think it’s worth noting that she isn’t signed to a record label, and all her music is self-released. You can sort of tell, as the production values for her music videos are basic. But when her music is this-good, this is merely nitpicking.

Besides listening on Spotify and buying her music at the usual places like iTunes, you can support her on Patreon.

Playlist of the month: Funeral songs

It’s time for the fifth instalment of my playlist of the month. Whereas last month was a mostly upbeat selection of songs about alcohol, this month is a little different.

Please note that this blog post carries a trigger warning for death and suicide. Please don’t feel that you have to read this if you’re not in the right head space to do so.

Ten years ago, my good friend Dave Jennings passed away. His death, from a heart attack, was completely unexpected and I still miss him even now. Dave was a music journalist, and his review of a record as a ‘daft, punky thrash’ may have inspired Daft Punk’s name.

At his funeral, there were two songs that I remember:

  • Always On My Mind by Pet Shop Boys. This played during the service, and whilst it’s a typical upbeat synth-pop song from the Pet Shop Boys, the lyrics took on a new poignancy that day.
  • Changes by David Bowie. Dave was always a massive Bowie fan. Sadly he wasn’t alive for the release of Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, which I’m sure he would have loved. This played as we entered the chapel at the crematorium.

To this, I’m adding the three songs that I would choose to have played at my funeral, in the hopefully highly unlikely event that this happens any time soon:

  • Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day. “It’s somethin’ unpredictable, but in the end is right / I hope you had the time of your life”.
  • One More Light by Linkin’ Park. The title song of their final studio album, about showing that you care about someone even though they’re not here anymore. Hearing this following lead singer Chester Bennington’s suicide makes it all the more heartbreaking.
  • Whole World Is Watching by Within Temptation. Yes, I had to have a song by my favourite band on this list. It’s a duet, and probably their most radio-friendly song to date.

Build Something Better by Grace Petrie

Album cover for Grace Petrie's Build Something Better

There’s a new album out by queer folk singer Grace Petrie this week, called Build Something Better, and I think you should buy it.

Grace is someone who I’ve seen live a couple of times, mostly supporting Josie Long on tour. She’s always fantastic to see live; not just because her music is great, but because she can work a crowd between songs. I was not at all surprised when she did a stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2022 called Butch Ado About Nothing. Of her previous songs, Black Tie, from her 2018 album Queer as Folk is the one that probably resonates the most with me.

Her last album, Connectivity, reached in the UK album charts without much promotion. Grace is not on a major label – hence the links to her music on Bandcamp – and I gather its appearance in the top 40 was a surprise for her. This time, for Build Something Better, Grace is aiming to get into the charts again. So, if you can, please buy the album today or tomorrow, to give it the best chance of charting.

You can stream Build Something Better on Spotify if you want, or I suppose you can buy it on Amazon (sponsored link). But if you buy it on Bandcamp, you can pay more and more of your money goes to Grace. And it’s available in a variety of music formats, including lossless audio, if that’s your thing, with no digital rights management. However, if you do buy it from Bandcamp, make sure you download it, as simply purchasing the music isn’t enough to count for charts.

I’ve had a listen to a few of the songs so far, having bought it at the weekend, and I’m enjoying them so far. It’s already at Number 17 in the midweek charts, so a few more sales could get it into the top 10.

Pop Music Activism

Screenshot of the Pop Music Activism web site

Have you ever been frustrated that some older music isn’t available on digital platforms like Spotify or iTunes? You’re not alone, and Pop Music Activism is trying to do something about it.

There are several reasons why music is missing from these platforms, and indeed there’s a list of the common ones. A lot of dance music from the 1990s and 2000s is missing, and this is often because songs were released by different labels in different countries. It wasn’t until the late 2000s that Spotify came along.

For some artists and bands, you may find their albums there, but not their singles. So remixes and b-sides are harder to come by. Or you may find that the song you want appears in a web search, but when you follow the link, it’s been geo-blocked.

This is where Pop Music Activism comes in. They track down who has the rights, and politely badger them to get the music online. And it works – the home page of the web site has hundreds of releases that are now available to legally stream and download. There have been some particular successes, such Things That Go Bump In The Night by *allStars, which after becoming available again appeared in lots of Hallowe’en playlists and has clocked up over 4 million streams on Spotify. Whilst Spotify pays a fraction of a penny per stream, it’s more than the nothing that these songs were earning before, due them not legally being available anywhere.

If you want to keep track of what ‘new’ old songs become available, you can follow them on Twitter/X. Usually, there’s something new each week on a Friday. It’s about the only reason I still occasionally log into Twitter nowadays. There’s also a monthly email list which I’m on, but can’t seem to find the subscribe link.

Playlist of the month: Alcohol

Screenshot of the alcohol playlist on Spotify

Time for the fourth instalment of my Playlist of the Month, and this month, it’s all about alcohol and drinking seeing as Dry January is over. Unlike last month, this was a relatively easy topic to come up with.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you want to listen along.

  • Drink – Alestorm. As you’d expect from a band called Alestorm, they’ve written a lot of songs about drinking over their seven (soon to be eight) albums. This was the first single from the fourth (and in my view best) album. Indeed it’s about 11 years ago since I saw them in Leeds.
  • Cigarettes and Alcohol – Oasis. I’m not a big Oasis fan but any playlist about alcohol would be remiss without this.
  • Vodka – Korpiklaani. This Finnish folk metal band has several songs about alcohol, with others including ‘Happy Little Boozer’ and ‘Bring Us Pints Of Beer’. ‘Vodka’ is probably their best.
  • Whiskey in the Jar – Metallica. It’s a traditional Irish folk song but this version by Metallica is probably its best known recording. A staple at any ceilidh.
  • Love Drunk – Boys Like Girls. You can be drunk, and indeed hungover, on love as well as alcohol, and this is one of my favourite songs in this genre.
  • Drinking in LA – Bran Van 3000. Quite the one-hit wonder from 1997.
  • Tequila – Terrorvision. A local band coming from just up the road from me in Keighley; this was probably their biggest hit thanks to a remix by Mint Royale.
  • Tubthumping – Chumbawumba. Another big song from the 1990s. Whilst Chumbawumba have released 16 albums to date, this is by far their most well-known song.
  • Drunken Lullabies – Flogging Molly. Another Irish-themed song; again, Flogging Molly have no shortage of songs about drinking but this is their most well-known song.
  • Beer – Reel Big Fish. And finally, a bit of ska to finish off.

Playlist of the month: duets

When I started this, I thought that thinking of 10 songs each month on a common theme with a bit of context would be easy. It turns out that it’s not. I can easily think of 4-5 songs to fit a theme, but getting 10 is harder than I thought it would be. Hence why this is being posted at 9pm on the 30th January and has been typed out on my iPad.

Last month was, of course, Christmas-themed. This month, it’s all duets, and you can listen along on Spotify.

  • Rewrite The Stars – Zac Efron and Zendaya. The Greatest Showman soundtrack is just amazing. This isn’t my absolute favourite song from the album, but it’s one I come back to a lot.
  • Bring Me To Life – Evanescence. This was never intended to be a duet, and to mark the 20th anniversary of their album Fallen, Evanescence released a demo of this without the added male vocals. The band’s label felt that they wouldn’t have been successful unless this song was a duet; maybe they were right but also being featured on the soundtrack to the film Daredevil (with Ben Affleck) probably helped.
  • It’s Over – Nemesea. Less well-known and sounds a bit like an Evanescence collaboration with Linkin Park. This is my second favourite Nemesea song after ‘Caught in the Middle’ from the same album.
  • What Have You Done – Within Temptation. From the same genre as above, and as a big Within Temptation fan I needed to include at least one of their songs here. They’ve done several duets over time but this is probably their most well-known. Male vocals are provided by Mina Caputo from the band Life of Agony, before she transitioned.
  • Broken Strings – James Morrison and Nelly Furtado. I watched a lot of music TV around 2008/9 and this was massive at the time. Very catchy.
  • Beautiful South – You’re The One That I Want. Yes, it’s that song from Grease, but slowed down. I prefer this version. I think I heard it the first time in a Virgin Megastore, which dates it somewhat.
  • When You Believe – Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Released to promote a somewhat forgotten Dreamworks animated film called The Prince of Egypt in 1998. Both singers get to stretch their ample vocal ranges here.
  • Kids – Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue. A big single released at the height of Robbie’s solo career and just as Kylie was getting back to her pop roots. Great thumping chorus.
  • When You’re Gone – Bryan Adams and Melanie C. Apparently Bryan originally offered this to Sheryl Cole, but this ended up being Mel C’s first solo single. There’s also a version with Pamela Anderson, but it’s geo-blocked from UK Spotify. Maybe that’s for the best.
  • The Boy Is Mine – Brandy and Monica. I bought the CD single of this back in 1998. This musical argument between the two singers allegedly reflected real world animosity, and also wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

So there we go for this month. Hopefully, I’ll have another themed playlist for you for February some time within the next 4 weeks.

2023, quantified

An AI generated image of a business woman standing in front of a series of charts with '2023' at the top

Okay, so we’re in 2024 now, but I’m taking inspiration from Diamond Geezer‘s Summing Up 2023 blog post to post some statistics on things that I’ve done during 2023.

Countries and counties visited

In 2023, I’ve visited two countries: England, obviously, and France.

Over the course of the year, I have spent at least some time in the following English counties:

  • West Yorkshire
  • North Yorkshire
  • South Yorkshire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Greater Manchester
  • Lancashire
  • Cheshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Northamptonshire
  • Norfolk
  • Hertfordshire
  • Surrey
  • Hampshire

This doesn’t include any counties that I have passed through without stopping.

Most distant points

The furthest compass points I have been to are:

  • Furthest North: RHS Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire
  • Furthest South: Futuroscope, near Poitiers, France
  • Furthest East: Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
  • Furthest West: Chester Zoo, Cheshire

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t go very far north in 2023. We will be going further north this year, but are unlikely to go as far south as we don’t have an international holiday planned.

Methods of transport used

I have driven quite a bit this year. As my car’s MOT is due each autumn, I can only estimate the mileage, but I reckon it’s around 10,000 miles over the course of the year. Quite a bit of that was in France.

Train travel has been almost exclusively to and from work – indeed, I’ve only visited four railway stations this year, and every train has been a diesel-powered train. This includes the one heritage railway that I’ve been on, which was the short remaining section of the Derwent Valley Light Railway at Murton Park, near York.

I’ve been on two trams in Manchester, and a few buses, both locally and in Leeds and York. Plus, ferries for getting to and from France. I have not been on an aeroplane since 2015.

Music listened to

My full 2023 last.fm stats are not yet available, but over the year I have scrobbled 13,194 tracks – just 254 less than in 2022. That’s an average of 36 songs per day. Assuming each song is an average of 3 minutes, that’s 39,582 minutes over the year, or 659.7 hours or around 27.5 days. In other words, I spent almost a month listening to music last year.

Whilst I don’t exclusively listen to music on Spotify, on there, pop was my top genre, following by trance, rock, pop dance and Europop this year, according to my Spotify Wrapped. My most-listened to song was ‘Shut Up and Dance’ by Walk The Moon, which I listened to 12 times. To be fair, it is a good song.

Unsurprisingly, Within Temptation was my top artist – I own six of their albums and I’ve seen them live twice.

Books read and listened to

As mentioned in my favourite things of 2023, I read 93 books this year, which adds up to over 20,000 pages according to My Goodreads Year In Books. The shortest book I read was ‘How I Proposed to my Wife: An Alien Sex Story’ by John Scalzi (sponsored link), which was 26 pages long, and the longest was ‘What Just Happened?!’ by Marina Hyde (sponsored link). The printed edition is 472 pages, although I listened to the audiobook instead which is 17 hours long. Not the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to (that was ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaimansponsored link), but certainly one of the longer ones. Overall, the average length of the books I read was 220 pages.

Beers and ciders consumed

I log the beers and ciders that I drink using Untappd, and this year I consumed 35 such drinks (a decrease from 58 in 2022). Of those, 13 were from Brewdog, which may have something to do with what I got for Christmas in 2021. Several of these were non-alcoholic beers and ciders.

Steps taken

I’ve had my Fitbit Versa 3 on my wrist almost all of the time this year, and have taken a total of 3,695,427 steps – an average of just over 10,000 per day. It also estimates that I have climbed 11347 floors, walked 2,717.1 km and burned 1,079,223 calories through exercise.

Time spent learning French

I started Duolingo’s French course on the 1st January 2022 (so I have a two year streak now), and in 2023, I spent 4,947 minutes learning – that’s 82 hours or an average of 13.5 minutes per day. I also learned 4657 new words in French last year. I’m aiming to complete the French course, which will probably see me well into 2025.

So that’s 2023 quantified. I’m sure I could offer more stats, like photos taken, podcasts listened to etc. if I tracked these throughout the year. As it is, I’m relying on various web services that track data for me that I can refer back to. I wonder how 2024 will compare?