Today marks my fiftieth birthday. So, as a music lover and blogger, what better way to celebrate than by sharing my ten favourite songs about being fifty, or mostly just with the number 50 in their title?
To be slightly more accurate, these are pretty much the only ‘fifty’ songs in my collection. Extensive Googling revealed there are a fair few other ones out there, but not really any that I felt deserved the chance to join this list.
There will certainly be at least one more celebratory article later this year, which remains work in progress at this point.
I could have instead chosen to share my top 50 songs, bands or albums, but that is both an awful lot of work, and far too difficult to do properly, so here goes, in no particular order.
1. The Fall – 50 Year Old Man
Obviously, this makes the list and starts proceedings off. A song by my all-time favourite band that isn’t The Beatles with 50 in the title? Talk about a no-brainer.
This is an 11-minute-plus epic from 2008’s 26th studio LP Imperial Wax Solvent, co-written by Mark E. Smith with bassist David Spurr, although MES was notoriously unreliable in allocating credits accurately, so take that with a cellarful of salt.
Unsurprisingly, I got this album within a couple of weeks of its release, and I saw them ‘promoting’ it at the late Nation in Liverpool that autumn. This was a rather drunken occasion, as I’d persuaded my mate Andy to accompany me, much against his better judgement.
Checking online, I can see that they played the 1983 classic b-side Wings that night, and closed with 1988’s fine Carry Bag Man.
That was the penultimate time I was able to twist someone’s arm to accompany me to see them in Liverpool, with My Beloved Wife being the final guinea pig.
Anyway, back to the song, which starts with some classic late period MES growling. After four minutes, it descends into banjo picking for some reason before the song returns in a more electronic guise.
The opening lyrics are typically obtuse, recalling their utter classic Eat Y’self Fitter from 1983:
The final two minutes seems to be an entirely different song. So, this is somewhat The Fall in microcosm.
2. Aimee Mann – Fifty Years After The Fair
This is track two on Aimee’s first solo album since ‘Til Tuesday broke up, Whatever from 1993, which I bought from the very HMV mentioned above in September 1994.
My records reveal that in fact I bought ten CDs from HMV that day, each costing a tenner, so you can do the maths! This haul included two by John Lennon, a Jimi Hendrix pair, and Kraftwerk and Nirvana albums.
The Virginian Mann is one of those artists I started buying everything by, who has since fallen by my personal wayside. So, I have all her first four LPs, but none of the subsequent five, with the most recent being issued in 2017, but my latest one being from 2002.
Some of the record is a bit ‘nice’ and AOR, but this song is a great poppy tune, with some fine twin vocal lines. Amazingly, this song features both legendary session drummer Jim Keltner (veteran of recordings with the likes of Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan, and multiple albums by John, George and Ringo), and head Byrd Roger McGuinn.
3. Rev. F.W. McGee – Fifty Miles of Elbow Room
I have this gospel number on the wonderful six-disc Anthology Of American Folk Music compilation that I was given by My Beloved Wife for my birthday five years ago.
Written by Herbert Buffum, who apparently published over a thousand songs (!), it was first set down by Vaughan Happy Two in 1930, with this recording coming out two years later.
Intriguingly, it’s also the name of an online music store, specialising in blues, gospel and free jazz.
4. 50 Foot Wave – Bug
Not a ’50’ song, but a ’50’ band. Kristin Hersh formed 50 Foot Wave in 2003, ten years into her solo career and at a time when Throwing Muses’ eponymous reunion album had also just been released, so she was a busy bee.
This is from the self-titled debut ep issued in March 2004. It features some wild guitar by Kristin, sounding most like a rocking Muses, perhaps unsurprisingly.
5. Edwyn Collins – 50 Shades Of Blue
This great soulful, very jaunty pop tune was the lead single from 1989’s solo debut Hope And Despair, which I didn’t acquire until July 1991. It includes some nice flute work from Edwyn himself.
Roddy Frame features on much of the album, but not this particular tune. The lyrics are typically wry, with one of my favourite parts being:
“I’ve been blessed with some bright ideas
So bright I thought that they were heaven-sent.
But now I’m 6 months in arrears, divine inspiration sure don’t pay the rent.”
6. Joy Zipper – 50 Ways
This typically fine indie pop tune comes from their Baby You Should Know single, which was originally on the 2003 American Whip album.
I saw the Long Island outfit four times in London between 2003 and 2005, and they were always a great night out.
They were definitely partial to a number in a song title – they recorded 1, Like 24 (6+1=3), 2 Dreams I Had and 33x as well.
Sadly, this song isn’t on Spotify, nor could I find it anywhere on YouTube, so I’ve uploaded the song so you can all hear it!
7. Biff Bang Pow! – Fifty Years Of Fun
This was Alan McGee’s band’s first single in 1984, the third ever release on Creation, which reached the heady heights of #31 in the UK indie charts. The band were of course named after a classic tune by 60s garage rockers The Creation.
I’ve got this on the Waterbomb compilation, a great one-stop shop if you don’t want all the albums (which I have too!).
This sub-two minute track starts off with some nice Byrds-y jangle (very I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better), and is a fine shambling number.
8. The Aardvarks – 50 Hertz Man
This is from their Bargain album, a minor power pop gem from 1995, with some great harmonies and psych backwards guitar work. This was seemingly the only LP by this West London band.
This one is also not on Spotify, so enjoy the song here only:
9. Cocteau Twins – Fifty-Fifty Clown
This is from Heaven Or Las Vegas, their sixth album and final one for 4AD, released in 1990. Although their most commercially successful LP, hitting the UK Top 10, it’s not as good as the preceding Blue Bell Knoll to my ears.
I saw them touring this album at Sheffield City Hall, but they were never a particularly convincing live outfit.
This number is them at a time when the vocals were clearer than ever, and the beats edging towards dancey, so not exactly archetypal Cocteaus, or even one of their best songs, despite featuring on the Stars And Topsoil – A Collection (1982-1990) compilation.
10. Paul Simon – 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
This was the biggest hit from Still Crazy After All These Years, Simon’s fourth solo album that came out in 1975. It hit #1 in the US, apparently his only solo chart-topper there, and reached the Top 30 in the UK.
It was written in response to his divorce from first wife Peggy Harper. Amongst those featured on the track were background singer Valerie Simpson, later of hitmakers Ashford & Simpson, drummer Steve Gadd, whom of course I know best from Macca’s Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace albums, and guitarist Hugh McCracken (who played on Ram, as well as John & Yoko’s Double Fantasy).
Here’s to another fifty years! One can but dream…
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Here are most of the tunes on Spotify: