Arctic Monkeys, A to Z

Those of you who understand the significance of this blog’s name could probably guess that I’m a massive Arctic Monkeys fan. I was 16 and in high school when I first heard their music through my computer’s speakers, and from that moment onward I knew that they would be the defining band of my generation. Since then, their music has provided the soundtrack to my life; When driving I blast Flourescent Adolescent, when I’m at a bar I always select The View From the Afternoon on the jukebox,  when I’m heartbroken I strum the chords to The Only Ones Who Know on my crappy acoustic guitar. I’ve seen them perform several times, at one point driving half-way across the state that I live in to do so.

My world wouldn’t be the same if I’d never discovered their music, so here I’ve provided a brief guide to the Arctic Monkeys, an A to Z introduction to the four guys from Sheffield who changed my life.

A is for Alex Turner

Jamie Cook may strum the guitars, Matt Helders may bang the drums, and Nick O’Malley may provide the bass riffs, but the heart, soul and vision of the band lies in Alex Turner. Moody, shy, introspective, Turner’s heavily accented  vocals and sophisticated wordplay are what elevated the Arctic Monkeys from just another indie band in the wake of the Libertines and Strokes into the voices of a generation. He’s the greatest English lyricist since Morrissey, a fact that’s evident in nearly every tune the group produces, whether it’s the hyper-realist, night on the town anthems of their early years or the abstract, poetic ballads they’ve been producing as of late.

B is for B-sides

- most of which are just as good as their singles and album tracks. In Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts, Turner remembers that one cruel girl who broke his heart, leaving him for a better looking, more popular teenage rival. In The Bakery, what I consider to be one of the most romantic and gorgeous songs ever to tackle the subject of unrequited love, the subject laments over chance after missed chance to talk to someone he fancies. No Buses, which technically isn’t a B-side as it is found on their EP Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?, compares falling in love to the archetypical wait at the bus stop, where after waiting for ages, two potential lovers always come at once. Catapult describes a charming womanizer, adept at breaking hearts. That’s what’s brilliant about the Arctic Monkeys; You may think you know them well, you own all their albums, and yet every time you discover one of their singles or harder to find EP’s, you’re rewarded with a treasure trove of clever lyrics and melodies that you’ve never heard before.

C is for Covers

- which reflect their, *ahem*, eclectic influences. In the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge they’ve covered Love Machine by Girls Aloud and Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good, they’ve performed Dame Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever at Glastonbury, recorded their own versions of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand and Barbra Lewis’ Baby I’m Yours as B-sides, and as part of their Humbug tour they performed snippets of Dion’s Only You Know, Wham!’s Last Christmas and Patsy Cline’s Strange as an interlude during Fluorescent Adolescent. Not to be outdone, of course, the Sugababes infamously performed a soulless cover of I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor during the NME awards and as a B-side to their single Red Dress:

D is for Dizzee Rascal

The real godfather of grime (Wiley can piss off as far as I’m concerned) has had a pretty interesting history of collaborating with the guys, beginning in 2007 with Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend, a b-side to Brianstorm. The song evolved into Temptation, a track on Dizzee’s third album Maths + English. They’ve performed together several times, most notably during their headlining 2007 Glastonbury set (See letter ‘G’).

E is for End-Of-Year Lists

-which they’ve often topped. Their debut album has been declared the best album of 2006the fifth-greatest British Album ever and the fourth-best album of the Noughties by the NME. The album was also named “Album of the Year” by  Q, Crossbeat, Time, and Hotpress Magazine, and it probably would have topped Rolling Stone‘s end-of-year chart as well if it’s ancient writers weren’t too busy drooling over the latest Bob Dylan re-release. Their following albums also found similar acclaim, most notably Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Receiving the Mercury Prize

F is for Favourite Worst Nightmare

After the overwhelming success of Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not, it seemed as though the band’s generation-defining debut would become their albatross. So instead of trying to duplicate the chip-shop, kitchen-sink realism of their first endeavor, Turner and Co. crafted a diverse follow-up featuring rip-roaring guitar anthems, surf-rock arias and soul-searingly beautiful ballads.

505, the album’s closing track from which this blog derives its name, are some of the most exquisite four minutes and forty-four seconds of music that you will ever hear, reaching its ravishing climax at the words “I crumble completely when you cry.” Impressive for a song that only contains two chords. Due to a mistake on iTunes, all the tracks on the album charted on the UK Top 200 at the same time, with lead single Brianstorm charting the highest at # 2.

Favourite Worst Nightmare

G is for Glastonbury

The lads headlined United Kingdom’s biggest festival in 2007 alongside the Killers and The Who a year after they released their debut album and two years after they had finished their A-Level exams. Bad sound hindered parts of their performance, like when Dizzee came on stage to join them for Temptation and the audio cut out. But despite all that, it was still one of the most memorable sets in Glastonbury history. Some magnificent human being took the liberty of posting the entire thing on YouTube, so give it a watch.

The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury

H is for Humbug

The band’s third album found them flying out to the Mojave desert to record with Josh Homme (See letter ‘Q’) as well as recording in Brooklyn, New York. It was a major departure from the lyrically driven first two albums, featuring abstract lyrics and instead focusing on guitar melodies and a desert-rock sound. It still received just as much critical acclaim as it’s two predecessors, but managed to slightly disappoint fans of their earlier style. Spin put it best when they described the album as “accomplished, but not particularly infectious.” Personally, this is my least favorite of the Arctic Monkeys’ four albums, not that  it’s unlistenable, far from it, it’s just that it doesn’t sound as if it’s the product of the band that I know and love. Nonetheless, it still has some fantastic stand-alone songs, including Cornerstone, Dance Little Liar, My Propeller, Secret Door and of course Crying Lightning. It’s brilliant, but it just isn’t Whatever People Say I am . . .

Humbug

I is for I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor

In 2005, following a series of sold-out performances across the country which included a gig in front of over 2000 people at the London Astoria, two weeks before their first NME cover and four months before their debut album would be released, I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor was released as a single. Riding a wave of hype that had been building from the first moment they put their tracks up on MySpace, Dancefloor went straight to number one, knocking the aforementioned Sugababes out of the top position and surpassing Robbie Williams. It’s by far their most popular song, evident in the number of obnoxious louts who decide to use the song as an opportune moment at gigs to slamdance with each other, spilling their beer everywhere. The song permeated nearly every facet of pop culture, to the point where even Alex Turner got sick of it for a while.

J is for James Ford

A founding member of Simian and Simian Mobile Disco, Ford is probably best known for producing some of the best indie albums of the past decade, including Klaxons’ Mercury-prize winner Myths of the Near Future and Florence and the Machine’s Lungs. Most notably he’s worked on most of the tracks on the last three Arctic Monkeys albums, and is credited with helping the lads develop a more mature, melodic sound.

James Ford

K is for Kane

Solo artist and former lead singer of The Little Flames and Rascals, Miles Kane can in many aspects be considered the fifth Arctic Monkey. After developing a strong friendship with Turner while the opening for the Monkeys on tour, Miles was invited to play guitar on 505, Plastic Tramp and The Bakery, after which the two went on to work on side project The Last Shadow Puppets (See letter ‘L’). Since then he’s opened for the band as a solo artist, jammed on stage with the group and even featured an a couple more of their B-Sides. Alex Turner also co-wrote a few of the tracks on his fantastic solo album.

L is for Last Shadow Puppets

By the end of 2007, after two hit albums, countless EP’s and singles in the span of only two years, there was little more Alex Turner could do with the Arctic Monkeys without thoroughly over-saturating the music world. So he and Miles Kane got together with James Ford and became The Last Shadow Puppets, crafting an album of ethereal, orchestral pop tunes. The Age of the Understatement was a shoe-in to win the Mercury Music prize, unfortunately losing out to Elbow’s masterful Seldom Seen Kid. The world’s still waiting for a second album, and we might get one once both of the guys finish touring on their respective main projects.

M is for MySpace

Sure, we all crack jokes about it now, but in the wilderness years before Mark Zuckerberg’s website established it’s hegemony over people’s methods of online interaction, MySpace wasn’t just the leading social networking site, it also looked as if it would revolutionize the music industry, changing the way new artists were discovered and allowing millions to be exposed to new music in ways that traditional media couldn’t. No band shot to fame faster via MySpace than the Arctic Monkeys, who went to number one with Dancefloor despite receiving very little airplay. I still remember first hearing them through their MySpace page in 2005, despite the fact that I never caved in to making a profile for myself. Thanks to the otherwise horribly designed website, a 16-year-old kid from Miami, Florida had a new favorite band who had no album, no singles, and had never toured outside the UK.

N is for Nineteen

Which is how old they were by the time they had a number one single, surpassed Oasis in having the fastest-selling debut album in UK history, performed on Saturday Night Live and won the Mercury Music Prize. Fucking nineteen. years. old.

In their original lineup with bassist Andy Nicholson

O is for OZ

As in Wizard of . . ., the inspiration for Old Yellow Bricks, one of the key tracks on 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. Later that year, they accepted their Brit award for Best British Group dressed as the characters from the movie, with James Cook as a rather ridiculous-looking Dorothy.

P is for Politicians

Who love to ride the coattails of the group’s popularity by name-dropping the band. Former PM Gordon Brown once claimed that they “really wake you up in the morning“, although afterwards he failed to name any of their songs. Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell mistakenly claimed that they’d sold more records than the Beatles, and current PM, then Leader of Opposition David Cameron mentioned them along with The Smiths and a slew of other indie bands in the most cynical attempt to appear “down with the kids” the political world has ever seen.

Q is for Queens of the Stone Age

Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age front man and member of The Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures, and a host of other side projects that everybody pretends to like, holed himself up in the Mojave Desert with the band to produce third album Humbug (See letter ‘H’). Although the foursome went back to working with James Ford for Suck It And See, Homme can still be heard performing background vocals on All My Own Stunts.

R is for Romance

As in “A Certain . . .”. I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor may have been the song that was heard on the sound system every student pub and every college radio station the world over, but it was A Certain Romance, the closing track on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, that won the hearts of the masses of indie fans around the world. Bookended by a crashing drum solo by Matt Helders and a few lonely chords from Jamie Cook’s guitar, A Certain Romance laments the chav-y, unsophisticated environment that the four lads grew up in, although ultimately resigning to the fact that it would always be considered their home. Despite the fact that it was never released as a single, the NME named it the 10th track of the decade and Pitchfork named it #90 on their list of the 100 greatest tracks of 2006.

S is for Suck It And See

The Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, released in June of this year. A compromise between the group’s three earlier albums, Suck It And See is a perfect blend of the lyrical sophistication of Whatever People Say I Am . . ., the lofty romantic subject matter of Favourite Worst Nightmare, and the guitar-driven melodies of Humbug. The only fault in the album is Brick By Brick, the first track released to the public, which is a song so insipidly repetitive, so pun-filled, so low-brow, that it’s undoubtedly the worst song the group have ever recorded.

Suck It And See

T is for Television

After initially being reluctant to over-expose themselves in the wake of the hype preceding Whatever People Say I Am . . ., the Monkeys have volumes of memorable TV appearances, most notably in 2007, where they performed Fluorescent Adolescent dressed in clown outfits on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross:

U is for Under the Boardwalk

- or Beneath the Boardwalk, depending on which version you could get your hands on, a collection of demos burned on CD and given away at early gigs. After being uploaded and distributed by fans, Boardwalk ensured that even before the band had signed a record deal or released a single millions of people had already heard their music via MySpace (See letter ‘M’).

V is for “View From . . .”

Drawing its name from debut album opener View From The Afternoon, The View From . . . were a series of tour videos uploaded on YouTube mostly hosted by drummer Matt Helders. A particular favorite of mine is View From Sean’s House Party, where the Sean in question is none other than Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, who declares that he is the newest member of the Arctic Monkeys and that he had just signed them to Bad Boy Records, which you can see below:

W is for When the Sun Goes Down

Another stand-out track from Whatever People Say I Am . . ., When The Sun Goes Down describes a prostitute in the Neepsend district of Sheffield being picked up by a suspicious-looking John. Originally known as Scummy, the song was their second single to go to #1. The song inspired a short film, Scummy Man, starring Stephen Graham and Lauren Socha, who went on to star in Misfits. The music video for the single consisted of snippets from the film.

X is for X Factor

The talentless karaoke act of a TV show whose third-season winner, Leona Lewis, surpassed the Arctic Monkeys in having the fastest-selling UK debut album with 2007’s Spirit. Two years later Susan Boyle, an alumnus of another Simon Cowell-produced abomination, Britain’s Got Talentshattered both records with her album I Dreamed a Dream.

Y is for Yorkshire

The historic county in England that the group calls home. One of the band’s defining features is Alex Turner’s broad colloquial Sheffield accent. The initial hype surrounding the Arctic Monkeys led to something of an indie renaissance in the region, with bands like Milburn, Bromheads Jacket, Reverend and the Makers and others all finding some success.


Z  is for Zane Lowe

The Kiwi BBC Radio 1 DJ who was an early champion of the group. The band were featured several times on his show, and Whatever People Say I Am . . . was the second album featured in his Masterpieces series, following Nirvana’s Nevermind and ahead of albums like Led Zepplin IV, OK Computer, The Queen is Dead and London Calling.

4 Comments

Filed under A to Z

4 responses to “Arctic Monkeys, A to Z

  1. Pingback: Thursday Ten: Karaoke Classics That Won’t Annoy the Hell Out of Everyone Around You | Back to 505

  2. V.

    I actually loved Humbug! It is pure genius and shows just how much the band has grown up.

  3. R. (yes i copied the V. chick) ;)

    Love the Arctic Monkeys! Have been dying to go to one of their concerts since ages! they are literally the best thing that happened to music since the Beatles!

  4. First heard them, when I was 13, and since then I have been completely, utterly obsessed with their music! They are ace, would love to see them perform live:)

    P.s. I appreciate the fact that you have Vampire Weekend on the sides (theme)
    Listen to the Black Keys and Two Door Cinema Club, I think you might like them too.

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