Our Top Songs From Damian Lewis’ Album Mission Creep

Damian has played guitar since he was 13-years-old and supported himself by busking through Europe – France and Spain to be precise – before his acting career took off. And let me tell you, his Martin guitar has proven a useful fallback. He has been quoted as saying, “I wanted the album to give a sense of a journey to this point, from busking ’til now” and that is exactly what he has accomplished with his debut album Mission Creep. He has proven to be a heartfelt songwriter and his sophisticated songs bleed of love, loss, vulnerability and authenticity. Stylistically Mission Creep covers a broad spectrum of genres, from folk and jazz/loose swing to rock and rootsy blues. So it’s no surprise that we blogmates picked different styles of songs as our top three. Some of us selected the more rockin’ blues songs while others singled-out the more jazz notes.

On stage? Well Damian is a compelling performer at music venues, singing with passion and tight-pant swagger, all the while backed by a phenomenal six-piece band playing a sonic palette of acoustic guitar, keyboards, saxophone and clarinet, mixed with bursts of electric guitar and sprinkles of the French harp (harmonica). Damian Lewis, the musician, is in his element. Period. Ladies and Gents, here are our top three songs by Damian Lewis from Mission Creep.

TRACKLIST WE CHOSE FROM

SIDE A:
1. DOWN ON THE BOWERY
2. SOHO TANGO
3. HOLE IN MY ROOF
4. HARVEST MOON
5. MY LITTLE ONE
6. SHE COMES

SIDE B:
1. AFTER MIDNIGHT
2. ZARAGOZA
3. NEVER JUDGE A MAN BY HIS UMBRELLA
4. WANNA GROW OLD IN PARIS
5. MAKIN’ PLANS
6. WHY?
Bonus Track on CD and digital downloads (US/UK): SUCH A NIGHT

Gingersnap’s Top 3:

Number 1: My Little One – This well crafted song is number five on the album. I love the introductory guitar chords and the harmonica on this piece. In my opinion it is the most rockabilly sounding song, the most Elvis-sounding song. When I listen to its rhythm I am transported to a specific time and place – outside on the veranda of a Mississippi home – while aunts and uncles are keeping time with their rocking chairs, stamping their heels on the porch with the beat as Pa blows his lungs out on the harmonica. My absolute favorite portion of the song is when Damian summons his voice inflection on the word ‘she’ when he sings “she…my little one.” It’s what The Times referred to as “yelping his hiccup vibrato vocal over a honking harmonica.” Take a listen to the inflection in this clip:

The song is obviously about the late Helen McCrory, and her essence is all over the following lyrics:

Why does she seem so tall? She is only 5 foot small (Helen was 5’4″)
She got a laugh, she got a growl (Helen was mischievous)
She ain’t a pint, she’s barely a half (small-framed)
She purrs deep just like a pussy cat (IMO Helen had a husky voice tone)
She could squeeze in my pocket, she’s a rocket (tiny and fiery)
She glides like a featherweight, punches like a heavyweight (small, but mighty)
Could eat you up for breakfast and lunch (Helen was formidable! I’ve read interviews stating don’t cross Helen 🙂 )

Below is a photo of Damian recording My Little One in the studio, which was taken by Sir HvH Arts Foundation founder Debbi Clark. Before her passing, Helen was the Patron of the arts foundation and now Damian carries that torch.

Number 2: Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella – This jazzy groove is number nine on the album if you’re listening digitally or number three on the B side vinyl. The tune has a jaunty, boogie-woogie blues sound and is inspired by the shenanigans and portrayal of secret agent Nicholas Elliott in Damian’s latest espionage mini-series A Spy Among Friends. During a recent guest appearance on BBC Radio WM, host Dax Hale told Damian “Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella has gotta be the song title of the year, by the way.”

This number has a mischievous quality, full of character and an all-around fun time. It is the one song Damian will sometimes play keyboards on during live gigs. The lyrics crack me up “says good-bye to the poochie first” and Damian’s campy pitch change on the word ‘six’ when he sings “says he loves her and he’ll be home by six” is everything. In a recent interview with Weekend Magazine Damian said, “I’m not saying I’m the funniest man in the world – but I would struggle to write an album that was entirely devoid of the occasional sideways wink.” 😉 Here are some of my favorite lyrics from the song:

He wears a suit and nice tie
Takes breakfast with his nice wife
Puts a hat on to go to work
Says good-bye to the poochie first (I can see Damian with his dog Petra!)
Turns around and blows a kiss
Says he loves her and he’ll be home by six

He goes to the cricket (Damian plays/watches cricket, too)
His knowledge is prolific
Marmalade to start his day (very English)
The Times of London and he’s on his way

He’ll kiss all your children but he’ll be kissing your wife! (traitor/cheater)
Never judge a man by his umbrella…

This song is all about treachery and deceit. Take a listen below:

Number 3: Makin’ Plans – This song is number eleven on the album if you’re listening digitally or number five on the B side vinyl. In my opinion it is the most bluesy-rock’n’roll sounding song on the album with it’s upbeat tempo and electric guitar. In fact, it’s the one song on the album in which Damian plays the electric guitar. His whiskey-parched vocal really shines on this track, at times overlayed with a gentle grizzled tone just full of soul. In their review of Damian’s album Buzz Magazine said, “Makin’ Plans is a song the [Rolling] Stones themselves might be proud to have under their belt.”

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Damian explained how Makin’ Plans is connected to his life:

“I’ve had two motorbike crashes. One of them I was very lucky to come out of. Right outside Pentonville Prison on the Caledonian Road, I went straight into the windscreen of a car. Terrible, terrible, terrible crash. I woke up in the middle of the road a few minutes later. Had I not been wearing a closed helmet, I’d be very surprised if I was sitting here right now.”

Some of my favorite lyrics from the song are:

Rollin’ down the highway with the sun on my back
Road wide open, I don’t need to look back
The horizon’s calling
My plans sitting by my side

Then we hit
A hole in the road
A black hell
That almost swallowed us whole

The axel cracked, the fender was crocked
The engine exploded, my body was stuck
My eyes were bleeding
A bone sticking out of my shoulder

Just up ahead I could see a shape
Stumblin’ and cryin,’ desperate to escape
His blood spilled black
He might have been a ghost or a soldier

‘Cause I was makin’ plans
But now they all battered and torn
And the plans I had
Got beaten up and now they’re all gone

An eagle dived, clawed him to the ground
Like Prometheus they cried, but they made no sound
Their eyes were pleading
Please tell everyone about us

Then their soul rose
I saw it float
And a black hole
Swallowed them whole

I’d like to interject here about the story of Prometheus and Damian’s geniusness to embed that in two lines of lyric! The punishment of Prometheus for stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to humans is a subject of ancient Greece. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, condemned Prometheus to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was bound to a rock and an eagle (the emblem of Zeus) was sent to eat his liver (what Greeks believed to be the seat of human emotions). His liver would then grow back overnight, only to be eaten again the next day in an ongoing, tormentous cycle.

Wow, how’s that for a visual? Take a listen here:

And there you have it, my top three songs from Damian’s debut album Mission Creep. I guess this makes me a B-side girl because two of the three songs I love are from side B of the vinyl. Up next, Damianista! Take it away…

Damianista’s Top 3:

Number 1: She Comes – As Damian has repeatedly said Mission Creep is not a grief album. Yet, thanks to the songs being based on Damian’s life experiences and the particular time he wrote them, several songs on the album are about the great late Helen McCrory. And from the Elvis-y “Little One” to the beautiful ballad “Wanna Grow Old in Paris” I love them all. But She Comes is the one that has stood out for me since the first time I heard it at Damian’s first ever gig at Omeara London. And I am happy to report that the music critic of The Sunday Times who was also at the Omeara gig agrees with me.

“…he closed on a high with a superb folk-rock track that began as a gently tumbling waltz before building to a crashing, emotionally raw blast. This was the best song of the night, sounding like a lost Jeff Buckley classic in places.”

It turns out She Comes is the first song Damian wrote. As he reflects on the process of writing the song, he shares:

“’She Comes’ is the first song I wrote for my debut album, so that makes it…my first song (that I’ve shared with the world, at any rate…). It’s about ghosts, and one ghost in particular. The album has hybrid sounds all through it but this song leans heavily on a folk set up before crescendo-ing with a jazz feel brought by my brilliant band.”

I am a huge jazz fan. So I am in love with the jazz feel in She Comes that Damian talks about. But more than anything I am in awe of the amazing poet that Damian is. The lyrics are so personal, so poignant, so powerful. It gives me chills.

She’s the breezeShe’s the sunShe’s the reason it was funThe laughing rainShe’s the wind and the stormWhat I sheltered fromShe’s my joy she’s my painAnd she rained on me

And I do not think longing for a loved one who passed could be told more beautifully or more honestly.

She’s the bag on the floorShe’s the hat on a hookShe’s never really badBut she isn’t always good
And her lip curls and unfurlsLike the leaves in a bookShe’s a no she’s a yesShe’s anybody’s guessShe’s the click of a heelAn abandoned dressShe drove me insaneBut she’s lodged in my brain I confess

I love it that the song is not idealizing Helen but gives her to us as a human being who is not always good and could sometimes drive you insane, but ultimately a woman that Damian deeply, deeply loves. It cannot get more real than this.

Damian says that writing songs felt very natural at some point. I completely understand. Because there are things that we can’t share with anyone in conversation. That’s why they say keeping a diary is good to convey your feelings you cannot share otherwise. And music is yet another vehicle, a truly amazing one at that, through which one can communicate their raw, intimate, and deep feelings. And I think Damian does exactly that in She Comes. Hats off.

Here is the fantastic She Comes music video shot at Master Shipwright’s Palace in Deptford, London, and directed by Nick Murphy who also directed Damian in the fantastic A Spy Among Friends. Damian says what they hoped to convey in the video is the feeling of an abandoned house and the ghost of the woman who once lived there. Her friends are gathering at her place to celebrate her…

Number 2: Soho Tango – I love the storytelling in Damian’s songs and this one is a story about a first meeting that makes me laugh 🙂 Boy meets girl, boy flirts with the girl, and boy can’t get the girl…Playful and funny – I love it!

Two in the morningSmoking on a Soho StreetYou told jokes, and I was laughingI asked if I could kiss you please

But you said, “No, ” and you were gone“I ain’t kissing you”I said, “Why?”But you had flown, you said“‘Cause I ain’t in love with you”

Hahaha! Damian shares in a recent interview with Metro UK what this song is about:

“…about meeting someone for the very first time and chatting her up on the streets of Soho and thinking I’d closed the deal and she got in the taxi and went home.”

So this can even happen to Damian Lewises of the world! I do not know if we know the lady in the song but I salute her for saying she is not kissing him because she is not in love with him. That is the attitude!

As the boy and the girl tell jokes, laugh and smoke on Soho streets, Damian’s lyrics gives an accurate description of London street life in the wee hours from people stumbling on the streets to neon lights shining blue to rolling cigarettes. It makes me laugh when Damian sings the “Why?” and “What?” in such a surprised tone when the girl says she isn’t kissing him. Oh and I adore Damian whistling in the song.

Here is a recording of Soho Tango from Damian’s brilliant performance at The Tabernacle London as part of the London Jazz Festival back in November 2022.

Number 3: My top two Damian Lewis songs are fixed but my number three changes from day-to-day depending on my mood. I amin a Makin’ Plans kind of mood these days because I have some plans which I hope do not go awry!

Makin’ Plans is so rock’n’roll that I can’t stand still, need to dance to it. And I DO, when I listen to the song at home, pretending I am playing the electro guitar. And no I have no video of that!!! Hahaha.

I confess I could only watch a few words from the song until Damian released it as his third single and I loved Makin’ Plans even more when I finally found out what it was about. The song has a story in which a guy who is driving on an open wide road has an accident which kills his plans. Exactly like Damian who had to adjust his plans in the last couple of years. I particularly love the part that he sees “his plans” as a living thing trying to escape after the accident. It is a haunting metaphor.

Just up ahead I could see a shapeStumblin’ and cryin’, desperate to escapeHis blood spilled blackHe might have been a ghost or a soldier 

I believe the brilliant design artist Charlie Drinkwater  immortalizes this metaphor on the album art work.

And while it is about plans going awry, Makin’ Plans is not a dark song by any means. It is very rock’n’roll, upbeat and ends on an optimistic note.

But now I got new plans, a wide open roadNo hell hole that’ll swallow me wholeThe horizon’s calling me down the only road I know 

Honorable Mention – I know we are supposed to list our top three songs only from Mission Creep. But I am a huge jazz fan who is especially in love with the New Orleans sound. Thus, HUGE thanks goes to Damian for having not one but two such covers on his debut album that take me to the jazz clubs of New Orleans – one of my favorite places on earth! Here is Why for you from Damian’s biggest gig yet at Union Chapel. Giacomo’s clarinet solo is a killer! And I really hope we hear Damian sing Such A Night live at a near-future gig.

Holliedazzle’s Top 3:

I’ve been trying to decide how to approach this post for some time now. How do I narrow this down? Do I post the songs I enjoy the most? The ones that make me feel the most? The ones I want to perform to?  So I decided, since I so often chime in as my burlesque persona, Holliedazzle, that I would list my top three tracks from that perspective. Here’s my top 3 songs I’d love to bring to the stage:

Number 3: Such A Night – This one is a cover by The Band, a rock group from Toronto.  The playful lyrics, steady beat and beautiful melody played on the piano gives this track a delightful vaudeville burlesque feel. I could see myself mingling among a brunch crowd, maybe rocking a traditional gown and glove combo, peeling it away to reveal layers of fringe and rhinestones. Damian’s band, and his fantastic vocals, really make this track a favorite of mine. I’d love to bring this one to the stage.

Number 2: Harvest Moon – This one is another cover, this time by Neil Young.  It’s soft and romantic, with lyrics that take you back to that dizzy, intoxicating time when you are first falling in love with someone.  I could see a silk veil, dyed a vibrant orange, a chiffon panel skirt and glass beaded fringe sparkling under the stage light.  I’m extremely romantic and sentimental, so this song moves me in so many ways.  I’d love to incorporate falls colors, leaves and earth tones into a unique autumn esthetic.

Number 1: Zaragoza – Well, this one was the hands-down winner for my top spot, because I have already brought it to the stage! From the moment the track dropped, I knew this was the one.  You can actually watch my entire performer vlog of me creating the act and debuting the performance here in my hometown of Minneapolis, MN.

And if you are in my neck of the woods, you can catch me performing Zaragoza at The Minneapolis Burlesque Festival’s closing night show at Hook and Ladder.

Tsveti’s Top 3:

Number 1: Zaragoza – I love every single piece of sound of it! I love it’s country tune! I love the rhythm that gives a sense of a long ride! I love the maracase! I love the back vocals that join the rising guitar waves! I love the story! I love Damian’s husky voice! Did I said I LOVE IT?

Number 2: She Comes – It’s huge…it’s mystic and it’s real! It whispers sadness and yells a joy! It’s overwhelming! Did I ranked it number one?

Number 3: Down On The Bowery – It gives me such sweet feelings. The taxi is beyond the Moon. I should rank it number one 🙂

Encore: I know, I know! I break the rule for only Mission Creep songs, but every nice listener has the right for an encore, right? Here I go:

Makin’ Plans – Everyone needs a fizzer rock and roll song.

Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella – Everyone wants a super class, suspensive smash.

Monique’s Top 3:

Well you started something by asking me my 3 favorite songs from Mission Creep. It is hard to choose because the songs are all beautiful. At last I narrowed it down to 4 songs and then it got really hard. So before I change my mind again, here goes:

Number 1: She Comes – I can’t think of a more beautiful tribute to someone than this song. The lyrics are incredible and it describes perfectly how you can be reminded of someone you lost in all day events. The music and lyrics combined make it a wonderful song that really moves you.

Number 2: Makin’ Plans – I really like the upbeat rhythm of this song. Anyone can relate to this song I guess. You can make plans but then life happens. And with that your plans disappear into thin air. Even if it’s hard sometimes, you just have to make new plans and keep going.

Number 3: Harvest Moon – I know this is not a song written by Damian but I had to put this one in my top 3. For one because it’s a beautiful song and it blends in perfectly with the other songs on the album. And besides that, I just love Damian’s version. I heard it the first time at the Hoxton Hall concert in March, 2023 and I was blown away. I’ve listened to the recording of that so many times that I’ve lost count. I even tried to make this my iPhone ringtone, which sadly did not work.

Author: Gingersnap

Management Analyst, part-time Adjunct Professor and Computer Software Consultant by day and Damian Lewis aficionado by night.

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