Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Celebrity Skin" / Hole / Celebrity Skin

Hole had a couple of pretty solid CDs in the 1990s which I really liked, and it's really despite the performer. Well, it's not that I dislike Courtney Love, as I actually find her fascinating. A former stripper / failed actress who meteorically rose to fame with Nancy Spungen / Yoko Ono comparisons hounding her, a tour de force performance reading Cobain's suicide note at his wake, actually having to defend herself against accusations that she killed or arranged the death of her husband, a veritibale trainwreck of a personal life, in and out of rehab, charged with being a greedy whore who is raping her husband's legacy - she's a pretty solid object of endless fascination.

I really miss seeing the soap opera of her life played out before us all, and I kind of hope she gets it back on track. The last I heard she recorded an album produced by Linda Perry (you remember her) that was supposed to resurrect her career. It seems to have been shelved and may never be released. I actually enjoyed her solo release "American Sweetheart" a few years ago, and thought it had a pretty kickass single with "Mono", in which she really gets to unleash one of the best screams in rock.

I've never been a big fan at all of Billy Corgan or the Smashing Pumpkins, but if the scuttlebutt on "Celebrity Skin" is true that he more or less wrote it (as Cobain was said to have written "Live Through This"), then it's by far the best stuff he's done. It's really hard to deny that the main riff (the one that starts the song) doesn't sound like a Corgan creation (if not the whole song structure) . The first four songs on this CD, this one being the first, are dead on awesome, most notably "Malibu" and "Awful", and there are some good ones down towards the end, but to be honest, if I ever pull this CD out these days, it's for those first 4-6 tunes.

The lyrics of this song always intrigue me, too. Look at the first couplet:

"Oh make me over / I'm all I want to be
A walking study / in demonology"

Here she starts, right after the monster riff, by giving a big "Fuck you" to everyone who criticized her for her new "makeover" of a slim , California body and a new nose and acknowledging what many many people were thinking of her at the time (i.e., a she-devil). Notice, as well, that she delivers these lines with no musical accompaniment, so she makes DAMN sure you hear what she's saying.

Then later (again, unaccompanied):

"Oh look at my face / my name is might-have-been
My name is never was / my name's forgotten"

Again throwing the gossip back at the haters that she was a talentless, derivative, coattail-riding hack.

And the final coup de grace:

"You want a part of me? Well I'm not selling cheap"

Wow. That was a pretty big "Piss Off!" back then, more or less sarcastically playing the whore role of which she was accused. Just look at all the other slurs she thows out during the song ("sluts like you", "beautiful garbage", "hooker waitress, model actress", "fading in Hollywood"). It's really an angry, defiant song, but you know what we all remember - that gorgeous, incredibly catchy chorus rising out of the bile. It almost feels like the chorus and the verses belong to two completely different songs. It's complex, disorienting, and exciting, and it's all over in a mere two-and-a-half minutes, leaving you to wonder what the hell just happened and inviting you to hear it all over again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Taking a Holiday Break

Be back sometime next week. In the meantime, here's my Christmas present to you:

Beaker from The Muppet Show singing Coldplay's "Yellow"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"You Wouldn't Believe" / 311 / From Chaos

When I started this blog I knew that there was the ever-present chance of digging up embarrassing songs from my playlist. I soldiered along, unedited, in an attempt to analyze myself and for the voyeristic pleasure of the reader. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

This could very well be one of those times.

311 is, inexplicably, a guilty pleasure of mine. They and Kenny Rogers are the two biggest musical skeletons in my closet (and yes, you may know that Rush is my favorite band, but I made peace with that long, long time ago and have no regrets about it).

In my own defense, I do not own any albums of theirs. OK, technically, I bought "Music", their debut, back in 1993 due to hearing "Do You RIght" and "Visit" in the nascent days of 99x, but I sold that CD back at some point. I have five of their songs on my itunes, but I have honestly enjoyed almost every single they have released over the years.

You don't have to kill me on this. I know what makes them horrible, and by all rights I should loathe them. I mean, a group of white boys from Omaha, Nebraska (!) who attempt to make funky, reggae-and-ska-inspired rock music, with perhaps the world's worst whiney voiced rapper and a "singer" who is absolutely tuneless? I know. And perhaps their greatest crime is inspiring a generation of angry white boys to combine rap, rock, metal, and funk into a sound that just dominated alternative radio in the late 90's making it effectively unlistenable. I can picture a young, skinny red-capped Fred Durst sitting in his Jacksonville Florida home, hearing 311, rubbing his chin and thinking. "Hmmmmm....." The results speak for themselves:


Anyhow, I know these guys got pretty popular there, mostly in the mid 90's and the "Down" days, but their popularity waned after alternative music went bust. They still are kicking around, though, and seem to be one of those bands that have carved out a little niche and have their core groups of followers.

Why do I have this song? Again, I couldn't really tell you why. It defies explanation. I'm relistening to it now, and there's nothing obviously great or even good about it. It has a nice, singable, catchy chorus, which is pretty much a mainstay with 311, and may be part of my soft spot for them. Oh, at 1:09, here comes their little rapper. Seriously, that dude is just bad, but he's so damn earnest and "tough" that it's just adorable. You go, 'lil fella! Oh, a bass solo from 1:40 to 2:00 - there's some points right there. Back comes the rapper at 2:58 for one more round, followed by an awful "Woah-oh-oh-oh, yeah!" as punctuation.

YouTube has spared you the embedding, so click here, if you are willing (Shaq? What the effing eff?).

Well, have at me in the comments, if you must. Part of me kind of welcomes it for the punishment I so richly deserve.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

And now, a word from our reader(s)

Last week's Sonic Youth post got me thinking about one's personal "theme music". You know, the song or songs that loop in your head as you go through your daily life, giving you inspiration, purpose and making you feel like you're living the movie of your existence.

I say this because Sonic Youth provides one of those soundtracks for me. It's a testament to how badass Kim Gordon is that it's a song performed by a girl, and I'm not even ashamed of it.

That song? "The Sprawl", the seven minute epic and second track off of "Daydream Nation".

I love the whole thing, even the long, trippy ending (which for some reason, has always brought forth the spooky image of a car in a crash flipping over and over), but really it's the grungy (sorry), dirty verses (see 1:10-2:10) to that get the lion's share of my mental energy. To wit:

And the second song needs no real explanation. So funky that it screws up your face like you smelled somethin' rotten.

"Freddie's Dead" by Curtis Mayfield

So my question to you, dear reader(s) and commenter(s) - What's your theme song?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Kool Thing" / Sonic Youth / Goo

Solid. Finally get a song from Sonic Youth, one of my very favorites. And this song, incidentally, is the first song I heard from them, way back in 1990.

This was a song that really was a surprise hit for Sonic Youth (and by "hit" I mean a song that got some plays on MTV) and was reaaaaaly close to being the song that signaled the arrival of alternative music going mainstream before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" did it.

I was immediately impressed with this one because of the inclusion of Chuck D, who at the time was rocking my little suburban white boy world. That gave them some instant cred with me, then throw in the fact that the song was an ode to LL Cool J (i.e., "Kool thing, walking like a panther", "play with your radio" and the repetition of "I don't think so") and I was more than willing to listen.

Yeeeeh. Tell 'em bout it. Hit 'em where it hurts.

Plus, the organic sex appeal and sultry delivery of Kim Gordon, possibly the coolest girl in rock music, didn't hurt either.

I believe I bought "Goo" along with "Dirty" from good buddy and sometime contributer ej my freshman year of college, and I was totally hooked (especially by "Dirty", which still might be my favorite album of theirs pound for pound). I subsequently went back in the catalogue, buying the seminal "Daydream Nation" at one of Downtown Records many incarnations, getting an approving comment from the clerk and feeling all fuzzy inside. As soon as I heard "Teenage Riot", it was another one of those, "So that's what the fuss is all about" moments.

Since then, I've been a loyal fan, buying each new release as it comes out (although I didn't get the last one, "Rather Ripped", which I remember getting great reviews. I should probably check that one out, no?). Their 1995 album, "Washing Machine", is one of those albums that is incredibly evocative of a particular time and place. You know what I mean. That album always takes me back to 1995, being in grad school, living in the baseball house, and, let's say, living the life of a young single man in Athens. Good times indeed. That year culminated in seeing Sonic Youth at Legion Field, which was an altogether fantastic experience.

What I really love about this band boils down to their marriage of noise and melody. They can establish a beautiful, catchy song early on, then at some point they meander away from what they've established and launch into a free form explosion of chirps, feedback and distortion, but then always being you safely back to the familiar by the end of the song. That, or the opposite - they throw you in the deep end immediately, make you find your bearings, then offer you a gorgeous hook out of nowhere to land you. It's unpredictable, demanding, and I never get tired of their songs becasue I can always find something new to unearth within them.

Let's take "Kool Thing", for instance. It begins with a simple 16th note pattern (on the CD, it's actually continued from the previous song) and early on hits the main riff at :13 (all song times are from the recording, not the video, if you're keeping score at home). It rocks along, seemingly straight forward (though the guitar squeaks at the end of every line and the howling guitars that answer Gordon in the chorus hint at something to come). At 1:25, the inevitable break begins, softly at first, and then we get our Chuck D / Kim Gordon interplay. That culminates at 2:21, where you can barely hear Gordon whisper "Come on, come on, come on", inviting the chaos. And it does come - perhaps not as heavy as their other songs, but let's remember, this was a pretty mainstream attempt.

My favorite part of the song happens right after this break. Gordon speaks: "When you're a star / I know that you'll fix everything". Then the briefest of pauses, then BAM at 3:14, right back into the main riff. That's awesome. I suppose this song accomplished what it was supposed to. Get someone interested in your band through an attractive, palatable bait, then get them to dig deeper. I'm glad I did, after all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Got To Get You Into My Life" / The Beatles / Revolver

Really? No Beatles yet? *Runs off to check archive*

OK, then. Wow.

What more could possibly be said about The Beatles that hasn't been written thousands of times over? I can't say that I liked them too much growing up, and I believe one reason for that is just obstinence because I was supposed to like them (and the fact that my parents loved them too).

Strangely enough, the first I probably remember about them is hearing The Beatles remix on "The Stars on 45" (you guys remember those?) and liking the songs pretty well. If you grow up and pay any attention at all to pop culture, the Beatles' hits somehow worm their way into your brain without you even knowing it.

So, like anyone else, I knew all the big hits, and I knew they were supposed to be great, but I never really appreciated them. Then in 1995, things began to change.

First of all, The Beatles Anthology movie and soundtrack set came out to huge fanfare that culminated with the release of "Free as a Bird", their first single in 30 years. The Beatles were back on the map and were everywhere again. Also, this was the year that I first heard "Revolver", at the late, great Engine Room in Athens, Ga.

A place like the ER carefully vetted the music it player for maximum hipster approval. In fact, it was also my introduction to Big Star, as mentioned in a previous post. So when I happened to hear "Taxman" cue up, followed by "Eleanor Rigby", I began to critically reexamine this group. Having never really been exposed to their albums, only their Fox 97 singles, I was pretty blown away by what I heard. I mean, a song like "She Said She Said" (and check out Ringo's drum fills in that one - wow!) or "Tomorrow Never Knows" sounded as fresh to my ears as anything that was being put out by Matador or Sub Pop at the time.

I went out not long after and bought Revolver, followed by "Abby Road", "The White Album", and "Rubber Soul". I finally "got" The Beatles, and was beginning to appreciate what everyone was crazy about all along. These guys were really a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, but are also able to speak to all subsequent generations. It's a trip to see the kids down the street (10 and 7) discuss with me their favorite Beatles songs and go crazy over the release of the movie "Across the Universe" last year.

(That being said - in the age old "Beatles versus Stones" argument....I'm a Stones guy. So there)

After reading the above, it may not surprise you to know that, for the longest time, I didn't know "Got To Get You Into My Life" was even a Beatles song. Indeed, I considered it an Earth, Wind and Fire song, as heard in that classic 70's movie flop, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" (starring the BeeGees)

This song is a Paul song, and it's an ode to weed done in a Stax style, thus the incongruous sound of the Beatles with horns. Oh, and speaking of Paul, let me digress for a minute here. I've always thought Paul was never given due credit as a Beatle (and that goes for Wings and solo material also, for that matter).

When I think back on my favorite Beatles songs, usually they are the poppier "Paul" songs. This is especially true when you consider each person's solo work. I think Paul still had that great pop sound, full of hooks and melodies. Lennon, in my opinion, is very overrated. I think there are two reasons for this: the first is, of course, the tragedy of his death. The second is the inability of the Baby Boomers to cast a critical eye at any aspect of their youth and mythologize it to an unbearable degree.

Paul gets a lot of flack for producing formulaic, adult contemporary crap, like "Maybe I'm Amazed", but come on, think about "Woman" by Lennon. Why does he get a free pass? And what kind of music do you suppose Lennon would be making today, if he were still with us?

Anyway, although this isn't one of my favorites on "Revolver", it's a groovy, soulful little pop tune by the group that perfected pop.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Human Beat Box" / Fat Boys / Fat Boys

It turns out that I have five Fat Boys songs on my itunes, which indicates this is either the result of a drunken itunes store spending spree or a spur -of-the-moment Limewire search. Either way, it's good to hear again.

I don't remember exactly how I heard of the Fat Boys back in sixth grade. My family didn't have cable (thus bringing me MTV and BET), and I'm pretty sure they weren't on radio, so I suppose I just heard it here or there from friends at school.

I do specifically remember saving up to buy the cassette and sitting in Georgia Square Mall after just purchasing it at Record Bar, harldly being able to wait to get home to pop it in my "box". Seriously, how easy was it to make a record back in the day, especially the early days of rap? What a concept- three fat dudes rapping about....eating and being fat and stuff.


But damn, we loved it. That was a pretty popular album back then; a whole lot of fun to listen to, spawning many beat box imitators in Patti Hilsman's boys locker room day after day. And much of that had to do with the fantastic skills of the subject of this song - The Human Beat Box.

Really, there was nothing to compare to him up to that point. The dude was amazing, and I remember having debates as to whether or not he was really making all of those beats with his mouth or if he was faking. Of course it was all legit, and the spirit of THBB lives on today through countless incarnations. In fact, one of me and the kids' favorite show, Yo Gabba Gabba, has introduced beat-boxing to a whole new generation, and if my brood is any indication, it's still just as fascinating.

Witness the Biz

Oddly enough, the song begins with the "Brrrrr - stick 'em , ha ha-ha stick 'em!" refrain from another song, but then settles in to let the man show his skills. If I'm remembering correctly, most Fat Boys songs used the beat box part of the song almost like a guitar solo in a rock song, but in this one, his voice forms the beat of the song throughout. The lyrics are sparse, but essentially all about him and his greatness, which is something I miss about old school rap - the song on every album that was the shout-out to the DJ (see Public Enemy's "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic", Run DMC's "Perfection", LL Cool J's "Go Cut Creator Go" for examples)

After (strangely) skyrocketing to mainstream success, (and what says 80's success like a Swatch commercial?)the Fat Boys lost it just as quickly.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B: (and I warn you - this is painful)

So let's pour one out for the Fat Boys, an innovative, surprisingly influential hip hop group that takes us back to the early days of rap when shit was just fun and a good ass time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Taking a TO

I missed last week due to family stuff and will miss this week due to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Check back in a week or so.

In tribute to the Georgia / Florida game, here's James Brown with "Dooley's Junkyard Dawgs".

Not too many schools could boast a performance as cool as this...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Oi To The World" / No Doubt / A Very Special Christmas 3

It looks as though my itunes has caught the early Christmas impulse that the rest of the world has these days.

What is considered "the Christmas season" has been slowly inching up earlier and earlier each year, obliterating Thanksgiving completely and making Halloween nervously look in its rearview mirror.

Just today in the grocery store I saw the first of the Christmas themed magazines on the shelves, which pisses me off and makes me anxious. Yuck.

So here's my shuffle piling on and picking a Christmas song in the middle of October. But at least it's one of my favorites from possibly the best Christmas CD ever.

This song is actually a cover of another ska / punk band called The Vandals. It's a little odd to think that a word with ominous racial and skinhead overtones as "Oi!" would figure prominently in a Christmas song, but maybe it's "reclaiming" the word for good, or something.

Peace. Goodwill. Skinheads.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and cop to being a No Doubt fan, as I do like the ska. Between the wife and myself, I think we own all their albums (Gwen Stefani...that's another story). They obviolsly have a good time with this one, racing through it at a cozy two and a half minutes.

I love the bass intro (of course), setting the tone right off the bat. (Tony Kanal was, in my opinion, a pretty big part of what made this band great. Stefani got all the publicity, but he was the main songwriter and the biggest ska fan in that band). You got to have the horns to make it an official ska song and here they come right on the heels of that bassline. Also, check the little bass / horn breakdown there in the middle of the song - am I making this up, or do they play a little snippet of "Frosty the Snowman" right before Stefani comes back in? I've always thought so.

The song has a nice little narrative, too, about a dude named Haji (a Pakistani, maybe?), a punk who is playing at the local pub when Trevor (a skin) comes in with his boys and doesn't take kindly to such. They scuffle in the pub, set a time to brawl later, then as they both are severely hurt (as Trevor had "nunchucks" and Haji had "a sword like the guy in Indiana Jones") and abandoned by their crews, they spy the North Star, Haji makes a tourniquet from his turban to save Trevor, the guys make up and go bond over shots of bourbon (which, conveniently, is a liquor that rhymes with "turban").

Say what you will about No Doubt (and I know some of you will), but you can't deny that by the time this song was released they had become a pretty solid, tight band. They also eventually outgrew the pop / ska thing and had some really nice tunes on the underrated "Return of Saturn" and their (seemingly) final album, "Rock Steady". If you seriously hate them, I think you can still safely enjoy this song once a year.

Embedding disabled by request, so click here for the video.

Here's the Vandals performing the original:

And here's the song so you can include it on all those cool Christmas mixes everyone likes to make:

Friday, October 10, 2008

"D.A.N.C.E." / Justice / The Cross

Justice is a French electronia (do people still use that term?) duo from France, I guess you might say they are the younger, cooler brother of Daft Punk in that sense.

I sort of bought this CD on a whim looking for something new and out of my normal sphere of music, and this seemed to fit the bill. Usually at the end of the year I like to buy all of the "Best of 200_" editions of the music magazines and check out what they like. If you read a few of those, you will see the same CDs pop up over and over. Every now and again I'll take the chance on a CD that gets great reviews and buy it out of the blue. It's how I discovered Arcade Fire, Fountains of Wayne, and Rilo Kiley, among others.

"The Cross" was one of those CDs that got great press at the end of 2007. I'm not a huge fan of dance music, but the reviews sounded interesting enough that I though I'd give it a shot. One I saw the badass cover, I was sold.

The music's pretty sweet - almost a rock feel to it instead of a Pet Shop Boys kind of deal. The guys weave quite a pastiche of different sounds into some new and wholly original creation, not unlike The Chemical Brothers did in the mid 90's or Public Enemy's Bomb Squad did back in the 80's.

Their music has lots of commerical potential as well, and Cadillac jumped on them first. Justice's "Genesis" appears in this ad:

(By the way, who expected Cadillac to be that hip? I mean, Justice in one ad, and freakin' Lieutenant Cedric Daniels from "The Wire" in another? Damn!)

As to this song in particular, I think I read somewhere that's it's written about Michael Jackson. Here are the lyrics, as it were, which I've written before, is entirely NOT the point with this type of music:
Do the D.A.N.C.E
1234, fight!
Stick to the B.E.A.T
Get ready to ignite
You were such a P.Y.T
Catching all the lights
Just easy as A.B.C
That's how we make it right

It does sound like a bit of advice to The King of Pop - "You were such a P.Y.T, now you've lost your way. Just stick to funky dance music (The 'B.E.A.T') to find your way back - it's as easy as 'A.B.C'". There's also "The way you move is a mystery" in the verses of the song, which, if you remember the moonwalk, should explain itself.Pretty clever, and I guess the acronymic title of the song is a shout-out to those former hits.

I like how the beginning of the song gives the impression of someone dialing through looking for a radio station. You can barely hear the song at first, until the dialer hits the right frequency at :17. The sing-songy way they have the chorus does make it sound like a kids' playground song, stressing the "easy" part of the advice. The trademarks of Justice are in full effect here in this song: the bubbling, busy, electic bass sound, and the string flourishes. That's really about the entirety of the musical accompaniment, until the "breakdown" at 2:42. Let's check the lyrics there again and you can see the Michael Jackson references:

Under the spotlights
Neither black nor white
It doesn't matter
Do the Dance (do the dance)

As strong as you might
Working day and night
Whatever happens
Do the DANCE (do the dance)

Hmmm..."Neither black nor white, Working day and night?" not hard to see.

A very interesting song indeed. A good tribute to a fallen idol and a funky ass dance tune, too. And, as you might expect from French artistes, a cool video too:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Like a Virgin" / Madonna / The Immaculate Collection Vol. 1

You ever notice how any analysis of Madonna has almost nothing to do with her music, per se, but more about her cultural impact?

I mean, whenever she puts out a new CD, the stories practically write themselves: "Madge reinvents herself....again!" or "Madonna still pushing boundaries!" or "Sexy sex sexpot! Sex!". I guess she brought some of that onto herself, as her image and "meaning" always seemed more important to her than did her music. Early on she decided she was going to challenge peoples' perceptions of femininity and sexuality, and she seems to have trapped herself in that, even 25 years later.

I'll try to focus on the music here - although I will say that with the exception of maybe Prince or Michael Jackson, no one else's music takes me back to the 80's and Hilsman middle school like Madonna. If you're my age, you probably remember the girls in your school wearing the bangles up and down their arms, the fishnets, the bow in the hair, the bright lipstick - there may not be a more iconic figure of the 80's than the first Madonna incarnation.

Hello, puberty!

As I mentioned, I think Madonna's music gets the short end based on her image, but I've always liked her stuff. I think my favorite song of hers is "Like a Prayer", just an epic, career-defining song. I'm also a fan of "Crazy for You" (ah, the memories of many an awkward middle school party) and more recently, "Take a Bow". It's cool to have an artist stick around so long and have so many great songs that you almost feel like you know them, that for every part of your life they have had a song for you.

"Like a Virgin" wasn't the first most of us heard from Madonna, as we had "Borderline" (another favorite) and "Lucky Star", but "Like a Virgin" felt different the first time I heard it. It seemed specifically formulated for pop dominance and social confrontation.

I knew, technically, what a "virgin" was when I was 12, but it was part of the greater mysteries that involved women and sex. I was, at the time, still pondering the greatness of my first open-mouth kiss and wondering about the implications of it all.

I knew as well that (at the time) the subject was a little bit taboo, and I would get embarrassed when I was in the car with my Mom and this song would come on. Lines like "touched for the very first time" and "feels so good inside" will do that to you, even if I couldn't explain what they meant if you asked me.

Then Madonna performed it at the first MTV video awards and removed any doubt as to the songs subtext, launching her into the pop stratosphere

Well, now I've gone and done it...I've spent this post writing about Madonna and her impact on my sexual identity during her first bout of superstardom instead of her music. As I mentioned, though, you just can't separate the two.

So here's an attempt at reviewing the song: The dated 80's keyboard riff that opens the song pretty mush sustains it all the way through, giving some depth to Madonna's paper thin voice (she was smart enough early on to realize this was NOT her strength and play up other parts of her performance and personality). The best part is the bridge right before the chorus, with the cymbal crashes in the back at the beginning of each of the bars. I also like the "gonna give ya" pickup after that goes right into the next verse (1:15 on the video). Nice, short little bridge at 2:10 consisting of, well, panting and moaning, back to the "You're so fine - and you're mine" line.

Hell, it's no use. I can't think of this song without the video. Madonna cavorting, grinding and writhing on a Venetian gondola pretty much was the epiphany which made me realize that girls were not at all yucky and that I would be amazed, frustrated, intimidated and manipulated by them for the rest of my life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Angel Band" / Ralph Stanley / O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This is a good one from one of my favorite movies. I don't think this movie did much at the box office, but as an English teacher (and Cohen brothers fan), it certainly has a place in my heart.

See, this movie (Merk, Josh, Christian - just skip this part) is the Cohen brothers' version of Homer's "Odyssey" set in rural Mississippi in the Great Depression. George Clooney as Ulysses Everett McGill is Odysseus, trying to return home to his wife after being away for several years and encountering any number of supernatural and dastardly obstacles along the way. The movie is full of similarities to the original story, as well as quite a few in jokes that only dorky, quasi-literate people would get.

It's a great companion piece to show to my students after reading the Odyssey, and I'm always pleasantly surprised at how much the kids usually like it. And how can you not love a movie with scenes such as this - Ulysses and the boys meeting the "Sirens"

Most of the public, though, remember this movie for the soundtrack. It was a minor sensation, selling eight million copies and building primarily through word of mouth. It even spawned an near hit with "A Man of Constant Sorrow" on some country stations.

"O Brother Where Art Thou?" seemed to presage America's brief dalliance into roots music, the reverberations of which are still being felt in indie rock by way of alt country (Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis, DBT, etc.) I'm always interested in the deeper sociological meanings behind popular phenomena, especially as it pertains to music, and I'm still trying to figure out what the popularity of this soundtrack "meant" at the time. Maybe it was a backlash against the highly synthesized, prefab, sheen of the teenpop explosion of Brittany Spears, The Backstreet Boys and N' Sync who were huge at the time? I'm not really sure, but that's my best guess.

The version of "Angel Band" in the movie is not performed by Ralph Stanley, however. It's done by the Peasall Sisters, a real gospel group who provided the songs that Ulysses' daughters performed in the movie. You can hear the song at the very end of the movie, as Ulysses and his reunited family (Spoiler!) stroll across town.

I probably shouldn't say it, as Ralph Stanley is one of the iconic bluegrass / folk singers, but I like their version better. Part of that may be that Stanley provides the voice to "O Death" during the KKK scene in the movie, the scariest part by far, and it's hard to hear his voice without thinking of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Blow Out" / Radiohead / Pablo Honey

I have to give my wife credit for buying this Radiohead CD way back when before they somehow became the be-all-end-all of modern music.

Although, to be fair, my wife had a habit back then of buying CDs for the one "hit" song (like this, this and this - thank God for itunes, huh?), so she just bought it for "Creep" obviously. Not that that's anything to be ashamed of, as obviously many, many people did the same.

I know it's been mentioned and discussed a bit, but it really is amazing that what looked to be another 90's alternative one-hit-wonder somehow blossomed into a full fledged juggernaut.

I remember hearing "High and Dry" and "Fake Plastic Trees" off of The Bends back in the mid 90's and thinking it was interesting to hear from Radiohead again, as I fully expected not to. Then one summer's day I caught the video for "Paranoid Android" and was completely blown away, causing me to rush out and buy OK Computer, perhaps the best CD released in the 1990s and still one of the best ever.

Love! Love.

Then, holy shit, the hype went into overdrive, and this is where Radiohead and I parted ways. With great fanfare they released Kid A and Amnesiac on the same day (a douchey move in itself - Correction: not on the same day - actually a year apart.) and I remember some of my coworkers being in such a lather to buy these that they slipped out of work to run to the store the Tuesday they were released.

When I finally got around to listening to them, I had a full on ..."Meh". I was OK with that, and I know some of my best friends and people who's musical tastes I respect very much will disagree with me here, but I find them to be boring now. The worst part of it all is the critics and hipsters absolutely fawn over whatever these guys put out, giving anyone who doesn't like their stuff the ol' Emperor's New Clothes, condescending "Oh, you just don't get it" response.

Radiohead has reached the point that they could put out an entire CD of feedback and test pattern noises and it would be hailed as revolutionary, futuristic genius, and I just find it all really really dull and annoying. Sorry. That's one reason I don't get into the big Coldplay pile on, either. To everyone who says they are just making a living on what Radiohead used to do, I say "Yeah!" Radiohead used to put out lovely, mellow stuff like Coldplay does now. Dammit, somebody's got to have melody and proper song structure! Lay off Apple and Moses' Daddy!

Anyway, enough with my Radiohead issues. I'm really hearing this song for the first time myself, and I like it. Judging by the many Youtube clips, it seems to be a pretty popular track of theirs too. It starts off with the good old, dreamy Radiohead we used to know, all falsetto singing and noodlely guitar, until they turn the petals on at 1:22 and start in with the "loud" part of the "soft/loud" structure that made "Creep" so successful.

Yorke comes back in with the second verse at 1:48, but he full thoated now, and they keep the distortion turned up now. Nice. Then, they drop completely down at 2:16, almost to a whisper in what serves as a short bridge of sorts. Then the song ever so slowly builds back up, adding a little bit of instrumentation at a time, until 3:12 when they begin the longest, awesomest guitar note I've heard.

I mean, this thing starts out sounding like an air raid siren, and keeps going, and going and going, slowly ascending in pitch all the while. Just when you think it will finally It keeps on and keeps on, with the drum and bass going the heck off behind, until it finally releases at 4:27 or so. That's over a full minute of straight, Sonic Youth-esque noise, and I loved it. I'm willing to bet that's a concert highlight, and just to prove it, I found a clip of them preforming "Blow Out" from 1994. (Wow, Tohm Yorke hasn't changed a bit, has he? yeesh)

Overall, I'm happy when itunes give me a new discovery, and this is just found money right here. Well done Radiohead, and I'll still hold out hope that one day you will bring the fuckin' rock again.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Moonlight Feels Right" / Starbuck / AM Gold



Nope - Uh-uh.

Oh, hell yeah!

I'll have you know that one of my very favorite music genres is 70's AM pop. I don't mean disco stuff, or Zeppelin / Stones songs (though I love that too) , I mean the lite pop hits, often by one hit wonders, that played on AM radio back in the 1970's. And I don't like it in a kitchy, ironic way either. I really do enjoy listening to it, and this song might be my favorite of the bunch.

I really don't know how I came to know this song, or any others like it. For some reason these songs give me a huge wash of nostalgia, even though I can never put my finger on a specific instance that I remember hearing them. Almost all of them remind me vaguely of living in Barnesville Ga (when I lived from year one to year five before moving to Athens), riding around in the family's huge red Pontiac with my Mom, me leaning over the middle seat (car seats? In the 70's? Pshaw) and listening to the radio as we drove around town. I think I somehow just absorbed all of these 70's songs into my memory banks though pure osmosis, and even today when I hear one I haven't encountered in a while I get a sudden rush of recognition and an instant return to feeling four years old again. It's amazing how music can do that.

So, that's all to say that I have no idea who or what Starbuck is or was, but damn I love listening to this song. It begins with very warm synth sounds (futuristic!) backed by a funky little guitar chord on the backbeat. The delivery of the verse is great - the singer (Bruce Blackmon) delivers a lazy, swingy, loungey kind of vocal, just cool and hip as the 70's could get. My favorite part of the song actually happens at the end of every verse, just before the chorus (at :50, 1:38 and 3:13 on the clip)- a throw off little "ha-ha" that he just tosses in there. Something about that is so silly that it's almost magical.

The chorus just repeats the song's title , answered by a "bling bling" from the keybord, while the synth is repeating the five note hook. Then we're back to the verse and doing it all over again. Let's take a look at the second verse's lyrics:

We'll lay back and observe the constellations
And watch the moon smilin' bright
I'll play the radio on southern stations
Cause southern belles are hell at night
You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss
Class of seven four gold ring
The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss
To make the tide rise again

There is some pretty nice imagery there for a pop song, and I like the narrative idea too. Not too often are "southern belles" mentioned in pop hits, and it's got to be the only song ever to hit the charts to name check Ole Miss. A check of Wikipedia shows me that Starbuck is actually from Atlanta (!), so there's your southern vibe right there.

Then, following this verse, we get the kicker that could only be recorded in the 70's, the part that takes this song over the top....MARIMBA SOLO! (1:55 on the video) Seriously, listen to it. It kicks ass, and it's so out of left field that it works perfectly.

So here's the song and an appropriately cheesy youtube clip of it too. If you choose to download it for your collection, but don't want to admit it, it's OK. I can love 70's music enough for the both of us.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taking a break this week

In the meantime, enjoy this 11 year old girl playing Rush's "YYZ".

On an organ.

By herself.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Madder Rose / "Margaret" / Panic On

Unfortunately, for those of you who are dying for the rock, you have to fall prey to one of my musical soft spots - alternative bands with chick singers.

This band was pretty much a one off back in the post Nirvana alternative band boom, I'll say 1994 or so. It's the only CD I've ever heard of theirs, and it may be the only one in existence.

I came about this in a curious way. Back in 1993 or so, I was watching an MTV report about some big festival, and they showed, literally, about five seconds of Madder Rose playing live (didn't see the band's name, though). Something about the song really struck me, and I was pretty obsessed with tracking it down (and let's remember, this is pre-internet, pre-DVR, pre-itunes days when that was a major focking chore).

Fast forward a bit, and I'm goofing off, reading or something, half listening to 120 Minutes (don't you miss that show?), and I hear it. The song was "Car Song", and it was (and is) still great. I will lay my soul bare here and let you know I included that song on more than one mix tape over the years.

Here's "Car Song", still a great 90's hit. (The hook that originally got me is from :4o-:49)

(Wow- one of the YouTube comments says : "The lead singer, Mary Lorson, is my english teacher"! Sounds like a lie, though.)
Kind of a Mazzy Star, Sundays, Velocity Girl,Lush kind of thing. Singer's easy on the eyes too. Good stuff.

Overall, this CD reminds me of 1994, from student teaching at Loganville High, to dating a fellow music loving Loganvillian. I still take it out for a spin every now and again, and always enjoy it.

As for "Margaret", this is the, ahem, "rocker" of the CD, clocking in at a quick 2:40. I'm not really sure that the singer's voice is good for this type of song. Kind of a monotone delivery, hers is more suited for the slower, more mellow songs. There are some nice harmonies on the "Margret" part of the song (1:01-1:14), and an interesting, tuneless little bridge from 1:21-1:41. Nice little bass / vocal interplay around 2:00 too.

As I mentioned, this really isn't indicative of what this CD sounds like. You may want to grab the MP3, but I'll also give you the "Car Song" MP3 if you care for it.

And, wow, I can't believe there's a video for this online, as it was never a single. At Glastonbury, too, no less! Now I'm beginning to wonder if the original footage I saw of them way back when was from that Glastonbury show. Hmmmm...

"Car Song"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Thank U" / Alanis Morrissette / Supposed Former Infactuation Junkie


**hangs head, embarrassed**

Yes, this is technically my wife's CD, but I can't tell a lie; it's one I like too. Don't lie and say you weren't a little (a) intrigued or (b) turned on by her when you first heard about going down on the Full House dude during a movie ("You Oughta Know", of course).

Imagine his "O" face

Poor Alanis has fallen on hard times now from her 1990's heyday, but you have to like this song just a little bit, don't you? If nothing else, give her a little credit for making a pretty heavy stylistic shift from the music that made her a megastar on her former CD.

Plus, give the girl props for the great shot at Fergie when she covered "My Humps" last year. Funny stuff.

The keyboard chimes in the intro and chorus of this song, strangely enough, always reminded me of the Who's "Won't get Fooled Again" (that part right before Daltry's big scream), only much slower and not quite as awesome.

The real secret weapon to this song, though, is the bass. Just listen to a little bit of the song and focus on that - "WHOOM - pish/ WHOOMpish" bit in there. When you add those two parts together along with a nice melodic chorus (and again, the keyboards), you are starting to get something pretty good. Overall, I think it's her best song.

One thing I've noticed about Alanis, though (and I've heard most all of her CDs, as the wife has them all) that bothers me is her lyrics (1) They make no freggin' sense (2) they are way, WAY too wordy, she crams so many syllables in all over the place , and (3) her verses never rhyme! I can't listen to her music without this bothering me ever since I noticed it.

I mean, "Thank you India, thank you terror, thank you disillusionment / Thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you thank you silence"? What? What are you talking about? Just stop. Just stop, get nekkid, and um...walk around town. Wait, what?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Maybe Sparrow" / Neko Case / Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The sublime, intoxicating Ms. Case. I alluded to her and her incredible voice back when I was posting about Kelly Hogan of the Jody Grind. These two ladies have the most beautiful voices in my collection, and I can't imagine any being lovelier.

Neko Case is one of the main cogs of Alt supergroup The New Pornographers, and some of my favorite songs of theirs prominently feature her (ie. "These Are The Fables"). I had the great fortune to catch them in Athens at the Georgia Theatre last April, and as you can see in the video, she was laid up from falling in DC a few days prior. I'm just happy that she made of a go of it, lame leg and all. Hearing that voice in's amazing. I don't know how to technically say it, but it's so pure. There's no warlbling, showoff running octaves or strings of notes, just a freaking laser beam that can cut diamonds and fill up a hall without a microphone.

Unfortunately, the evening was almost ruined by Mike (good buddy and commenter) continually making snide remarks about how terrible and old she looked. He's shallow like that. You watch, I guarantee he does it if he responds to this post. That show was capped by a killer cover of ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down"

I bought "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" in the summer of 2006. I figured if I liked TNP that much that I'd like her CD as well. It is, indeed, amazing. A bit different than TNP stuff, as it's more country / roots inspired, but in it's own way, it's as strong as anything I've heard. A curious thing about it, though, is the songs structure. She doesn't go for that traditional verse/ chorus /verse / bridge stuff. Her songs kind of meander, with no real "parts". The lyrics are really, really vague too. She challenges the listener just a bit I think, but the rewards are many. To be fair, she has had a few other solo records, and commenter Eric swears that her CD Blacklisted is the real shit.

I'll never forget the first few times I listened to it either. I bought it in preparation for a solo road trip I was making to South Georgia that summer. Playing this brief CD over (and over and over) in my car as I was driving through desolate stretches of peanut fields on sizzling blacktop - well, it was just one of those instances in which the music perfectly matched the environment and it all just fit. Everything was right with the world for about three hours.

Here's the video for "Maybe Sparrow". The best part is at 1:04 when she just unleashes her voice. I also like the minor key guitar fill that you keep hearing in there. It sounds a little bit jarring within the song, but it's cool. Plus: owls!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Knights of Cydonia" / Muse / Black Holes and Revelations

My buddy Eric (who, on occasion, will pop in a comment) once said to me that the first time he heard Muse he thought...."That's a Bryan band".

And, yeah, he's dead on there. With the exception of Arcade Fire, I don't think there's a band that I've been more stoked about in the 00's than Muse. They've been around a little while, but really started to break here in America around 2003 or so. You may have heard a couple of their more popular tunes, "Time is Running Out" and "Stockholm Syndrome".

And speaking of "Stockholm Syndrome", let me just stop right there before I go any further. This song has rocketed into my personal top five list with a bullet. One big contributing factor was looking them up on the Youtubes and finding this performance of that song when they headlined England's famous Glastonbury festival in 2004. Honestly, I watch this about once a week, just to revive my faith in music and make me love life and people. It's five minutes of proper song, nine total minutes of awesome.

Now, there you can see what I love about this band on display. First of all...chops. Dudes can absolutely shred their instruments. They are a tight band (and I don't mean "tight" like "Those Pumas are tight", I mean "tight" like disciplined, locked in).I'm a sucker for big, melodic, anthemic, bombastic songs. Wagnerian, even. The energy they exude, the cool rock / electronia hybrid thing they have all works for me.

When I picked up this CD back in 2006, it was everything I expected it to be. "Knights of Cydonia", in particular however, was a standout. Since then, it's gained a little bit of notice for it's brilliant video (more on that later) and it's inclusion on the "Rock Band" game. But first hearing this, I alternated between disbelief, hilarity and joy.

I really can't write about everything that's great about this song, but I'll try. It begins with a motif straight out of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western, leading into a galloping drum line over which the guitar is playing the song's melody. It's really set up like an overture, as we don't really get to any lyrics until 2:07 of the song.

The song does set itself up as some kind of space cowboy epic ("Come ride with me, through the veils of history" reads the opening line) though what or where "Cydonia" is is for them to explain one day or for us to figure out. Anyways, they get through the first two verses quickly (the only two in the song, by the way), and come back in with the opening theme at 2:02. Soon after, the magic happens - the music falls dead away (save for some little electronic bleeps underneath) and at 3:19 we get:

No one's gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

What the...I almost drove of the road the first time I heard this. So ridiculous, so over the top, so...sweet. What does it mean? Again, I have no clue, but it all fits.

They repeat the chorus a couple more times as the music builds up slowly behind it (I know, the oldest, most manipulative trick in music...but always effective) until we explode at with the new guitar riff at 4:14. Then once more with the chorus, this time, with a feeling of triumph, and we're done.

(Not to gush again about my kids, but this was Quinn's favorite song for most of last year. I was playing it in the car one day, then about twenty minutes of thoughtful silence later, he asks "Dad, why won't no one take him alive?" I smiled and thought - "That's my boy!" He made me put this on one of his CD mixes too, and had to listen to it first every night as he went to sleep. He also refused to let me talk while it was playing, so he could concentrate more on it. Of course, he will remember none of this by Christmas of this year)

The video. Oh, the video. I believe with the video they are letting you know that it's all a big, fun goof, not meant to be taken seriously. What's my favorite part of the video? Too many parts from which to choose, but you gotta love the reappearance of the hero's girl at that 4:14 climax in full on space princess outfit, riding a unicorn, while kung-fu masters practice their kicks and a cyclon projects the bands image in the desert. Or something. Unbelievably awesome stuff.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Railroad Tracks" / Juke Boy Bonner / Life Gave Me a Dirty Deal

W. T. F. ?

That was my first thought upon seeing this pop up on itunes. I'm not even gonna try to be cool and say I had any idea who this cat is or why he has a song on my itunes playlist.

Then I remembered...back when Quinn was about two and a half, he went through a HUGE train phase, which I'm beginning to think almost every American boy goes through (maybe like girls and ponies? I don't know) as Isaiah is in the throes of railroad dementia at this moment. Thomas the Tank Engine plays no small role in this , by the way

Click....if you dare!

Anyway, Beegee and I made Quinn a "train" mixtape CD (is that an oxymoron?) by searching the itunes music store for anything with "train" in the title. And thus, we get Juke Boy Bonner. Dude has an interesting backstory, which while typical of most blues artists (tough life, unappreciated as a musician, relatively early death) has a couple of cool tibets as well. It seems he was a poet as well ("ghetto poet", even) and was pretty much a one man band, accompanying himself on drums, harmonica, and guitar.

The song is just a straightforward boogie-woogie, nothing fancy at all. It's really good, solid music, and I think an interesting addition to your collection. I know some of you guys reading are big blues fans and like this kind of stuff; I have to admit that it's an area in which I'm a little deficient. I mean, I give you people Superchunk last week and get two responses, and one is about The Two Coreys?! What do you want from me? *puts head in arms, weeps softly*

Here's Juke Boy!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Hyper Enough" / Superchunk / Here's Where The Strings Come In

It's Superchunk, kids! Another pantheon band of mine, with 62 songs on my itunes playlist. If there's ever one band that I looove that I wish you all would jump on immediately, it would be the Chunk. They are the indie rock band nonpareil, in my humble opinion. Plus, they are good southern kids from Chapel Hill which is a plus. (And they have a hot bass player, but that's really neither here nor there). They had a semi-hit in the early 90's with "Slack Motherfucker" which (supposedly) is one of those defining Generation X songs. Or something. (Actually, watch that video for a taste of how amazing these guys are live)

I specifically remember how I got into these dudes too. I was at the old Big Shot records when it was back on College Square in the mid 90's (where Chapel Bar is now) and was browsing around. They were playing Superchunk's "Foolish" CD, which had just been released. I was listening with interest as I looked around, then became really intrigued as more songs came on. It's not often that a song or band strikes you upon your very first listen, but they did it for me. Once the song "Driveway to Driveway" played, that was it, and I had to ask the clerk the group and album playing, and bought it on the spot.

"Driveway to Driveway" = teh shit

(You know what? I've never seen this video. I started to watch it, but then quit because it's obviously a "story" video, and I don't want the song to be ruined for me.)

"Foolish" didn't leave my CD player for weeks and weeks. It's still my favorite CD of theirs, in fact one of my all-time favorites, and I highly, highly recommend it to any and all of you's.

Buuy /steal this

So, "Hyper Enough" is the leadoff song on the CD following "Foolish". It boils down what I love about the band into three minutes and change : great riffs, energy, melody and fun. I love that 12 second hammering intro that leads right into that ecstatic riff. The guy's voice may grate on some of you, as it's pretty high and nasal. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does. Random fact : this song leads of a mix CD that I made for Isaiah, as it's one of his favorites to "rock out" to, and just the title of the song fits that boy pretty well *end parent gushing*

They throw in a little bridge there at 1:55 for about 30 seconds, but it feels more obligatory than anything else. Then they come right back with that riff and steamroll through the remainder of the song. In fact, my favorite point is at 2:44 (3:00 in the video) when they just say "Fuck it" and rock the fucking fuck out of the song until the end. This song, as you can imagine, is kicks ass live, and is a great show opener too.

I must say, as with "Driveway to Driveway", I never saw the video for this until today. It's hilarious, though. Starting with the drummer getting pissy, it takes the band through therapy. Look for Laura to get the best scenes at 2:12 (the trust fall) and at 2:27. (And curiously, they unknowingly paved the way for Metallica's (unintentionally) hilarious therapy sessions years later)

Get the song:

Completely random addendum: Watch the hilarious "conceptual" video for "Watery Hands" starring Jeanine Garafalo and David Cross

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"One More Time" / Daft Punk / Discovery

Let it never be said that I don't enjoy a great dance tune every now and then. Daft Punk is a duo that specializes in club hits, and they take pride in their anonymous nature (much like Kraftwerk, another electronic based dance band from the 70's and Daft Punk's spiritual forefathers), always performing publicly in space helmets. Of course, they are French.

I think I first heard these guys watching MTV late one night and seeing the awesome, sad, heartwarming story of Dog Head Guy with Broken Leg in their video "Da Funk". Does he know he's got a dog head? Does anyone tell him? Does he care? It was all very intriguing to me.

Seriously. This video breaks my heart

Something strange happened along the way, and these guys got to be pretty popular. There was the Juliette Lewis Gap commercial they did:

And then Kanye tabs one of their songs as the backing track to his hit "Stronger"

They are a pretty unlikely American hit, if you ask me. Still the boys make a damn catchy song, don't they?

"One More Time" is a bit different, it all starts with those lush keyboards that give it a 70's feel right off the bat. The lyrics go a little something like this:

One more time
We're gonna celebrate
Oh yeah.
Don't stop the dancing.

Repeat for six minutes. I realize that lyrics are hardly the key to any good dance tune, in fact, any attempt to be serious or put a message in a dance song is sort of missing the point. But, and here's the key, they use robot voice for the singer. I'm fully convinced, and may examine this in more detail later, that robot voice increases the awesomeness of any song tenfold. Plus, the video is in anime, and you can't really beat that either.

My favorite part of this song is the "Breakdown" at 2:06. They slow the tempo down, and just riff over the keybords. It's taking the piss out of songs that do that, I believe, but it's fun anyway. I mean, they actually sing, "Music's got me feelin' so free". I honestly can't decide if singing lines like that is cooler if you really mean it, or if you're being cheeky.

Here's the song, 'cause I know you want it for your next house party:

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" / Diana Ross / Hitsville USA

You know, I really do like Motown. I think it's become a little bit cooler these days among musicophiles to say you were really into the Atlantic artists or maybe the Stax / Volt crew, but you have to give it up for Motown, too. I love how Berry Gordy built an autonomous, top to bottom, minority owned and operated juggernaut. Word was he was an asshole, but he had an ear for a pop tune and could sniff out talent from miles away.

I also have some nostalgic feelings whenever I hear a Motown record, which of course makes no sense because they were recorded while my parents were negotiating middle school. I guess when I hear those songs, I imagine how someone that age (baby boomers, I mean) must feel when they hear them. And much of that comes from the incredible Funk Brothers, the instrumentalists who are more or less responsible for that Motown sound. As I said earlier, I love the idea of taking ubertalented artists and plugging them into the songwriting / performance machine you've set up and reeling off hit after hit after hit. You can hear that same sound in every song, but adding a David Ruffin, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, or in this case, a Diana Ross over it just makes it unfair.

I did a little bit of digging on this song, and I found out an interesting fact - it was written by none other than Ashford & Simpson


Of course, it was recorded originally by Marvin Gaye, then Diana Ross covered it in this version. I like this version better - it's slower, a bit more dramatic, and I love the intro, with the horn flares and the lovely melody. But you what's really cool about this version? The talking. Ross doesn't sing this song, save for the chorus - she speaks it. Why doesn't anyone do that any longer? In this case, it makes the song more intimate, and makes that awesome chorus more dramatic and effective by comparison. In fact, the structure of this song reminds me a lot of my favorite Supremes' song "Someday We'll Be Together". Listen to them one after the other and see what I mean.

The other secret weapon in this song and in the whole Motown arsenal is the bassist, James Jamerson. I know people make fun of the bass / tuba player always pimping the bass guy, but Jamerson is ridiculous. His lines are so clean on the Motown tracks, they pop right up out of the mix (no accident, I'm sure) and they are so rhythmic and innovative. Just try to imagine "I Want You Back" without him. Listen to this song and concentrate on the bass part. Just watch this white boy do it (he's doing the six minute version, too. And, no, that's not me)

Oh, and here's the song for you:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"This Hard Land" / Bruce Springsteen / Tracks

Bruuuuce! The Boss! The American Bryan Adams!

Well, it's about bleedin' time. Fifty posts into this blog, and it's my first Springsteen post. I have a full 160 Springsteen songs on itunes, but for some reason the 'ol random button never seems to pick them (but it loves it some Black Sheep - go figure). Give it credit for picking a great song for his first, though. Well done, random!

I'm sitting here trying to pinpoint the beginnings of my Springsteen fandom, and it's hard to do. My first brush with him was, probably like most people my age, through the Born in the USA hype in the mid eighties. I really had no context for him then, as far as I knew at the time, he was the dude fighting it out for Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna for 80's pop supremacy. Of course I bought that tape, and of course I loved it, and yes, of course (like Ronald Reagan) I famously misread the subtle irony of the "Born in the USA" song.

I remember there being huge hype for the subsequent Live 75-85 record set, but that included alot of his classic tunes that I wasn't familiar with at the time (though I loved his cover of Edwin Starr's "War"). By the time Tunnel of Love came out, I just casually listened to the singles and moved on. Of course, how could a fifteen year old really grasp the subtle genius of a track like "Brilliant Disguise" or "One Step Up"? It's impossible).

I think I started paying attention again through Bizarro Wuxtry, of all places. In the late 90's, I ventured into that venerable Athens store and availed myself of the famous "records by the pound" offer. One I happened to buy was Darkness on the Edge of Town. When I took that bad boy home, placed the needle on the record and heard the first beats of "Badlands" blast out, I was thinking, "Holy shit. How did I never hear about this before? Why wasn't I told?!" And they kept coming off of that album - "Adam Raised a Cain", "Candy's Room", "Racing in the Street", "The Promised Land", "Prove it all Night", "Darkness on the Edge of Town"...are you kidding me?

Again, are you kidding me?

As soon as possible I went back and bought the other albums from the pile - The River...Greetings From Asbury Park...finally got into Tunnel of Love...and, lord Jesus, Nebraska. I was a convert. Then to seal the deal, my wife bought me Tracks, the four CD set of rarities and B Sides from which this song comes. It all lead up to seeing him play at Philips arena on the next Live CD tour, and that was that. Shoot, my wife and I's first dance at our wedding was to "Happy", another unreleased song from Tracks. Since then, I've gobbled up everything he's released, read tons of books on the dude, and am just as pleased and excited with last year's "Magic". Bruce Springsteen IS Rock & Roll, and screw all you haters.

"This Hard Land" was one that he wrote back in the mid eighties, and he's said that it's probably the best song that he's never released. It's hard to believe he didn't, as it would have been a sure-fire hit back then. Although, I see his point if he didn't want to include it on the Tunnel of Love album, as it's not really about the disillusion of a marriage or the artifice of love. Yikes.

He starts off with a Dylanesque harmonica riff, then goes almost acapella for the first verse, with only a stummed guitar for accompaniment. By the time he hits us with the melodic hook "They've just blown around / From town to town / Back onto these fields" at :32, he's given us two classic Springsteen moments - a "Sir" and a "Mister". Do you know how many "Sirs", "Misters" (or "Mary"s) he has sung to over his career? It's quite a bit.The rest of the song is just that straightforward - verse, chorus, repeat. For all intents and purposes, it ends at 3:43, but he rocks another fuckin' harmonica solo until the song fades out. It keeps going live, as you might imagine. I love the dissonance of this tight, upbeat song against the depressing subtext of the lyrics - the struggle of the main characters to maintain hope in the face of adversity. It's not unlike the "Born in the USA" phenomenon that I mentioned earlier that had all of America fooled.

One other thing I've liked about Springsteen's songs is that they are a steel pedal and twangy dilevery from being kick ass country songs. Those core themes in his songs of family, perseverence, nostalgia, dreams, drudgery, maturity, hope, friendship and loss are universal to all genres of music and to all Americans. That's why a suburban kid from a southern town can count a New Jesey / rustbelt singer as maybe his favorite artist. Ever.

Here's a live video for "This Hard Land", but I actually like the recorded song better...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"Break On Through" / The Doors / The Doors

OK, I'm gonna admit to liking the Doors, and I know that they're one of those love / hate bands for a lot of folks. I guess I'd fall on the "love" side, although that's a pretty stong word to use for me with the Doors.

I know that Morrison is the epitome of the pretentious rock star, and Ray Manzerick is pretty much a douche, and normally I'd hate a band with those qualities, but dammit, Morrison was so earnest that I kind of can't help but admire him a little bit for his Lizard King / drunk poet / tribal chief schtick. (By the way, I mentioned Morrison in passing when discussing this curious tendancy of some lead singers to inexplicably reinvent themselves as Native American, made even stranger by the fact that fellow pseudo-Indian Ian Astbury of The Cult toured with the remainder of the Doors recently)

"Break On Through" is the first song on thier first album, but the first time I heard it was on that red double CD "Best of the Doors", which I think came pretty much standard issue in any white kid's music collection (along with probably Bob Marley's "Legend" and later, Pearl Jam's "Ten"). Back then in ninth grade, I only knew The Doors from a few radio hits, like "Light My Fire", "Touch Me" and "Riders on the Storm", although I remember MTV sometimes playing "Unknown Soldier" and "Wild Child" videos in the 80's for some odd reason.

Someone you knew had this

In this song I like the quiet beginning leading up to the loud chourus (that quiet verse / loud chorus dynamic would be populaized by many an alternative act in the 1990s too). My favorite part (and it's a really short song, so there's not much from which to choose) is the last verse where Morrison gets really rolling around the 2:00 mark ("day to day / week to week / hour to hour") - that's good right there, and he's really selling it. Say what you will about the guy, but he really had a hell of a great voice, and one of the greatest howls in rock & roll history (check about 1:50 in)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Not the Same" / Ben Folds / Rockin' the Suburbs

Well, here I am with a repeat performer, as I reviewed The Ben Folds Five's "Army" back a ways. I promised myself no repeats unless they are in the pantheon, the Mount Olympus of the B.Mo performers. Mr. Folds most definitely qualifies (although technically, this is a Ben Folds solo song whereas "Army" was with his old band...but I digress).

So, "Rockin' the Subrubs" came out in 2001 and rather than relegating Folds into obscurity, actually made his career skyrocket. It's not often you see an artist leave a successful (even semi-successful) outfit and become biggger, but it happens (Timberlake, Stefani, etc.)

Out of a stong, strong CD, this is actually my favorite tune. I have a pretty vivid memory of this song from a trip to Chicago with my buddy Stephen and Merk (another memory from the same trip was recounted earlier). At one point, Stephen was driving, Merk and Stephen's boy were sleeping in the back, and we were somewhere in the endless cornfields of rural Indiana.

So this CD was playing, and as Stephen and I are huge Ben Folds geeks, we were both digging it. When this particular song came on, we both started singing right along, then we talked about how it was both of our favorite. Then we looked into each other's eyes, leaned a little closer, and...

Nah, not really. But we did play the song two or three more times in a row, singing at the top of our lungs each time. And neither Merk nor the tot woke up. A little memory, but a very happy one.

What I really like about this song is the subject matter. It's pretty much about the big , life changing moments in your life that effectively change it forever. The first line - "You took a tip, and climbed a tree / at Robert Sledge's party / And there you stayed / 'Till morning came / And you were not the same after that" was, according to Folds, inspired by a true story in whcih one of his buddies dropped acid, stayed in a tree all night, then came down and was a born again Christian ("You gave your life / To Jesus Christ"). He always tells this story live (you can hear it on the "Ben Folds Live" CD) and gets a good chuckle out of it. Later on, though, there's a line that goes "'Till someone died / On the waterslide / And you were not the same after that" that hits pretty close to home for your humble author, as I myself had a life-changing moment invoving a death on the water (and I'm not sure what Folds is alluding to here, but hey, we all bring our own experiences into art, don't we?).

Musically, it's a pretty serious sounding tune, broken up by a bright, cheery chorus. I LOVE the deep opening notes on the bottom end of the piano after those three drum beats. That 8th note mostly stays at the bottom of the song through its entirety. There's a nice part right before every chorus (first time is at 1:10) when there is a two note "Ahhh-ahhh" vocal in the background, which Folds makes sure the audience sings in his live shows (check :45 into this clip). My favorite part, though, is near the middle of the song when that background vocal comes in during the verse, instead of before the chorus. It's very subtle, but just so, so cool. It's from about 2:15 to 2:25, and it coincides with the "waterslide" lyric from above. It's hard to describe unless you're listening as you read, but...chills. Every time I hear it. Chills.

Sorry to screw you on the video clip again, but every clip I found was a live version from a cell phone with people singing all around (not that I do that during his concerts, you see *whistles, looks around room*). Plus, the album version is so much better than any live one I've heard.
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