From brainless criticism, comes brilliance.
Month: June 2011
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love
I can see this is going to turn into “30 Songs in 45-60 Days,” but so be it.
I have no idea what would surprise people any more. I could come up with something ridiculous here, and someone would undoubtedly say, “Oh yeah, of course you’d like that.” Still, one must try…
This song is definitely not something I would expect myself to like. It’s basically country, in both musical style and lyrical sentiment, and while I might not actually say I love this song, something about it gets into my ears and under my skin. I tried to analyze why, and the best I can come up with is that it reminds me somehow of this:
Look at that hair! Those dance moves! I actually have a great fondness for this song, reaching back to when I was about seven years old. We lived in a big house that had been divided up into six or eight apartments. One of the neighbor families had a daughter named Jolene (yeah, really) who was a year or two older than I was, and this was her favorite song. I don’t remember having a crush on her or anything – we were friends, but I think I may not have been quite to the having-crushes stage – but I distinctly recall at least one occasion when she did a lip-synch and Nancy Sinatra-style dance routine in the back yard, involving me as the hapless “you” of the song. Good times.
Huh. Now that I think of it, I think people might be surprised that I love that one, too.
If you’re looking for gift ideas for me – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – I really want one of these.
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure
OK, I admit it. I like Jethro Tull. I grew up with the band, especially Aqualung, which remains one of my favorite all-time records. But I wouldn’t consider that a guilty pleasure. See, Aqualung (and Thick as a Brick, the other Tull album I am most familiar with) can be viewed as pretty straight-up rock albums. Not so Songs From The Wood – that one is the bastard child of a classic power rock album and a Renaissance Faire. See Ian Anderson caper about with his flute, like a demented Pan! Watch as he bugs out his eyes and smashes cymbals together – huzzah! Where’s my flagon of ale and giant turkey leg? When’s the Mud Show?
Be that as it may, I totally adore this album, and I will endure any amount of teasing for it. The harmonies and the lyrics press my D&D/medieval/Celtophile nerd buttons eight ways from Sunday, and the fusion with the rock guitar, drums and keyboard is epic. The title song, here, is but one. There’s also Jack in the Green, The Whistler, and my personal favorite, Hunting Girl. That might be an even guiltier pleasure, I suppose, because of the suggestive lyrics, so I’ll include it here.
Honest, I only listen for the music.
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 12 – a song from a band you hate
How can anyone hate U2? you might be asking. It’s pretty easy. By their fourth album or thereabouts, it was clear they had bought into their publicists’/label’s marketing message that they were a Very Important Musical Group Indeed. I stopped being able to listen to them about the time they took on Very Serious Political Ideas in their work. Not that I’m opposed to musicians taking political stands or incorporating them into their music. I just thought the music U2 were making stopped being very interesting.
I really started to despise U2 when Bono became some sort of spokesperson for… something. What was his first issue? Who knows? Who cares? The fact that he decided he was going to use his Single Name of Power in the service of making himself look like a great humanitarian just turned me off. (Again, I was generally unimpressed with the band’s music throughout this period, too.) Also, what was up with those stupid-looking wraparound shades? “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just a regular guy trying to shade my eyes from the sun, not a one-name celebrity with pretensions of — oh, you caught me!”
And of course, more recently, Bono (along with The Edge) proved that even highly successful musicians can rise well above their levels of competence. A Broadway musical? Really? And based on Spider-Man, of all things? Oh, I’ve no doubt that many of the failings of that show were attributable to the now-departed Julie Taymor, but did nobody think to tell these guys that writing a Broadway show is not like writing a Top 40 hit song? (Well, of course nobody told them that – I’m sure nobody gets within 30 feet of Bono unless they are willing to blow fifteen different colors of smoke up his ass.)
But long before all of that, U2 were a pretty decent four-piece from Ireland whose music fell on the melodious side of the post-punk music scene. I bought and owned and even loved their first album, Boy, from which this song is taken. Look at Bono in this one, playing on a British TV show. Sure, he’s smirky, but it’s a smirk of youthful hijinkery, not one of snotty superiority. If the band had kept making this kind of simple, fluid music, I’d still be buying their stuff.
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 11 – a song from your favorite band
Oh Jebus. Picking my favorite band is harder than picking my favorite song. However, I think I have to give the ribbon to Buzzcocks. I’ve been listening to them since my freshman year of college (875 years ago), and their music from the late 70’s and early 80’s still holds up incredibly well. I like a lot of their more recent stuff – they re-emerge into the studio and touring scene every few years – but the older songs remain all-time favorites. There are so many things I love about this band: the plaintive, lovelorn lyrics; the raucous, raw, high-energy sound; the other bands that have sprung from the Buzzcocks well… If I were told I could listen to only one band for the rest of my life, I’d choose these guys and never regret it.
My pay-to-download music source of choice, eMusic, recently made several Buzzcocks albums available in “special edition” format – with demos and other extras – so I have begun to recreate my collection. I’ve started with their first album, 1978’s Another Music in a Different Kitchen, and as far as I am concerned, every single song on the album is a gem. I’ve picked Moving Away From The Pulsebeat for this post, mostly because I am in love with the drumming. First, a video from (I believe) the band’s first reunion tour somewhere around 1989:
And then the album version, which has a hotter tempo and must be played VERY LOUD for maximum joy:
(Not sure why they put that silent bit and then the weird coda at the end. It’s a riff from their song Boredom and then an infinitely rising scale… and it’s all totally unconnected to the rest of the album. Weird.)
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep
There aren’t many songs that make me fall asleep in and of themselves. If I’m tired enough, I’ll doze off to anything. And if there’s a song that really bores me that much, I just don’t listen to it.
So I’m going to fudge this one a little. One day when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I spent an entire afternoon lying on my bed in the dark, wearing headphones and listening over and over and over to Side 2 of Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, consisting of the five tracks below. They didn’t exactly put me to sleep, but they nearly put me in an altered state of consciousness – as close to being very stoned as you can get without being very stoned.
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 09 – a song that you can dance to
Yeah, yeah, yeah… ok, “daily” is kind of a… palindrome! Yeah… no, now, wait, the palindrome of “daily” would be “yliad”… a METAPHOR! That’s it. A metaphor for… no. I give up. I guess “daily” is just a target that I have missed pretty severely. But really, I’m only nine days behind, so maybe I’ll try to catch up.
A song I can dance to? I went for a very long time thinking I couldn’t dance, because when I was nine years old, at summer camp, my girlfriend said so. She said so in order to deny another girl’s request to dance with me, and if I had been a little quicker on the uptake, I could have cruised through the rest of that summer with a much better girlfriend. Give me a break; I was nine. Anyway, that was the end of our summer romance and the beginning of a long period of self-consciousness. Which was too bad, because I actually have a pretty good sense of rhythm.
I’ve mostly recovered from that reticence. I still prefer a decent quantity of alcohol enhancement before I will get out and start moving, but once I’m out there, I don’t really care if I move around like a spastic rhinoceros. As long as I’m not actually crushing anybody underfoot, it’s all good. I’ve danced at weddings, parties, and I’ve even been known to hit a club once in a while.
There will be no pictures.
So this was a tough category to decide. There aren’t too many songs that automatically get me up and moving. In the absence of a clear winner, I give you this one, which came on during a long party when I was in law school, prompting me and a dozen of my classmates to bop around like… well, like very drunk law students:
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 08 – a song that you know all the words to
I have been falling behind, yes. I told you before, “daily” may mean something different to me than to you. Here’s a little something to wake you up if you’re drowsy.
How about a little feedback, Scarecrow?
Ultravox represents a big step in the evolution of my musical tastes. Until the time my friend Robb introduced me to the band – with this song – I was listening mostly to stuff like Styx, Kansas, Electric Light Orchestra and Supertramp (see the previous song post). My favorite band before I got to high school was Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Then Robb played some stuff for me that was totally unlike anything I had ever heard. I think he started with Gang of Four, and maybe Wire, but Ultravox was really the band that pulled me off my comfortable prog and classic rock path into the world of punk and new wave. And the album Ha! Ha! Ha! is cemented firmly in my mind as the Ultravox album.
Most people who know of Ultravox are familiar with their dance music from the 1980’s, when they were fronted by Midge Ure. To be sure, they were a lot more successful and prolific with him – they released twice as many albums – but I didn’t have much use for them by that point; I was a fan of the John Foxx-fronted version of the band. (I even tracked down their one single as “Tiger Lily,” when John Foxx was still called Dennis Leigh. It was,sadly, stolen from me a few years later.) You only have to compare Fear in the Western World with something like All Stood Still to see the different direction the band had taken:
The “new” Ultravox may have been fine musically – and it certainly fit into the 1980’s – but it would never be my Ultravox.
There are countless songs to which I know all the words, but this one holds a special place in my musical heart, and I’ve known these words for nearly 35 years now – and still do, even after not listening to it for probably close to a decade.
30 Songs in 30 Days: day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event
For the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I worked at a summer camp run by one of my favorite high school teachers. Camp Walt Whitman (or as we referred to it, Camp Walter Winchell) was in New Hampshire, not far from the home of Dartmouth College. I wasn’t a counselor; I was sort of an administrative gofer. My main job was to get up before everyone else, go to the camp office, and put on the recording of “Reveille” to wake the camp. There was a speciic time I was supposed to do this, and most of the time, I succeeded in meeting the schedule. I overslept a ciouple of times. Not more than ten, I’d say, though I did not try to keep an accurate count. My other duties included helping set up the dining hall for meals, refilling Heinz bottles from massive cans of industrial-grade ketchup, preparing bug juice and snacks, and making pizza in the little hut the counselors’ used as an after-hours lounge.
That summer was filled with memorable experiences. My first sampling of the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack (which, along with Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and ELO’s A New World Orchestra, was the only music we had in the cabin). My first real fistfight. My first encounter with the broad Midwestern accent that pronounces the word “jog” as “jag.” And my first experience of Talking Heads.
The drinking age in New Hampshire in 1978 was 21. The drinking age in Vermont was 18. The camp is in Piermont, New Hampshire, which just happens to be a very short drive across the Connecticut River from Bradford, Vermont. (I think you can see where this might be going.) Once in a while, a bunch of the over-18 counselors and staff would iple into a couple of cars and head across the river for a night out. One of these times, I accompanied them.
I don’t remember the name of the place we went to. My understanding was that for one reason or another – most likely because some of us (e.g., me) were not even 18 yet – we had to go to a bar that was attached to a restaurant (or a restaurant that had a bar) instead of just a straight-up bar. So we ended up in this restaurant/bar that had been converted from somebody’s house. We sat at a large table, and ordered some food and those who could do so ordered beers. I honestly don’t remember most of the details about the evening – not because I got drunk or anything (I wasn’t drinking), but because it was 850 years ago and those memories have long since been overwritten by Star Trek trivia and porn. But the one thing I do remember is that this song came on the house system.
I had not heard Talking Heads before. I had especially not heard Psycho Killer. And I hadn’t really paid much attention to the clientele of the establishment until they started singing along. There is nothing quite like a roomful of rugged, plaid-shirted, Vermont backwoods-looking types shouting and stomping to the words “Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est? Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa!” There I was, a 17-year-old Jewish kid from the Boston suburbs, somewhere in the remote woods of Vermont*, surrounded by a couple dozen lumberjacks** all enthusiastically singing a song celebrating the glory of psychotic murder. Awesome. I decided right then and there that Psycho Killer was a horrible song and I hated Talking Heads, and I really just wanted to be done with our meal and go back to camp.
Needless to say, I survived the evening and later came to realize that my initial reaction to the song and the band may have been unfairly influenced by the circumstances.
* Bradford, Vermont is a reasonably-sized town, not even close to remote woods.
** Probably college students.