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.

Air

 

Heaven


Animals

 

Electric Guitar

 

Drugs

 

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.

30 Songs in 30 Days: day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere

Like most colleges, mine had a radio station. WHRB served a large audience in and around the Cambridge and Boston area, with a variety of news and music, ranging from classical to jazz to rock. Like many popular campus activities, if you wanted to work at the radio station, you had to “comp” – which I suppose was short for “compete” to get into the area you were interested in. I don’t know what the requirements were for all the departments, but I knew about two of them: Engineering and Rock.

My friend Steve was really hot on the Engineering department, and I was interested as well. At the time (shortly before the end of the Cretaceous Period), the radio station had turntables for vinyl records, and reel-to-reel tape players, and forty billion knobs, buttons and lights. To become a member of the Engineering department, you had to study for and pass the Second-Class Controller’s Test or SC2T. This test was a high-pressure hands-on simulation of running the studio – cuing up tapes, hitting the right buttons and turning the right dials at the right time, etc. I trained a bit for it, but really basically sucked, so I never took the test. (Steve flew through it and joined the Engineering department.)

As tough as the SC2T was, as hard as it was to become a studio engineer at the station, the Rock comp – which was where my interests really lay – was worse. Others have commented on the pretentious snobbery of college music reviewers. Well, let me tell you, those proto-hipsters had nothing on the Rock department. This was first and foremost a club, and clubs are meant to be exclusive. To comp into Rock, you had to sit for a 50- or 60-question written exam, which essentially consisted of the most obscure music trivia you could imagine. Several of my freshman dormmates were so steeped in the history and arcana of rock music that they breezed through. I listened to a lot of good and interesting music – even some obscure stuff – but I hadn’t made a study of it. I suppose it made some sense to have a high barrier – after all, if you’re on the air, you have to be able to say something about the music you’re playing other than the name of the song and the band – but the snobbery of those in the department to anybody who couldn’t identify the lead singer of the Seeds (hint: Sky Saxon) was palpable and intense.

But I really wanted in. So I took the test, probably two or three times, and finally got into the department. Whereupon I became a raging snobby asshole about music. No, not really. In fact, I had barely scraped by on the test, and I think the rest of the department looked at me like a special-needs charity case. On the plus side, my abortive efforts to handle the engineering stuff meant I was able to operate the turntables and microphones in the studio without too much of that bane of radio stations everywhere: Dead Air. I got good enough that I was able to start a 30-second song, cue up the next song, check levels, and segue the songs without missing a beat.

The Rock department had a regular late-night show – called either “Plastic Passions” or “Record Hospital” at the time, I can’t remember when it changed – and for one summer, I had a shift (shared with another DJ) one night a week. I would ride my bike to the studio and do the show and then ride back to my crummy apartment at 1:00 or 1:30 in the morning. I muddled through the shows as best I could, trying hard not to embarrass myself, particularly since the girl I shared the time slot with knew a boatload more about music than I did. (I still remember one gaffe when, after playing a song by the Descendants, I referred to them as “local,” despite the fact that we were about 3,000 miles away from anywhere they could be deemed local. I tried to cover by pointing out that I had spent the previous year living in Los Angeles. I’m not sure it worked, and I still bear the scars of the scorn in my partner’s eyes and voice. That may be a slight exaggeration, but I do remember the incident.)

Our show took requests, and for a while we had a regular caller, some kid asking us to play Institutionalized by Suicicidal Tendencies. Since we didn’t get a ton of requests, I played it for him whenever he called in, which was every week. The song itself is a shouty emo rant peppered with power-punk guitar and drum riffs, and I can see why it would appeal to a certain type of angsty teenager. I am not sure why he needed to hear it every week – maybe I was the only DJ willing to play it when he asked. After several weeks of this, I was instructed by the head of the Rock department that I shouldn’t fulfill that request any more. Apparently we were giving the song too much airplay. Maybe the song was too well known – it had featured in the movie Repo Man – so it didn’t fit the show’s image of being on the bleeding edge of the rock (especially punk) music world. In any event, I had to ignore those requests. Fortunately, the summer was almost over, and with it, my career as a radio personality. I was still a member, but I don’t think I did much at the station after that, other than use its facilities to record the one and only episode of Time Patrol, an hilariously bad, yet good-grade-garnering, project Steve and I put together for a seminar. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about that another time.

30 Songs in 30 Days: day 04 – a song that makes you sad

This is yet another hard one. I suspect this is going to be a common refrain throughout this meme, but interestingly, the reasons they are difficult are different from one to the next. This one’s a hard one not just because I try to avoid things that make me sad, but because I don’t associate music with any especially sad moments in my life. Music is kind of constant with me, but for some reason – I’m probably emotionally stunted or something – even my strongest memories generally don’t get associated with music. (This may make future posts in this meme difficult as well, when we get to the “a song that reminds you of…” entries.)

Musically, this song hits me right between the eyes, especially at the bridge. It’s beautifully crafted, the chord changes, the tempo, the modulation and crescendo at the bridge, the whole package. I have a friend who talks about the “oh wow” spine tingle you get in the presence of something awesome. I often get that feeling, or something close to it, from different chord progressions. When I am singing along in the car (admit it, you do it to) and he gets to “I whisper ‘I love you’ each night as they sleep, but no one hears me when I speak,” it breaks both my voice and my heart.

The upshot is that this song doesn’t really make me sad, really, but it is a sad song; and it resonates with me: lyrics like “I just miss being young, and I grew old so fast,” and the themes of suppressed emotion and foregone opportunities, strike closer to home than I would probably care to admit. (Yet here I am admitting it, so go figure.) There’s a wistful sadness to the whole thing, and I’m sure it’s my age talking, but I feel it. Completely.

But don’t tell anyone. I’d hate for this to get out.

30 Songs in 30 days: day 03 – a song that makes you happy

I discovered The Apples in Stereo in 2007 through the magic of the South by Southwest annual Showcasing Artists song collection. For those not in the know, every year, the SXSW Music (and now Film and Interactive) Festival releases a giant Bittorrent file containing one song from each of hundreds of bands. Gigabytes of fresh music, gratis for free, costing zip zilch zero nada. Heaven!

Of course there’s a ton of stuff I will never listen more than once (and some I never even get to at all), but every once in a while, I find something like a nugget of pure gold in a pan full of silt. The track in the video above – Can You Feel It? – was not one of those nuggets, but this one was:

I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it, and I went out and dug up whatever information I could find about the band. That led me to their album New Magnetic Wonder, which in turn introduced me to the track at the top of this post. That summer, I think I played these two songs as loud as possible every time I got in my car, singing (or screeching, as the case may be) along with Robert Schneider’s way-out-of-my-register voice to the point where my throat hurt.

These two songs are incredibly simple – musically, lyrically, thematically – to the point where they have both been used to sell things to people. (I know Energy was used in a Pepsi commercial, and I swear I once heard a local Chicago radio station playing Can You Feel It? in a Cubs game promo.) And you know what? I don’t care. Some people take great umbrage when a song they like winds up in an ad. The band “sold out, man.” I say fuck that noise. If a song I love, from a band I love, gets exposed to a million new ears because somebody somewhere thinks it will part people from their hard-earned cash, that’s a Good Thing. These songs makeme happy, why shouldn’t they make more people happy?

So, yeah, pop anthems with fuzzed-up guitar, high-pitched vocals. Perfect summertime, top-down, highway shout-alongs. Damn right they make me happy.

How about you?

30 Songs in 30 days: day 02 – your least favorite song

Yeah, it turns out this one’s harder to figure out than my favorite song. With that one, the hard part was picking one out of the myriad songs I really really (really) love to call a “favorite.” The problem with this one is that I don’t really listen to songs I don’t like – certainly not enough to decide if one is worse than another. And unlike some people, I don’t have a massively negative period in my past I can look back on and associate with a song. (Now if it were “least favorite soup,” I’d be all over that, because in 2003 I suffered a medical crisis that, while not directly soup-related, is forever inextricably linked in my mind to gazpacho, which is too bad because I really used to like gazpacho, and now it’s time to put the brakes on this digression before it gets out of control.)

Anyway. Where was I?

Right. Least favorite song. I could say that this one’s my (current) least favorite because of the vapidity of the “party party” mentality that it espouses; because of the pop blandness that renders it virtually indistinguishable from any of a hundred other songs that have wafted through the air and airwaves over the past couple of years; because it epitomizes the rampant hypersexualization of teen girls that I, as the father of a preteen girl, find disturbing (and at times, terrifying); because its success derives entirely from the cult of celebrity surrounding Miley Cyrus, not from any actual musical virtue … but really, this one made the cut for one simple reason: my kids keep singing it. All. The. Time. Sometimes they just hum it. Sometimes they make up their own words. But it’s still the same freakin’ song. So you can thank my children for my inflicting this on you.

(OK, full disclosure. My kids don’t actually sing this one very often any more – it’s a couple months out of date. I think they’ve moved on to “The Lazy Song” from Bruno Mars. But they aren’t nearly as incessant as they were with “Party in the USA.”)

30 songs in 30 days: day 01 – your favorite song

OK, if I’m going to do this… thing… I might as well start now, with Laphroaig-induced boldness and time on my hands.

So. Maximo Park became one of my go-to bands a couple of years ago, and this song is one that I go back to again and again. (Don’t be surprised if more Maximo Park songs pop up in this meme. Not sure it will happen, but it might.) I’ve played this one so much over the past two or three years that I think it gets the title of “current favorite” by default.

Why this one? Hard to say. The jangly guitars and harmonizing vocals (in a British accent) are right in my wheelhouse these days when it comes to loving music. There’s a frenetic energy that revs me up every time the track comes on. Like a lot of Maximo Park songs, it becomes a couple of different songs as it progresses from beginning to end, structurally and thematically, and that appeals to me more than the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus that characterizes most songs. “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again; you start all over again.” That doesn’t directly apply to me (thankfully), but with the world as precarious as it sometimes seems to be these days, it resonates. It seems like the right attitude to have just in case.

But I guess the strongest argument in favor of this one being my favorite song (at least for the moment) is that I have listened to it at least a dozen times in a row while I’ve been struggling to write this entry. And I could listen to it a dozen more times without a second’s hesitation. Hard to top that.

30 Songs in 30 Days

I am a bit reluctant to do this, but I am being pressured. (Dammit, Dave!) My main concern is that I don’t know if I can think of songs to fit the categories. Like, how am I supposed to choose one song to be my favorite?

Oh well. I suppose I’ll give it a shot. Starting with my next post, we’re going to launch this thing and see where it lands.

UPDATE: First of all, it’s going to take me a while to figure out a favorite song to start this thing off with. Secondly, “daily” may mean something different to you than it means to me. Shut up.

The sequence (so you can set your expectations):


day 01 – your favorite song


day 02 – your least favorite song


day 03 – a song that makes you happy


day 04 – a song that makes you sad


day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone


day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere


day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event


day 08 – a song that you know all the words to


day 09 – a song that you can dance to


day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep


day 11 – a song from your favorite band


day 12 – a song from a band you hate


day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure


day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love


day 15 – a song that describes you


day 16 – a song that you used to love but now hate


day 17 – a song that you hear often on the radio


day 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radio


day 19 – a song from your favorite album


day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry


day 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happy


day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad


day 23 – a song that you want to play at your wedding


day 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeral


day 25 – a song that makes you laugh


day 26 – a song that you can play on an instrument


day 27 – a song that you wish you could play


day 28 – a song that makes you feel guilty


day 29 – a song from your childhood


day 30 – your favorite song at this time last year