Sunday, April 10, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 30: Your Favorite Song at This Time, Last Year

If you want to get technical, this is Day 35 of the 30-Day Song Challenge: I fudged and neglected posting on a couple of days. And no, I don't want to go out on Toto (see previous entry).

Close to this time last year, I was first discovering the joys of Cobirds Unite, the most recent solo CD by Seattle's best singer/songwriter, Rusty Willoughby. The title track, my favorite song on the album, sounds (to me, at least) like the Beatles and Neko Case waltzing through a dense forest together, under a bright but foreboding full moon. Or something like that. Gorgeous, eerie stuff; sung sublimely by Willoughby and Visqueen's Rachel Flotard.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Day 29: A Song from Your Childhood

Some of my first favorite bands as a kid were incubated in the slick waters of AM radio. Before I discovered punk and new wave at age 15 I drank as deep from the well of arena-schlock as any child of the 1970's.

One of those AM-ready bands was Toto, whose big hits of the 1970's and '80's made for some reasonably tasty empty calories. One of the first LP's (vinyl, kids) that I purchased was Hydra, the band's sophomore release in 1979. The title track's combination of pompous prog rock keyboards, unicorn-piss fantasy lyrics, arena-metal guitars, and radio-ready gloss stroked my pre-adolescent pleasure nodes. I hadn't heard this song in ages, and it did take me straight back to being 11 years old. No, it's no damned good, but it entertained the hell outta me back in the day.

Toto actually made a 'video album' for Hydra, many excerpts of which can be found on YouTube. The 'Hydra' video is really damned entertaining pre-MTV cheeserificness (but sadly, not embeddable). This live version, however, is. Enjoy with a pack of Ritz crackers, as you would any pasteurized processed cheese food.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 28: A Song that Makes You Feel Guilty

Still behind. Sorry. Took a day off yesterday from everything, including participating in this Facebook-rooted time-suck.

So what to make of today's Song Challenge? Are we back in Guilty Pleasure territory? Or are we talking about a song that triggers associations with acts of guilt and sin? Or are we talking about a song that really addresses issues of guilt in an eloquent fashion? This silly challenge yields as many nuances of interpretation as Shakespeare, I tell ya.

Well, I've already covered the so-called Guilty Pleasure turf (viva, Spice Girls!); and as an ex-catholic whose every breath and move induced guilt in his halcyon years (and sometimes today, for that matter), every third song I hear could probably trigger some guilt-induced association. And that's not particularly fun (though it is sort of funny).

So I go for Door #3: A great song that happens to address guilt. And as a bonus, I'll throw in two great ones.

The Arctic Monkeys are probably my favorite British band right now; four young pups who can rock like the Buzzcocks on a meth cocktail, craft pop hooks easily the equal of any UK band of the last thirty years, and top the whole combination off with some of the best song lyrics out there right now. Their last disc, 2009's Humbug, saw their songcraft collide with patches of sexual surrealism and a druggily-pulsating production by the Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. It's a wonderfully odd-duck record that stretches creatively without losing sight of the band's considerable strengths.

Chief among those strengths is Alex Turner, the band's lead singer, guitarist, and lyricist. This Humbug highlight, "Dance Little Liar", showcases his sharp lyrical pen; and I love the way the song simmers, then explodes, then fades back into that pounding pulse. Call it Brit-Pop Noir.

If "Dance Little Liar" examines guilt with a sense of foreboding, Billy Paul's 1972 soul classic "Me and Mrs. Jones" unabashedly romanticizes it. The track captures the smouldering slow dance between infidelity-induced guilt and undeniable desire better than any other song ever recorded. Over a lushly-upholstered bed of velour strings and horns, Paul describes the clandestine affair between himself and the titular woman with such a vivid ear, you can picture the entire story in your head as it plays. An entire universe is conveyed in the hints and implications of the lyrics; and in Paul's show-stopping vocal delivery. A stone classic.