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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Days 26 and 27: A Song You can Play, and One You Wish You Could...

So I got a little behind. When you're up 'til 3 in the am writing trivia questions, this'll happen. Fortunately, both of these categories are easy for me.

Like every third person in the Northwest, I play (a little; very little) guitar. For awhile in my halcyon days of youth, like every third person in the Northwest, I even kicked around the idea of, you know, doing it for reals. Played two live solo gigs at a Chinese restaurant in Ballard, even.

During this period, I practiced guitar pretty diligently and got to the proficiency of a pretty skilled twelve-year old. One of the things you learn when you first pick up the guitar is that some of (OK, MOST of) the greatest rock and pop songs on the planet are pretty damned simple to play. So it's kind of a rush to discover a great song, a song that you love, that you can play. One of my first such discoveries was this one. There's a terrific guitar tab for it that's right in my vocal key, and with some practice...I sound like a pretty skilled twelve-year old playing David Bowie's "Heroes". So one of the songs I can play is "Heroes." But give me a week to practice/re-learn it first.

On the flipside, one of the other things you learn when you first start dinking around on a guitar is that, sometimes, its not as easy as you think. Whether it's the windmill power-chord goofball wizardry of Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, or the acoustic picking of Nick Drake, I do appreciate really good guitar playing.

I don't put a lot of cop into wankerly guitar virtuosity (songs, not wheedling solos, are my bag most of the time), but David Bowie has always aligned himself with amazing guitar players. Ironically, while "Heroes" is incredibly easy to play, "Scary Monsters and Super Creeps" sports squalls of incredibly precise yet crazed guitar soloing by Robert Fripp. I will never be able to play like this. But I'm glad that Fripp does.

Monday, March 28, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 25 - a song that makes you laugh

There are a lot of songs that induce intentional laughter in this world. Hell, the entire catalog of Flight of the Conchords would fill the bill nicely. But picking between all of the Conchords songs would be like the Octomom picking her favorite octuplet, so I'll go with someone else entirely, namely garage rockers Electric Six.

Don't know about you, but any band that mixes fuzztone guitar with handclaps, cowbells, and Abe Lincoln in tight leather shorts makes me mighty happy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 24 - A Song that you Want to Play at your Funeral

I hope that the necessity for this soundtrack doesn't come for a good many years, but when it does I'd rather have people having fun than moping about my recently-departed duff. Party up, all.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 23 - A Song in a Foreign Language

The initiator of this here list suggested a change to Day 23, and that suits me just fine, especially in light of the artist who comes immediately to mind.

Serge Gainsbourg's probably best known today as the dad of chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg. But for over twenty years, he was an honest-to-God superstar in France, cutting records that combined his sense of lackadaisical Gallic cool with a wide variety of musical influences--jazz, afro-cuban, disco, and rock. My favorite Gainsbourg track is "Bonnie and Clyde," directly inspired by the 1967 Arthur Penn flick and sung in duet with the exotic Brigitte Bardot. Some of Gainsbourg's work took a left turn into kitsch (not a bad thing); "Bonnie and Clyde," with its surging acoustic guitar, strange looped (or at least they sound looped) cymbals, and insistent strings, just sounds gothic and haunting and wonderful. And really damned cool.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 22 - A Song that you Listen to When you’re Sad

I've tried to avert the climes of sadness a lot lately. The surging and chaotic tumult of life brings scary alien bouts of change; and those surges of unrest alternately hurt, terrify, and exhilarate. But plumbing deep into sadness--looking squarely into it--is a whole lot harder.

That's why when you hear music that truly taps into it, it can almost be too much to listen to.

For some reason, a cloak of sadness has been hanging over me pretty persistently today. Part of the credit's due to some exotic strain of something that's been hanging on far, far too long. And when your body doesn't feel well, the mind makes that same stretch easily. So when I got home from a co-worker's farewell party, I threw on Nick Drake's Pink Moon.

Nick Drake, in case you didn't know, was an English folk singer whose haunting, airy voice and sophisticated acoustic guitar playing wrought a massive influence on a lot of musicians. If you're a fan of the emotionally-naked songwriting of Elliott Smith, you're hearing the doomed spiritual progeny of Nick Drake.

Drake fit the portrait of a doomed spirit himself, passing away at the painfully young age of 26 in 1974. Before dying, he committed three full-length albums to posterity, all of which walk some very dark pathways.

The most harrowing of them, 1972's Pink Moon, is less than thirty minutes long. It presents Drake at his most stripped-down and chilling-to-the-marrow sad. All eleven tracks are deceptively tranquil--just Drake's spectral croon and his densely-plucked guitar--but beneath that lull of a voice is a melancholy of incalculable depth.

The title track was (stupidly) used by Volkswagen for a commercial a few years ago. It's understandable, I suppose. The soothing sonics probably seemed perfect for a bunch of hippie kids parked sentimentally under the stars. Volkswagen (wisely) omitted the full brunt of Drake's lyrics; a tale of the world ending, delivered with narcotic inevitability. If that ain't sad, I don't know what is. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A Song that you Listen to When you’re Happy

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. And listen to James Brown's "Sex Machine."

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 20 - A Song that you Listen to when you’re Angry

So what do I listen to when I'm angry? Well, why am I angry? And what am I hoping to accomplish in listening to music?
Well, I'll tackle a couple of these possibilities. What the hell, it's only sleep.

Maybe I'm just flat-out pissed at someone or something and need something loud and cathartic. If that's the catalyst, then I pick "Jake Leg," a track by Baroness, an amazing metal band that flat out blew the top of my head off at Bumbershoot 2010. It's loud enough to satisfy the head-banging, but brimming with hooks--like Zeppelin and Dick Dale in a caravan, on amphetamines, with a pack of marauding cossacks hot at their heels. Bonus points to the guy who put this video together with clips from War of the Gargantuas and Frankenstein meets the Space Monster.

Am I looking at submerging into something immersive and escapist that's gonna whisk me away from anger-inducing/mundane reality? Then I'd program in the first three tracks from The Dandy Warhols' 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia (one of which is this, "Godless"). Guaranteed to whisk me off to someplace exotic, dangerous and sexy; even if I'm commuting or scrubbing a toilet. Seriously.

Now, if I want to remove myself from the angry with something happy there's plenty of places to go, happily. Right this instant, if I was fuming and wanted something that'd get my tootsies to a' tapping and the fun to start a' kicking in, I'd throw on this song in a New York minute. And I'd stop being angry, right quick.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 19 - a song from your favorite album

I already put my favorite song by Love on Day 1; and that band's Forever Changes is (pretty much) my favorite album ever. So I'm gonna fudge and put down a song from one of my (other) favorite albums ever. On certain days, it is my favorite album ever.

The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle came out in 1968; and in one of those glorious ironies of fate, it became a sizeable hit over a year after the band broke up. It is, I think, a perfect album--full of faultlessly-realized songwriting, a production that's as layered as it is crystalline, and exquisite singing by Colin Blunstone, a man gifted with the most hauntingly-beautiful set of pipes ever granted to a pop singer. The big hit from the record was the dusky "Time of the Season." It's still one of the most headily sensual rock songs ever recorded, and it's lost none of its power despite over forty years and use in umpteen commercials. But the rest of the album glitters like a chest of jewels exposed to sunlight.

Odessey's two key songwriters, keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White, drew from a massive bag of wonders--classical music, jazz, traditional English folk, gothic cabaret--and created something magical. This gorgeous madrigal, "Changes," is as good a representation of that magic as anything, and it takes my breath away every time I hear it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 18 - A Song that you Wish you heard on the Radio

As was addressed before, I'm not much for traditional radio. But if I did listen to it, I'd love to hear this song by Texas psychedelic shamans The Black Angels on it.

I'm pretty much in love with the Angel's third platter, Phosphene Dream. It's a sublime trip record, and this song, "Telephone", sounds like some great lost track by The Zombies. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 17 - A Song that you Hear Often on the Radio

A song I hear often on the radio. The radio? Does anyone listen to The Radio anymore? With the myriad listening options feeding the earbuds of the world nowadays, radio in its traditional form seems like a quaint, wheezing memory.

That said, every now and then a modern song becomes such a part of the pop-culture firmament that you can't escape it. And I'd hazard a guess that that means it also got played a lot on the radio. So here goes. If Your Obscurity-Huffing Geezer Truly has heard it, then that means it's REALLY become pervasive.

Hey, I kinda like it, too. That Euro-trash barebones synth is in the pocket, methinks. Put that in yer pipe and smoke it, hipsters.

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 16 - a song that you used to love but now hate

Wow, this shoulda gone up last night; but a date with The Residents kept me up til the wee hours. And a guy's gotta sleep sometime, y'know.

Music-wise, I'm not one to discard beloved songs like used Kleenex. But every now and then, a song can get overplayed to death (by you as well as the whole of the media universe). And it can wear out its welcome.

I used to be a pretty big Police fan in my halcyon days of youth, but the massive oversaturation of their last proper album (Synchronicity) and its first hit single ("Every Breath You Take"), coupled with Sting's precipitous descent over the years into tiresome old-gasbagginess, eroded a lot of that fondness. For about six months after it first came out, I thought "Every Breath You Take" was the greatest pop song ever.

'Hate' would be too strong a word for how I feel about the tune today, but listening to it again left me pretty cold, and had me scratching my head as to why I adored it so, back in the day. Honestly, I could go the rest of my life without hearing it again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 15 - A Song that Describes You

On a really, really, really good day, I do, in fact, move like a cat, talk like a rat, and sting like a bee, babe... Just saying.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 14: A Song that No One would Expect you to Love

Well, now that I've admitted my fondness for the Spice Girls, there really isn't much of anything that'll surprise folks who stray across this blog. Considering my propensity for music that's outside the mainstream much of the time, though, my fondness for this song might be a surprise.

A lot of folks worship Tom Petty pretty slavishly, and I've never been one of them. He's written a few great songs, but those efforts have often (for me, at least) been superceded by that mewling Dylan whine and (I'm sorry, but it's true) those teeth that appear too massive for that horse-face of his.

But, again, he's written some great songs, and this one--"Here Comes My Girl"--is probably my favorite. With all the tension in those coiled guitar chords and the spoken-word interludes, it sounds like Lou Reed with a libido. I'm still waiting for someone who can, you know, really sing, to cover this.

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 13: A Song that is a Guilty Pleasure

So any music geek willing to stick to his or her six-guns would preface this category with the exhortation that, "There should be no such things as guilty pleasures." I'd agree with that, pretty much. Unless you're a Celine Dion fan.

Kidding. Sort of.

So I guess my definition of this category would be music so utterly bereft of any traditional muso-snob 'redeeming values' as to raise eyebrows from most stuffy rock critics and indie snobs. If that's the litmus test, then I've got one that'll turn the PH strip into a frickin' kaleidoscope.

I love--no, scratch that, ADORE--the first two Spice Girls CDs. They're perfect, sunny uber-pop albums that hit every fizzy note you could ask for, and then some. And I'd argue that--with their hopscotching of genres, insidiously catchy tunes, and larger-than-life personae--Ginger, Sporty, Posh, Baby, and Scary were the ABBA of the 1990's. They're one pleasure that I'll readily cop to and defend to my dying breath, the way I defend my deep love of SweetTarts and Scooby Doo.

This song has been played to death, reincarnation, and death again since it was released some fifteen years ago, but God help me, I still love it. And with enough belts in me I can lay down a mean version of it on a karaoke night (be ready to help out on the chorus, though). So here's the story from A to Z; you wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 12 - A Song from a Band you Hate, and a Bonus

I've had a curve ball thrown at me by a fellow music nerd (OK, maybe the only person reading these posts besides me). Instead of just linking a song from a band I hate, how about also linking a song that I really like from a band I (normally) hate?

Quick and easy, on both counts.

Not even gonna waste too much copy yabbering about how much I detest Huey Lewis and the News. Sanitized, ultra-slick gruel that I've hated, literally since the day I first heard "Do You Believe in Love?" on the radio nearly thirty years ago. Ick, ick, ick, ick.

Rather than dignify these blandoids with a link or an embed of a straight-up video, I'm attaching a link to a YouTube clip of a sequence in American Psycho, in which Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman character sings the praises of the band's most grating hit single, "Hip to be Square". And if you put a tableful of Huey Lewis CDs in front of me, you can bet I'd treat said tableaux in the same way that Bale treats Jared Leto in the clip.

Here's the link (embed is, sadly, disabled). It's funny, it's gruesome, and it's definitely NSFW.

Meantime, as a bonus, here's a link to a song that I love, by a band I hate. This appeared on the Petri Dish a couple of years ago in a post on songs I'd bought as MP3's, and my sentiments about it still hold true.

Chicago, "Wishing You Were Here": God, admitting to this one almost hurts. My virulent hatred for Chicago's brand of  mellow pop knows no bounds. It's Steely Dan slathered with cheesy horns, a bowl of mud with a spoonful of Cool Whip on top. Good thing downloading gives you the ultimate opportunity to indulge in those anomalous freak tracks by bands that you normally loathe. "Wishing You Were Here" is brilliant, a haunting song of longing with some of the most ethereal harmonies I've heard in a seventies ballad. Sole credit goes to the Beach Boys, who guest on the song and anchor Peter Cetera's treacly songwriting (that cheesy-ass Cetera-sung bridge has gotta go) with their luminous intertwining voices.

Monday, March 14, 2011

30-Day Music Challenge, Day 11: A Song from your Favorite Band

Let's amend this to A Song from One of your Favorite Bands, why don't we? This selection comes from my personal short list of all-time faves.

For my money, Cheap Trick were the greatest rock band of the 1970's. They crashed the pompous Rock Artiste Jackass Party of that decade with an almost punk-rock irreverance, and to this day their meld of bright pop hooks, snotty humor, and monster power chords holds up like Gibraltar in a hurricane.

Somewhere nestled in the bowels of this blog is the beginning draft of a nerdily-exhaustive cap of their career, but for now, here's one of my favorite songs off of Cheap Trick's most recent album, The Latest. Listen--and rock--as four old guys blow out eardrums with more force than bands a third of their age.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 10: A Song that Makes You Fall Asleep

Some of the categories on this Facebook Time Vacuum could be open to several interpretations. Take today's, for example. A song that makes you fall asleep: Do you go with a song so numbingly dull that it instantly induces somnabulism in the stoutest of night owls? Or do you go with a song that captures that wonderful twilight time, when you're relaxed and contemplative and ready to drift happily into the wonderful universe of Dreamtime?

God knows there are more than enough songs out there that encourage the former torpor. Hell, the vast majority of the mellow ballads that somehow prospered in the 1970's could handily fill the bill; the collected works of Barry Manilow ("Copacabana" and "Could This Be the Magic" notwithstanding), Bread, Air Supply...Just writing their names is forcing me to stifle a major yawn as my fingers touch the keyboard.

But the nocturnal romantic in me vastly prefers contemplating songs that capture the twilight and ease you into the evening's indigo folds.

Circulatory System was a side project largely spearheaded by William Cullen Hart, lead singer of Olivia Tremor Control (one of the great, underrated psychedelic bands of the late 1990's/early 2000's). OTC put out a couple of great records, and sounded (to me, at least) like what the Flaming Lips have wanted to sound like for most of the last decade, only bolstered by much better singing. Circulatory System's lone disc swirls and mesmerizes with equal beauty.

The album's finest song, "The Pillow", makes for perfect nighttime music. Hart's hushed, spectral vocals layer atop themselves at the opening, gliding along a bed of gently-insistent kettle drums and eastern-tinged guitars. And on at least one night I've had occasion to lie in the darkness, staring at moonlight streaming through gaps between curtains, with this song on constant repeat as sleep enveloped me.

Listen, close your eyes, and drift there.