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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Tired of Being Alone"

Al Green - Tired of Being Alone (1971)

I never would have guessed this song is so short.

Solid production lets the horns, guitars and backing vocals lift Al's voice up and never over-crowds him. The horns are awesome, and I want more every time I hear them, which is why I would be a bad producer for this song. I would over use them. The best part of this song is Al Green's vocals. Obvious you may say, but seriously listen to them. He does sound tired. His voice is stressed, strained, worried, scared, doubting and plaintive. This man is not just a member of the tired of being alone club, he's the damn president. The five second beat at 1:45 between "sometime I wonder" and "if you love me like you say you do" is the most honest moment in the song.

I was writing a comic script for a friend a few months ago, and I was covering the page with dialogue. He patiently pointed out to me that it was too wordy. I told him I was worried that I wasn't doing my fair share of the work. Then he told me this simple truth: just because you aren't writing dialogue, doesn't mean you are not writing. Jazz musicians will tell you that it's the notes you don't play that make a piece, and I am telling you right now, you may not hear Al Green during those 5 seconds, but don't ever think that he is not still singing his heart out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Save the Last Dance for Me"

The Drifters - Save the Last Dance for Me (1960)

I must have heard this song a million times. Early 60s music got played a lot in my house growing up. This song has always been a little sad. The man tells his partner to go out and have a good time at the dance, and he will be waiting for the last dance. The book says that this song was based on the true story of one of the songwriter's wedding. Doc Pomus had polio and could not dance, but his wife was a Broadway actress and dancer. She danced the whole night with others, but they went off together at the end of the night.

Musically, the lead vocal (Ben E. King) is poignant and wonderful, the upper harmonies are great, and the low bits are mostly solid. There is some poor quality in the lows, but I think that is likely to be the quality of recording equipment at the time. The rhythm is a slow Latin style beat. The book calls it Brazilian baion. Hutchinson encyclopedia points out the Phil Specter used it a lot in his work, and Wikipedia reminds us that Phil Specter was apprenticing with Lieber and Stoller while they were producing this song. Production is really strong on this song. Percussion, strings, guitars, harmonies, and nothing overrides the lead vocal. It all comes together perfectly.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Interpol - Untitled (2002)

Surprise, sometimes, will come around.

I don't know a lot about Interpol. They were really active in the New York indie scene around the same time as The Strokes, and I was a big fan of The Strokes, so I know the singles, but not really any of the other cuts off the albums. That being said, I never would have guessed that this song was Interpol. This sounds like shoegaze. Very brief lyrics, reverb heavy guitar that never stops, etc.

I'm not even sure what else to say. They song is a tone poem more than a pop song, an experiment in texture and feeling. The guitar sound that starts in around 2:30 and runs out almost to the end of the song puts me in mind of an air raid siren. The book describes the earlier guitar sound that you hear throughout as "dive-bombing" so I think the editors were in the same hearing space I was.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Your Ghost"

Kristin Hersh featuring Michael Stipe - Your Ghost (1994)

Heavy song. Dark and mysterious, Kristin Hersh's voice is not what one would call beautiful here. But it's a musical ghost story. It's not meant to be beautiful, what it is is something that you can't ignore. Michael Stipe's not quite harmony really adds to the creepy factor. In fact, the cello and Stipe's increasing harshness really makes this song almost hard to listen to (in the best way possible, like a suspense movie). It ends just when it has to. Honestly I would had to have turned it off if it went one more couplet.

When it is just her and the guitar, I swear the chords and her voice are just a little off. Like she's playing minor 7th chords and singing in a minor 9th. But that's not right. Anyway, great song I had never heard before.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Blondie - Atomic (1979)

Kinda cool song. Debbie Harry's vocals are very pop normal. Lyrically, she could be singing uh huh and yeah all the way through it for all it matters. But the music is so different. It has elements of a soundtrack. The band has said it was influenced by Westerns. You can tell. It would have made a great soundtrack to Westworld released earlier in the decade. It's like a danceable spaghetti western song. Or if someone told the band to make a theme song to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens. There's some odd spacey keyboard sounds, a bass solo of all things, and in fact, for two minutes out of the four minute song, no one is singing at all.

Friday, August 26, 2011


General Public - Tenderness (1984)

Almost out of tune with itself toy electric piano. Tambourine. Moaning vocals. Electric Piano. Really high male vocals. Breathy harmonies. Five second long guitar solo. Serious face hand-clapping. Multiple Electric Piano sounds. Remnants of Ska era trumpet. Building snare drum. Poppy. Repetitive lyrics. Fade out.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Your Cheating Heart"

Ray Charles - Your Cheating Heart (1962)

This is the only full version of this song available on YouTube. I looked elsewhere as well. I did find a Russian language website that seemed to have it, but it was a karaoke version. Most of what is on YouTube is live versions. There is also one that starts near the beginning, but not at the beginning. This guy has a double video, You Are My Sunshine and Your Cheating Heart, so I've got it starting in the middle.

Off of Ray Charles' second Country album. There was nothing this man could not sing. Unfortunately, there are only two of his songs in this book. If I was only going to include two Ray Charles songs, this is not one of the ones I would choose. I don't really like the backing choir, and the string arraignment is sort of a neutral. Fortunately his vocals sound like a man who has been destroyed by love. The man is an ace piano player, but I don't think that really shines in this recording. There is a piano solo, but it is short, and almost drowned out by the strings.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Black Night"

Deep Purple - Black Night (1970)

Classic guitar driven 70s rock. Considered by many to be a precursor to Heavy Metal, Deep Purple is a Hard Rock icon.

The book points out a couple of interesting things about this song. First, that this song is (obviously once you hear them both) an influence on Woman by Wolfmother. Second, that the lyrics were an afterthought, hastily written in a pub. If you read them, they actually scan as a teenagers poem scrawled in red ink on a binder. The music is obviously the draw here. Guitar and bass and organ mirroring each other with great thumping drums keeping time. The organ is a really distinctive sound in such a hard band. There are also some great guitar solos. The lead guitar solo at 1:30 is so clearly a prototypical heavy metal guitar lick, that it is no wonder so many guitar players name Ritchie Blackmore as an influence.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Rhythm Nation"

Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation (1989)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

Definitely a song that is heavily tied to its video. The message is racial equality, the song is funky, and it really is a great dance track. There are some nice drum breaks, some horns I don't remember hearing back in the 80s, and a surprising nun-chuck break at the 3 minute mark. On the minus side, if you're not watching it, and are just listening, its a long track, but I don't know if that's a fair judgement. This is a song that is intended to get you up off your but and onto the dance floor. The fact that over 20 years later it does make me want to get up is a testament to Ms. Jackson.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Supermassive Black Hole"

Muse - Supermassive Black Hole (2006)

This is, I think, the first of these reviews to feature a song I have heard the original group perform it live. Muse opened for My Chemical Romance on The Black Parade tour and I saw them in MD. I don't remember too much, I was sick as a dog and shouldn't have been there, but I'm glad I went.
This song has a very 70s garage sound to it before the vocals kick in. It's the fuzz guitar effects, get me every time. Bellamy's voice is almost unmistakable, and the harmonies the rest of the bad brings make this song really unique when played over this music track. I could try to compare it to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road era Elton John playing with Black Sabbath, but that's not right, and is an oversimplification. The drums sound a little perfect, like a drum machine, but overall the song is a success for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Sapore di sale"

Gino Paoli - Sapore di sale (1963)

I don't really know how to classify this. It sounds most like a soundtrack song. If there was a female James Bond series, then this could have been the theme song to the second one. It has big lush orchestration. Instead of a guitar solo it has a saxophone solo, which is cool. The solo itself leaves something to be desired, it's just a rehash of the main vocal line with little to no embellishments. I think it is an odd choice to do a fade out at the end, but that was the norm for a long long while. The piano player on this track sounds like they are having a blast. The rest of the instruments are in lock step perfect harmony and playing a very straightforward song, even the sax as I mentioned. But the piano player keeps throwing in some "jazz notes". I like the effect, even if I don't know exactly what they meant for it to convey. Perhaps, because the song is called Taste of Salt, that's what those little extra notes are; the salt that makes the rest of the song really pop.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


The Breeders - Cannonball (1993)

Ah High School nostalgia. The lyrics don't make a lot of sense, but that bass line really grooves.

After the well known Ahhooo intro, you actually get a pretty standard build up of drums, then bass, lead guitar, then rhythm; then for a real nostalgia treat, just before the vocals you get a sound that reminds everyone of my age group what getting on the internet used to entail.

The false ending, the screamed vocals, I remembered it all. The Deals' vocals are almost hypnotic, and once you throw that never-ending bass line in there, I could lose track of an afternoon listening to this, thank goodness for the shouted bridge.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"When the Levee Breaks"

Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks (1971)

Played on the news whenever flood waters threaten the heartland, including just a few months ago, the original version of this song was written in 1929 to commemorate the 1927 Mississippi flood. According to many historians, the flood was responsible for the second great wave of Southern African Americans leaving and heading for Northern cities; as well as the election of Herbert Hoover, and part of why African Americans left "The Party of Lincoln" and shifted to the Democrats. But this is a music blog, and I'm not "Weasel", so back to it.

Hell of an intro right? Reverberating drums, a backward echo harmonica part, and one of the most famous guitar riffs ever recorded. The whole seven minute song never lets up, and never lets you go. I love the beginning of the bridge, it gets lighter for just a few seconds, makes you think the storm is over, and then CRASH; right back in the thick of it. Everything is echo and reverb and frankly, if you have crappy tinny little speakers, this song must sound awful. Put some headphones on, some big over the ear jobbies. Or put in on your home entertainment center if you want to shake the house down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


The Sugarcubes - Birthday (1987)

If there wasn't a picture of Bjork on the opposite page of this songs entry in the book, would I have recognized her voice? A question for philosophers, or perhaps physicists.

It's very difficult to make out the lyrics, which is I think, part of the point. The music is rather melancholy, while the singer's voice is mostly lilting during the verses. The chorus is where you really understand the virtuosity of Bjork's voice. In one breath, she segues from her "standard" voice, down into a growl, back up through standard and ends with a high falsetto like almost trill. The discordant backing horns are really getting to me on subsequent listens. Also, the wind chimes are really loud. But I think all of this sets the tone and is intentional. This song is supposed to put you on a bit of an edge.

As for the video: petite brunette with messy hair and a thing for dark imagery and ravens. Quick cuts to odd locations and a nudist children's party then back to the band having tea in a lake, then close on Bjork looking expectantly at the sky at the end as ants and spiders fall down. The video and English language version of the song came out in 1987/1988. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman made it's debut in January of 1989. ...just a thought.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Sally Maclennane"

The Pogues - Sally Maclennane (1985)

Well this is a treat, a song by The Pogues where I can understand what Shane MacGowan is saying. It sounds like an old folk song, but it was written by MacGowan. The constant penny whistle really helps sell it as an older song. The accordion or concertina that is used also really makes this drinking song sound like a classic rather than an original. Like many songs in the genre, this upbeat tune is actually about death. This one a death due to drinking. Like any great Irish songwriter, MacGowan has turned death into a reason to have another round. Apparently Sally Maclennane is the name of a stout, not a woman. The only thing this song is missing is a harmonica, though I suppose, since it was Jimmy (the dead man) who played harmonica, perhaps it was intentional.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

7 Seconds

Youssou N'Dour featuring Neneh Cherry - 7 Seconds (1994)

Yeah, I'm not sure exactly what genre this is. Wikipedia says Trip-Hop and Darkwave. N'Dour sings this song in three different languages, French, English and Wolof which is the Senegalese language. Without lyrics, the song could be background music, very forgettable. The lyrics are apparently about the seven seconds after a child is born, before they are aware of everything. It's a little pretentious, and the tone is very downer. N'Dour sings very passionately, and Cherry has a nice voice, but the real thrill is the unexpected violin solo that starts in at 2:45. Immediately made me think of early Dummy era Portishead. In fact, now that I've listened to a few songs off of Dummy (also 1994) and re read this write up, I realized a few things.
1. That I have described the perfect Trip-Hop song without meaning too.
2. It's been a while since I've heard any Trip-Hop, and
3. I need to go back and listen to some more Portishead.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Heartbreak Hotel"

Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel (1956)

Elvis had some help on this record. In addition to his regular backing trio, pianist Floyd Cramer and guitarist Chet Atkins played. I specifically looked that up because the piano in particular is stunning on this track. It's like a waterfall, dancing over the right and "wrong" notes until finally settling in. So I looked it up and found Mr. Cramer, who it is said popularized the "slip note" style so different than his contemporaries. Well let me tell you, this is one of the songs that popularized it. Elvis' voice is almost mesmerizing, a real downer of a song that really resonated with the kids. Don't let anybody tell you that "Emo" is a new thing, or that kids listening to depressing music is one of the signs of the end of days.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"The Night"

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - The Night (1972)

Another real driver, with heavy use of tambourine. Really deep heavy trombone/tuba work, which you just don't hear in a pop song. In fact, this song is really bass heavy, electric bass, the aforementioned brass, organ work, even the into vocals are about 2 octaves lower than you might expect from a Four Seasons track. The guitar after each chorus is really trippy and even less expected.

The harmonies are what you would expected from a seasoned Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. They'd been recording together for 10 years (well, not the whole group, the band had had more than a dozen members in that time) so they knew what worked. The album this was on was not a success for them, but they were back in the top of the charts with December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) just a few years later.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Dear Mama"

2Pac - Dear Mama (1995)

Honesty, never flinching from the truth. Understated production that really lets the lyrics come through. It took a rapper with unassailable street cred to write a song about how he loved his mother, in spite of or maybe even because of her flaws. A really powerful piece.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"La vie en rose"

Edith Piaf - La vie en rose (1946)

A few things here before we get to the song.
1. I just did a cursory look though the 30s and 40s and the book has virtually nothing of what one would call big band music. No Artie Shaw, no Glen Miller, no Dorseys.
2. While I know this song, I know the Louis Armstrong version primarily, so judging with open ears is challenging.

I did not know that Edith Piaf wrote the lyrics to this song. Good on her, it is a beautiful love song. The opening lines, when translated from the French are

"Eyes that gaze into mine,
A smile that is lost on his lips—
That is the unretouched portrait
Of the man to whom I belong."

That just melts your heart and makes me think of long marriages and people who have been through thick and thin. The music is an odd mix of mostly full lush string orchestration, and then suddenly muted horns throughout that sound like a big band harmony more than traditional orchestra. You get them right at the start (then a really big band sounding clarinet) a few times during the first verse, almost not at all in the middle. Then again during the third verse, and right at the end.

Her voice is the real draw here. Edith Piaf is France's most well known and beloved singer. It is a strong voice, she could have sung opera with it as far as I'm concerned, but instead she became known for singing poignant ballads. This was her signature song, and I think, even not knowing French, that you can hear the love in this song.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Crazy in Love"

Beyonce - Crazy in Love (2003)

I was wondering how to classify this, modern R&B, R&B/Hip Hop but then I listened to it again. Taking out the rap, this song is a straight up 70s R&B tune. Horns, backup vocals, lyrics about the singer so in love with the subject that they are driven crazy, desperately trying to convince them to come back. I love the drums too, lots of rhythmic high hat/ride. Jay-Zs rap is well known, not his most lyrically impressive, though he does manage to throw in a reference to one of The Beatles and mention chinchilla fur.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Friday on My Mind"

The Easybeats - Friday on My Mind (1966)

The chorus and the versus are so different here I love it. The chorus is all jangly guitars and "gonna have fun in the city", the versus are minor chord dominated and sound oppressive. They make you ache for the open sound of the chorus. A absolutely great song structure. From the opening notes it would not sound out of place at all in a Wes Anderson film. In fact, someone should let him know about this song for inclusion in Moonrise Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"Johnny B. Goode"

Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode (1958)

There was Rock and Roll before Johnny B. Goode. There were great Rock and Roll guitar players before Chuck Berry. Heck, Chuck Berry had some great hits before he laid this track down. But this is one of the seminal records, and you know it the moment it starts. One of the most recognizable opening licks in music; and non stop for two and a half minutes, this song still teaches kids to dance today. It's also a musical version of the American Dream, a sort of Horatio Alger with a guitar thing.

Listening critically, the guitar is repetitive, the piano doesn't get enough love (too much focus on the guitar in the mix) , and the drums are so dull a child could play. That being said, it was wildfire when it came out. Chuck Berry may have had bigger hits, and may have had better songs. But this one is still a hit, and if you aren't ready for it, well... your kids are gonna love it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Always on the Run"

Lenny Kravitz - Always on the Run (1991)

This song provides the title to the album: Mama Said.

Before Are You Gonna Go My Way, Lenny Kravitz got good friend Slash to play guitar on this 70s throwback song. You've got backing horns like no one outside of a funk band had used in years, a solid fuzz bass line (recorded by Kravitz) and a driving drum line that according to Wikipedia, was too much drum for Gn'R drummer Adler (also recorded by Kravitz). Personally I don't hear the difficulty, but apperently if I want to test my claim I can play it on Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for myself.

You can hear how much Lenny loved the late 60's rock and 70s funk in this track; and he really put a perfect homage together. It is kind of really repetitive, but the horns break it up enough that it doesn't get boring. The horns (I think it's two trumpets and a sax) are the best part of this song; plus there's a great sax solo at the end and a solid Slash solo in the middle.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Hong Kong Garden"

Siouxsie & The Banshees - Hong Kong Garden (1978)

A band I have heard of, and a song I have not.

Well the intro is very stereotypical "Oriental" and you hear it throughout the song on the xylophone. It's funny listening back to this first wave punk at how tame it sounds. This was one of the bands that parents sat up nights worrying about, and it's a song about a Chinese restaurant in the singer's neighborhood. She wrote it as "kind of a tribute" to the fact that the owners would get harassed by skin heads.

I can't fault the guitars, or her vocals, I think the song would be better without the obviously producer added end gong and aforementioned xylophone, but it's a fun 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Cattle and Cane"

The Go-Betweens - Cattle and Cane

I have heard the song described as being in 11/4 time, and honestly, I think that is right. I tried counting it out as 6/4, 5/4 and as 3/4, 4/4, 3/4 but kept getting lost. Counting in 11/4 kept me true.

The song is very autobiographical, the singer is talking about his childhood. Around 1:30 the rest of the band sings a really haunting wordless backing chant. It almost made the song go from simple reminiscences to a real felling of loss. Later I read that the band had moved from Australia to England to try to make it, and the whole song made more sense. After a slow guitar solo, a spoken word style verse really hammers home the loneliness.

The song really grew on me over a few listens. Great for a moment when your past is all you can think of. Put it on, revel in the past, drink it up. Then when the song ends, move on.

Change of Pace

Listening to the suggestions of friends and family; I will be mixing up the order of songs from here on out. Rather than straight through in the order that the book has them, I'll just flip and pick at random for a while.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Ana Hato (with Deane Waretni) - Pokarekare (1929)

A Maori love song. I think this is the kind of song I would skip past without thinking about it if I wasn't listening as a project. There are some pretty schmaltzy covers of this song out there. Apparently, the song is now known as Pokarekare Ana and is something like a second national anthem for Kiwis. The lyrics seem to be about a man begging a woman to cross the rough waters and be with him because he needs her.

This early version of the song features a strong soprano voice in Ana Hato, and some great tenor harmony from Deane Waretni. I think the harmony is what is lacking in so many of the other versions. I like harmonies quite a bit. Other than vocals, there are very simple strings and piano in the background.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Lagrimas negras"

Trio Matamoros - Lagrimas negras (1928)

Simple harmonies, two guitars, and hand held percussion. This Cuban song is said to be one of the earlist version of the bolero fusion style bolero-son. This is the style of music related to the ballroom dance style Rumba. There appears to be quite a difference between Afro Cuban Rumba, Rumba music and ballroom dance rumba, but this is not the kind of blog that can clear that up for you.

I don't think the song makes me want to dance. I find that the song makes me a little contemplative. Lagrimas negras means black tears by the way. The opening is a very driving rhythm, almost puts me in the mind of some Johnny Cash tunes. Then the vocals come in and it becomes a hot summer day. Everyone standing in the shade waiting for the heat of the day to subside so that they can be on their way.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Allons a Lafayette"

Joe & Cleoma Falcon - Allons a Lafayette (1928)

Well, third song in a book of 1001 and I don't know it. I'm sure there will be more.

The recording quality is not stellar, and I don't know what they are singing about other than come to Lafayette (thank you very much David Tennant)but this is the prototypical Cajun/zydeco song. I don't hear a female voice, so I guess Cleoma didn't sing. I'm hearing some accordion that is, like I said, zydeco. The song is not as raucous as modern "New Orleans" music, but would not at all be out of place in the background of a scene set in The Big Easy. The title though refers to Lafayette Louisiana, a city 150 miles west. The book claims it is the first recording of Cajun music, and was surprisingly popular. There are many covers out there, that's for sure.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"St. Louis Blues"

Bessie Smith - St. Louis Blues (1925)

This 1925 recording was so popular, that four years later Bessie Smith did a promotional video for it. The 16 minute long "two reel" is the only video recording of Bessie Smith. It's a brief story, and was made to feature Bessie singing the song backed by a jazz orchestra, strings, and what sounds like a full choir. The 1925 recording is just Bessie Smith on vocals, Fred Longshaw on harmonium (like a stand-up accordion) and Louis Armstrong on cornet. This is not the last time we will see Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong. This is not my favorite Bessie Smith song, that honor would have to be Gimmie a Pigfoot. I heard it first years ago and it's a hard thing to get out of your head. That being said, this song is really solid. I haven't looked too far ahead in the list, but honestly, I doubt there are too many songs with such a simple arraignment. Longshaw's harmonium provides the chords, Armstrong's cornet plays counterpoint to Smith's melody, and that is it. No drums, no bass, no harmony.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"O Sole Mio"

Enrico Caruso - O Sole Mio (1916)

I've heard this song. You've heard this song. Your youngest child knows this song from cartoons whenever someone goes to Italy. It has played over the speakers in every Italian restaurant. It is hard to actually listen to this song, it has become background and setting music to such a great extent that it hides in my brain rather than allowing me to pick it apart.

Caruso has an amazing voice it must be said. The recording is not quite 100 years old, and it is still powerful. 2 minutes and 30 second in, (Ma n'atu sole) the way he holds those notes... It may be a cliche now, but if you can make yourself hear the song, and the singer, and not just listen; I think you will like what you hear.


A simple idea really, and a challenge to myself. Listen to every song in the book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die and comment on them.