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Friday, September 30, 2011

"Mr. Brightside"

The Killers - Mr. Brightside (2003)

A Vegas band that had to go to an English indie label to get a record deal.

The first notes are a guitar that has some filter on it, but it really rings out nicely. While the drums start off making you think it's going to be a repetitive dance hall kind of sound, they really change through the whole song. There is a lot of reliance on the high hat though. Most of the bass lines during the verses are short simple and heading down. The keyboards were totally unexpected to me. A fairly straightforward rock song about misplaced love, while a little overly dramatic and then BAM! 80's style synth right there in the breakdown. The vocals make use of a megaphone sound at the beginning and a few times during the song but they are mostly high and plaintive.

That is the overwhelmingly powerful piece of the song. While I like the rest of it, it is the vocals of Brandon flowers that are so heartfelt. When you find out that the story and some of the lyrics are based on an actual girlfriend of Flowers, it all makes sense. Instrument wise my favorite part of the song is at 2:55 when the second breakdown kicks off. Four measures that are clearly meant to remind us of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in his 9th Symphony, followed by the same four measures again, this time with a increasingly loud snare drum marching us into the final bit of the song. My favorite part of the song overall though is the subverted rhyme Flowers delivers at 1:58:
Now they're going to bed,
And my stomach is sick,
And it's all in my head,
But she's touching his chest

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Rock Lobster"

The B-52's - Rock Lobster (1978)

There goes a Narwhal!



Swingin' 60's surf music right? Wrong. What starts as as almost goofy and playful sounding becomes threatening by the middle and flat out crazy person by the end. That opening lick is so iconic. The guitar is baritone tuned, and the bass line is played on an organ. The instrumentation has very few high tones, which adds to the ominous feel of the whole thing. The organ does play some highs, but only near the beginning. The two women providing backup also make it seem like a normal 60's beach song at first. They are also responsible for all of the various sound effects associated with the listing of marine animals.

At about 1:30 we get a falling vocals matched with surf guitar sound. Then the original riff shows up again for a moment, but we are hardly going back to the opening sound. When Fred Schneider roars out "let's rock" at 2:20 he might as well be fronting The Jam. The lyrics are still life-guards and tanning butter but the song is punk. For the rest of the song, the lyrics get stranger. The guitar and organ sounds are driving you into a hellish underwater landscape by the end.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"The Weight"

The Band - The Weight (1968)

"...it's just ol' Luke and Luke's waitin' on The Judgement Day..."



I am so biased in favor of this one folks. This song has been playing on stereos in my house for as long as I can remember. It was on a mix tape that we always played when we were on the road as well. I think it was a live version though, I remember slight differences. I also remember asking and asking my Dad, 'what does it mean?' 'Is it real?' 'Why does everyone tell him no?' The lyrics follow a traveler as he drives into Nazareth PA, looking for a bed. He runs into a number of interesting characters.
Musically we've got acoustic guitar giving the song it's distinct folk song feel. The bass is not very pronounced, and is doubled on piano for the most part. The drums are laid back, almost behind the beat. It makes us feel like a 'weight' is sitting on us, slowing us down. Then you've got a Honky Tonk tuned piano playing almost grandiose licks. Good stuff man. I haven't even mentioned the harmony that The Band employs during the whole song. Two men trade verses, and you get three part harmony during the best parts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Professional Widow (Armand's Star Trunk Funkin' Mix)"

Tori Amos - Professional Widow (Armand's Star Trunk Funkin' Mix) (1996)

Honey bring it close to my lips...



DJ Armand Van Helden retains only two lines from this Tori Amos song in making his dance version. I just don't understand the appeal. The bass line is reminiscent of 70's era funky soul, which is great, but it never stops. The drum machine only knows two measures, and aside from spacey electronic sounds that is it. I've broken down the entire song for you. OK, not entirely, there is a interlude in the middle; echo effects over a verse mentioning Judas and Muhammad Ali, then right back to the dance.

Dance music is just not my thing, I'm going to have to make some sooner or later just so I can understand.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Not Ready to Make Nice"

Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Nice (2006)

Lot of controversy surrounding this song and "The Incident" that preceded it, but let's talk about the music.



Lots of three part harmony with a defiant, almost shouted lead vocal during the choruses. Most of the verses are really pared down and just solo vocals, acoustic guitar, a little drum and some lower bass sound out of a bass or organ. They then get louder and more heated leading into the chorus. One of the members plays violin throughout the chorus and there is also quite prevalent horn at unexpected moments. during the last chorus, we get huge orchestration, with multiple strings and that horn again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Lonesome Town"

Ricky Nelson - Lonesome Town (1958)

I knew this song before Pulp Fiction, but I'm too cool to want credit for it.


This is just a simple haunting melody, depressing lyrics, really subtle backing vocals and one acoustic guitar. Such simple production. Gives it a Western feel. The ballad is sung in a minor key, and the lyrics really bring the sad. The backing vocals are just wordless chords that sound like train whistles, or echoing of the end of verses down 2 octaves. Listening to the version of this song from The Ozzie and Harriet Show really shows you what the backing vocals add; it was performed by just Ricky and his guitar. He still sounds good, but it's a little thin, just a guy and a guitar, but you add those backing singers and suddenly it's a really powerful ballad that can evoke the late 50's, or just the feeling of hopelessness you get when the love you've built a dream on comes up short.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Girls on Film"

Duran Duran - Girls on Film (1981)

Well aren't we all glad that camera sound stops after ten seconds?


So why isn't this synth pop? It is "80s" music with a synthesizer in it. But synth pop has to have the synth be the driving musical instrument of the song. The song has a straight ahead bass line, and some rockin' guitar licks going on. I really like the drums during the chorus. The chorus is such a simple thing, and the drummer really emphasizes that by dropping out of the double time he's been maintaining during the rest of the song and playing a much simpler pattern. This song would make an interesting cover by a rock band. Not a punk cover, but a rock cover, no synth. Not Vampire Weekend. It would sound a little to much the same, just faster.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Wonderous Stories"

Yes - Wonderous Stories (1977)

This is the shortest Yes song I've ever heard.



Jon Anderson has a really high voice. Lyrically the song seems to be about a man who has met a very God like "forgiver" but he is more interested in getting back to "you" the listener and "your wonderous stories". The backing vocals are a very light touch here; all as high as the primary vocal, giving the whole thing an angelic choir feel.

Instrumentally we've got a dominant bass line through the song that I think is a little strong in the mix. The multiple organ and keyboard parts going on are very celebratory. The album that this song appears on was a return for Yes keyboardist Rick Wakerman, and I think he was showing off a bit. It comes across well. There are also a lot of guitar parts going on. This song must have taken an army to play live.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Stop! In the Name of Love"

The Supremes - Stop! In the Name of Love (1965)

Classic 60's Girl-Group-Pop



This song has some real depth going on the production. We've got piano, organ, and what I'm pretty sure is a vibraphone doubling a lot of the other keyboard parts. There is a standard rock trio of drums, guitar and bass. The brass is made up of at least two trumpets and two trombones. As far as vocals go, Diana Ross is clearly dominant in the mix. It would be another two years before the group's name was changed to Diana Ross & The Supremes, but her voice is the only one you can clearly make out. That's not to say the other ladies aren't doing some great support work. The producers on this track were responsible for so many Motown hits I can't name them all here. I do hope we'll hope to hear more of them later on.

Lyrically the song is a simple plea for a wayward lover to think before cheating again. The voicing is not angry, but instead plaintive, reminding the cheater of the good times, and how much his actions hurt her. It's a little surprising to me how many people song this song, or at least the hook with such joy and abandon. I guess people don't always listen to lyrics. They're probably the same people who think that Isn't She Lovely? makes a good wedding song.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Creep"

Radiohead - Creep (1992)

They've had bigger hits. But at the time, it was the biggest song in my world.


Starts right off with all three primary instruments. High hat heavy drum set, light single note runs on the guitar, and a really purposeful bass line. Thom Yorke's voice comes in sounding like all of us thought we felt like back in 1992. The chorus really gets angry. That self directed anger, punctuated by the coughing/yelling/shooting guitar riffs still gets at me. According to the book, and Wikipedia, guitarist Greenwood didn't like the song, and was so angry at it/wanted to screw up the take that he just hit the guitar. It worked. The second guitar just plays the power chord version of the arpeggios that strung the verses along.

The "She's running out..." part post second chorus is technically more chorus in structure, but Yorke's singing makes it different. He's effectively crying here. This is the emotional high point of the song. The singer's story is all downhill from here. The piano part that starts in at the end was Greenwood again. This time he's tying the song up in a neat bow rather than setting us on edge. It was the perfect song for a 14 going on 15 year old. She's beautiful, I'm terrible. She's leaving because I've scared her off. I just want her to be happy, I'm just going to stay over hear in a corner and be weird. Perfectly encapsulates high school.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The Fear"

Lily Allen - The Fear (2009)

Fair warning. This is not the clean version.

Tongue placed very firmly in cheek, Lily Allen sings a song to material excess that would make Madonna seem reserved. It does do a quick little homage during the video. Starting with a simple acoustic guitar lick, the production kicks off the second verse with all light synth and drum machine with just enough bass to make sure it keeps moving, not enough to scare you away. Right after the first chorus, the synth falls away for a moment and reveals the simple acoustic guitar underneath it all holding the song together. All through the rest of the song your ear will try to hear it, but it will slip away every time you think you've got it. then the last verse begins and the producer (and co-songwriter) allows us to hear it one last time.

The song is catchy, and scary, and should be the theme song of every self aware tween on both sides of the pond. But who am I kidding, the song is over two year old; I'm sure no one is even listening to it anymore.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Cars"

Gary Numan - Cars (1979)

Well, I think I found the break. This song was released in the summer of 1979, but is clearly remembered as an "80s" song. I'm marking it at 70s as far as the labels go, because it's a date, not a genre.



Beginning with an ominous oscillating electric mid ranged sound, this song quickly kicks into the well known synth heavy riff that even Homer Simpson can sing along with. Outside of the percussion, (hey there tambourine solo!) you would think the entire song is recorded on keyboards. You would be wrong. The production notes mention bass guitar. I think it must of been doubled by keyboard, because even the bottom most notes in every groove have that synthesized sound. Even the vocals are intentionally "robotic" sounding like they've been compressed.

Lyrically the song reminds us that when we are inside of our cars, we in the modern world feel safely cut off from everyone else. Reading the lyrics as a poem, it sounds like a mentally unstable homeless person that lives in a run down part of town in their bombed out car is slowly beginning the process of healing. I'm imagining an "80s movie" with Jodie Foster as the psychologist trying to heal the protagonist, and bearded Robin Williams as the homeless crazy. It would be a bust at the box office, but a critical success. Siskel would have hated it, but Ebert would have talked about what a great serious role it was for Robin Williams. It would mostly be remembered as one of the early film roles of Leaf (soon to be Joaquin) Phoenix.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Purple Haze"

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Purple Haze (1967)

Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?



What an intro! Distortion, dissonant, diabolus in musica (means diminished 5th)! The book rightfully points out that this song must have shocked the hippies in the middle of their Summer of Love. The book also calls it intimidating. I call it an electric call to arms.

Hendrix is the only guitar on the album, though there is some dubbing when you can hear him playing 'solo' over his own 'rhythm'. Redding plays admirably on bass, but mostly he is just filling out the bottom, nothing really show stopping. Mitchell's drums are, on the other hand, far more than time keepers in this song. Starting with the loud snare hits in the intro, and lasting until the fading outro, Mitchell plays fast loud accents whenever a break in the wall of Hendrix sound appears. Manager Chandler also produced this track, and I honestly have no complaints. You can make out all of the instruments, the sung vocals cut through cleanly and the spoken word at the end is supposed to sound lost and muddled through the haze.

The band is brilliant, the song is a favorite, the solo is almost understated in comparison to other Hendrix solos. This is before Woodstock, before Monterey Pop. They were unknown in America at the time this song came out, but would not be for long.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Breakdown"

Mariah Carey - Breakdown (1997)

Mariah Carey's prophetic hip-ballad.



OK, let's get this out of the way. The looped bird sounds through the entire song? Ruin it. It's hard to focus on anything else. It's like walking through a Disney rain forest exhibit in the 80s. Her vocal choices in the song obviously owe a lot to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony; two members of which are featured on this track. In fact, it's odd that they are not mentioned in the top. Most songs with this much collaboration would make use of the "featuring" credit. But this one does not. Or at least, the book doesn't think so. The internet seems to think the featuring credit is due. Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone, nice job.

High hat drum machine, really simple piano part (played on a synth, but on the piano setting as far as I can hear) and occasionally a bass comes through. Mostly the song is about the vocals of the three performers. Oh, and the damned bird sounds. Mariah Carey has an amazing voice on the straight sung parts, and she admirably handles the blended rap sung parts. The two members of Bone Thugs handle the short rap portion of the song keeping it tight. The producer chose to use all three of their voices throughout the sound as their own background singers and it works.

The song is about the trouble one goes through when your lover decides it's over. Mariah Carey always claimed it wasn't autobiographical. It's a darkly beautiful lyric and a great song. But I will never listen to it again until I can find a remix without the bird calls.

Friday, September 16, 2011

" I Only Have Eyes for You"

The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes for You (1959)




Originally written for a 1934 movie called Dames, this recording by doo-wop artists The Flamingos really personifies the late 1950s sound.

I love that this song starts out with a guitar player sounding like he was goofing off getting into key. Vinyl space was limited, that was not an accident putting that on the track. I just wish I knew what the joke was. The piano is playing non stop triplet eighth notes giving the song a 12/8 feel. The drums are keeping time with very limited sound. The bass line seems to be a plucked upright bass and organ. During the "...I only have eyes" part of the song, the guitar comes back as a steel guitar sounding very Hawaiian.

The vocals are almost slavishly devoted. A real classic love song. The "sh-bop-sh-bop..." harmonies are what make the song doo-wop. I think I can hear a muted trumpet playing along with them most of the time. The harmonies are beautiful, and really fill out the song but it is the lead vocalists velvet tones that sell that devotion as real and not just words are really something.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Hard to Beat"

Hard-Fi - Hard to Beat (2005)

Indie Rock with a dance beat. In fact, it's practically a disco song in disguise.



Obviously a real driving beat. During the verses the bass line is fast paced quarter notes and the guitar riffs on the 1s and 3s. There is a one vocal line - 4 measure spacer between the verses. It has a very airy electronic sound but with a weird almost underwater quality to the electric bass sound. The quote in the book from the writer of the song mentions listing to a lot of Daft Punk and that definitely comes to mind. The chorus is hard to break down instrumentally. There is guitar is playing sixteenth notes on the 1 and 2 letting it ring in to the rest of the measure and what sounds like keyboards is playing higher electric winds sounds. The first half of the chorus has very little bass, but the second half has a huge bass sound giving it a very different feeling. The drums keep on keeping on. I still feel like I'm missing something in the chorus. Between the chorus and the next verse, we get back to the guitar on the 1 and 3, but no bass line. A high pitched vocal yell echos off into nothing as the verse kicks back in.

After the second chorus we get a kind of break. The drums disappear aside from a very quiet high hat. The guitar really rings a long time and there is no bass at all. Then we get back into another chorus. Then they repeat the 4 measures between the verses 6 or 7 times while throwing out a very short rap. All this and it's a love song too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Faith"

George Michael - Faith (1987)



Opening by quoting one of the biggest tracks of his previous band on church organ, this song switches quickly into a very streamlined sound for an 80's track. We've got a drum set, very sparingly used, a base line, the iconic acoustic guitar, and a variety of simple percussion sounds. I think I can make out Maracs, Cabasa, headless tambourine, and claves plus hand claps of course. This being an 80s song, we are of course granted a guitar solo, but this one is different. Starting around 2:38 we actually get an almost country/rockabilly style duet. We're definitely getting a slide guitar sound, and some steel guitar style for good measure.

There are two backing vocalists credited on the album, but not specifically on each track. I had always thought that all the backing vocals on this song were just George Michael, but whoever it is, the harmonies are very well done. I love that space right before 3:00. They let the guitar ring end naturally, then you can just hear someone inhale and boom. Right into the end.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Back Door Man"

Howlin' Wolf - Back Door Man (1961)



Early electric guitar driven blues. We've got rolling piano, simple timekeeping drums and very basic bass. The guitar is also very functional here as well, pretty much only the piano gets a little showy besides the vocals. Howlin' Wolf's vocals are so gruff here. He would have been in his early 50's, and I think the recording captures that time, when a man has lived a lot of life, and may be beaten down a bit, but he's got plenty left in him if the reward is a fine woman. He sounds like he's issuing a challenge:
*I am a back door man. Once you go to sleep, I am going to sneak into your house and have sex with your wives. They will love me more than you, and in fact even if you catch me they will beg you to let me go free. Later, after I have had sex with them again, I will proceed to eat more than you possibly could, just to one up you in another way.*
He had some brass ones I tell you what.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Surfacing"

Slipknot - Surfacing (1999)




So what separates this from all the other angry Nu Metal songs out there? For one thing the vocals, while challenging, are actually intelligible if you put your mind to it. It's angry, and bitter, as you would expect, and as the book points out, it's very nihilistic. Musically you have some of the most technically proficient Nu Metal out there. The double bass pedal and in fact all of the percussion is super tight, but you know it's real and not a drum machine. The scratching on the turntable is creative and not repetitive, and the big guitar sounds in the break aren't muddled or too loud to make out the fact that they are playing very well. I'm not a fan of the squealing guitar you hear throughout the song, but that's just my opinion, it's not overused to the point of madness, so I'm willing to let bygones be on that one. This is definitely not my kind of Metal, but I can see the appeal, and you can't deny the talent.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"America"

Simon & Garfunkel - America (1968)




A road map of America from the Midwest to the Big Apple. A dense complex arraignment with so much going on you're sure to miss something. As is pointed out almost every time the song is mentioned it is a popular song with no rhyme scheme. It's more like flashing pieces of a short story set to music. Two people set off together, convinced that love will be everything they need other than a few pies and some cigarette. They laugh and play together, goofing on the other people riding the bus until one falls asleep. Then the one left awake has to struggle with their own sense of alienation, then finally being overwhelmed into silence as they pass onto the New Jersey Turnpike as he sees more people than they ever have in one place.

During the song we hear organ, strings, soprano sax, and of course, acoustic guitar and drums. As the humming intro of the song starts we can just make out the trailing edge of the ominous organ and subway steam hiss of Save the Life of My Child, a song that brings into the light some of the darkness that lives in cities. So we the audience already have an inkling of what the pair in America are heading into. The first verse is guitars and toms plus a little snare and high hat for time keeping. It instills in us the longing that the young have to find something bigger than themselves. These two have found each other, and buoyed by that success are now off on one of the great hunts of the late 60s, to look for America. The second verse adds a high organ that we'll hear all throughout the song. As the verse continues, we build to a big organ sound and louder lead vocals. The third verse features a soprano sax noodling along, reinforcing the fun goof off verse, but then getting a little melancholy, preparing us for the later verses. Verse four is back to the stripped down instrumentation of the first verse. The fifth and final verse brings us back the high organ of verse two. After the loud repeated vocal outro we get a organ solo over timekeeping drums that could represent the hope of the future, or just the twinkling lights of the big city.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"To Know Him Is to Love Him"

The Teddy Bears - To Know Him Is to Love Him (1958)

Written, performed and produced by Phil Spector.




The Teddy Bears were three high school graduates, one of whom happened to be future mega talent, and even more future murderer Phil Spector. They recruited a drummer to lay down this track, which took them twenty minutes and cost $75 dollars.

It's a really simple track, pretty lead vocals, with high tenor backing vocals by the two boys,with a simple compound 12/8 beat going on under them. It's also real short, only 2:20. The bridge really gives everyone a chance to shine. It starts at 1:15. Annette Kleinbard (later to be songwriter Carol Connors) really opens up and her vocals soar. Spector and Leib's backing vocals really hold her up, enforcing the waltz feel during this section; and the drummer is actually allowed to use an entirely different part of his kit, or at least add a cymbal. That bridge makes the song memorable.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The Ballroom Blitz"

The Sweet - The Ballroom Blitz (1973)



That rolling drum line into the call out to the rest of the band is so iconic. This song just makes you want to rush the dance floor and do something stupid. The book points out that it is the bass player doing vocal work on the high pitched bridge section:
"... she thinks she's the passionate one!" Such a glam band.

The actual lead vocals are so subdued in comparison to the part that most people remember. The guitars are almost an afterthought in comparison to the vocals, but the short solos are nice, and the tight hard chords added to the rolling drums help the number actually sounds like a fight. The bass rings out during the whole song, as does the bass drum. It makes a nice contrast to the tight snare and guitar chords.

I have always liked this song, but I have also always thought of it as a cut track from Rocky Horror. Not that I actually thought that it was from the movie, just that it could have been.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Toxic"

Britney Spears - Toxic (2003)

How excited am I!? Not. Not excited. On with it.



Most of the vocals are hard to understand. Mumbling lead vocals, breathy lead and harmony, high pitched harmony, electric strings covering up some of the lines and really odd electric "auto tune" type choices around 2:40. Speaking of the electric strings, that is some really repetitive riffs. I heard something different around 1:30 which was totally unexpected and made me pay attention. Unfortunately, it didn't lead me anywhere. The 20 second breakdown between 2:20 and 2:40 doesn't sound like her voice, and (as a breakdown does) completely drops out the previously ubiquitous repetitive drum machine/guitar/string riffs in favor of odd electronic sounds.

All in all, this is not by kind of music, but I think honestly, taking that into account, it is also a bad song.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"I Love Rock 'n Roll"

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - I Love Rock 'n Roll (1981)

I saw Joan Jett & The Blackhearts at last year's Virgin Mobile Free Fest. Awesome. This year the kick-ass-woman-from-the-old-days spot is taken by Patti Smith.


This song does everything I normally don't like: repetitive guitar riffs, boring drum part that a machine could do, and really repetitive vocals. Somehow it all works. This is grungy, this is dirty. This song actually has a pretty cool guitar solo as well. Joan was 23 or so when she sang "... knew he must have been about seventeen", and every teenage boy loved her for it. The shouted chorus, and the spoken/sung over nothing but clapping hands end of verses makes this song perfect for every Rock sing-a-long you've every heard.

The production on this song is actually tight. The guitar is crunchy and dirty, but aside from the solo where it lingers, all of the normal riffs are tightly controlled. The drums do not ring, the bass doesn't crackle... all in all, the song makes you think garage/punk but upon closer inspection it is really professionally produced.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"Wide Open Road"

The Triffids - Wide Open Road (1986)


A song I've never heard by a band I've never heard of; and again, it's an Australian band.





It's a road song, but not a freeing road song like we do in America. It's more of a sense of being overwhelmed. The droning bass, angry drums, and haunting whistling instrument really make me not want to get on this particular wide open road. It's a really repetitive song. The singer really does say It's a Wide Open Road like 50 times in this 4 minute song, and the bass, drums and whistling instrument sound like they are on a loop. These all together does give you a sense of driving a barren wasteland of a highway though; which I'm guessing is the point.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Quelqu'un ma dit"

Carla Bruni - Quelqu'un ma dit (2002)

Yes, that Carla Bruni, First Lady of France. She married President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. This release is from her first album in 2002.


It's a simple beautiful song. Starting with nothing but guitar and very blessedly unproduced vocals, it slowly adds a very subtle piano for lower chords, a brief violin and another guitar. The kind of song most people think they can pick up on guitar in a couple of hours, but the real challenge lies in trying to reproduce that voice. It is one that has known things, and has strength and humor, yet the song itself is a plea. Someone told me that you loved me still, is that still possible?

This is not a song for a bright summer day people. It makes me long for hot chocolate and a fire. And a warm blanket. And someone to tell me that they love me too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Mad World"

Tears for Fears - Mad World (1982)



I haven't heard this version in decades. I have the Michael Andres/Gary Jules version and thought I was good, didn't need anything else. But this is something else. Overwhelmingly 80's of course, but not poppy at all. The electric synth stuff at the beginning is heavy and oppressive. When they break into the chorus it lets you take a breath, then straight back into the oppressive chords. In fact the second verse gives me the chills with the laughing brass at "happy birthday" and "no one knew me".

Instrumental break at 2:20 is scary for its lack of humanity. Everything played is perfect and on beat, like a distopian robot has decided that they can play the song so there is no longer any need for Tears for Fears to continue playing. Overall, I may love the Donnie Darko version, but this is excellently dark and off-putting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Summertime Blues"

Eddie Cochran - Summertime Blues (1958)

Everything on Youtube is live, so we're going to try viddler.



I always loved this song as a kid. It was the deep bass vocals. It wasn't until I was a little older that I understood what the song was even about. It was just a funny song with a deep voice to me. As a teenager the song seemed written for me. I think a lot of people feel that way, it was covered by The Who, Alan Jackson, The Beach Boys and Olivia Newton John among others. The book rightfully points out that this was a pretty rebellious song for 1958. He doesn't want to work all summer; he wont work late, and even his congressman admits that he is being ignored because he is too young to vote.

The song is simple, rockabilly guitars, driving bass, hand claps as percussion, and a vocal with that little catch on summertime that blends the Country with the new Rock and Roll. I really do love the "grown-up" voice. It's always saying the downer part of the story, but it always makes me laugh. That's nostalgia for you.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"St. James Infirmary Blues"

Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five - St. James Infirmary Blues (1929)

First mistake I have found in the book. The recording that the book talks about, specifically mentioning Earl Hines piano before Armstrong's vocals, then a trombone, then a Armstrong solo and released in 1929 is actually by Louis Armstrong and His Savoy Ballroom Five. It took me a while to track the proper recording of this song down because of this mistake, but here it is. Looks like it won't embed properly, but the link works.



The version you hear if you type in "... His Hot Five" is probably from the mid to late 50's and you can tell, in that the audio quality is too good.

I really like this song. And I really like Louis Armstrong. So does the editor of the book. This is the sixth song in the book. Four are in a language other than English. The two that are in English feature Louis Armstrong. The song is based on an older English folk song called The Unfortunate Rake. That song has changed and morphed and had many variations over the years, and St. James Infirmary Blues is one of the most famous. The other is Streets of Laredo.

I just don't have much to say on the song. I love it, and I don't really know why. Hines piano underneath Armstrong's vocals is constant, and yet doesn't cover him up. The short solo he takes at 1:50 is movement and sadness combined, it reminds me of Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre played on xylophone

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"L.E.S. Artistes"

Santogold - L.E.S. Artistes (2008)


The artist currently known as Santigold was once known as Santogold. Who knew? Well, clearly plenty of people, just not me.





I warn you that the video will distract you, it is seriously cool and messed up, and makes you ignore the music.



Fairly straight guitar in the opening verse leads into Santogold's shouted vocals. Very vanilla bass line and stick heavy percussion continue the verse. Just when you think you've got the song figured out 30 seconds into it, and along comes the sound. We are going to hear it a lot, so I think we're going to need a good explanation. I'm going to call it a guitar doing an impression of a kitty cat, or "kitty" for short. The chorus continues along with a different guitar sound, more standard rock. the kitty sound changes as well and sounds more like a few women singing wordlessly. The chorus and verses alternate like this until near the end, she begins to sing/talk a counterpoint to the original melody. I love when artists do this. When it is done right it shows great creativity and musical talent.