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Monday, October 31, 2011

"I Put a Spell on You"

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put a Spell on You (1956)

"I don't even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death."

Alto and Baritone Saxophone for sure. Let's assume a Tenor as well. In between the chromatic reeds runs you can hear the drums better. It's mostly brushes on snare drum, tapped instead of stirred. Also a banjo. Possibly a guitar, but I think it's a banjo. The sax solo around 1:15 really wails. It's so short, in concert that would have gone on for two minutes by itself. Instead, the whole track is only 2:30. The vocals are what made the song famous. He screams and moans and grunts through the number. In its day, it was banned and called "cannibalistic". Hawkins maintained that he never meant the song to sound like that, but that producer Arnold Maxin brought in food and liquor to the recording studio, and they had a party. He claims that he blacked out and doesn't remember recording the song, and in fact had to learn how to sing it in the style of the record, from the record, so that he could tour with it. An entire act was built around the song, and the scary voodoo man who sang it, predating Alice Cooper, Kiss, and other 'shock-rock' stars by 20 years.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Working Class Hero"

John Lennon - Working Class Hero (1970)

Lennon's first post Beatles album produced few hits, but this folk style song still gets covered.

Just a poet and an acoustic guitar. Channeling Dylan channeling Guthrie, Lennon here tells of the plight of the working man. He snears, and sings, and speaks, and beats on the guitar to get his point across. At the time, most of the press on the song made a lot of the fact that he curses twice. I didn't even notice. I did notice that the guitar, and his voice sound a little different around 1:26. then back around 1:48.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Nothing Compares 2 U"

Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (1989)

I remember being told that this song was about her mother, or her son, after their death. It was written by Prince and it's about post break-up depression.

Alright, starting with the backing track rather than the vocals. This sounds like somebody using a Casio keyboard on the 'strings' setting. Try to ignore the drum track, just focus on the string part. It is completely in unison, only changes on the one or the three, and the three only rarely. The personnel listing includes a conductor, and a line for string arraignments, and no keyboard player so I guess I should give them the benefit of the doubt and say it's a string section, but I just can't. That's a keyboard, and I know I shouldn't care, but I do, it doesn't sound good. The piano part is subtle and rarely used, just like the choir, I like it. I wish I could say the same about the drum part. I swear someone recorded 8 bars and the producer just said 'OK loop it". It's so boring and monotonous. I like the effect of giving this big sweeping almost church-like song a little swing, but let the drums breath man. There is a very brief violin part just before 3:00. It gives us all a break between verses, and we need it, I like it.

Vocally, I've got nothing negative to say. How can you? This woman could sing. She felt this song. More importantly, she makes you feel this song over 20 years later. We need that break around 3:00 because she has given us everything, and we need to breath, but just when we think we can... She gets a little mad, she gets a little crazy, she gets a little accepting, she gets a whole lot of sad in. I can't watch the video, I had to link to something with just the lyrics, her face... You just want to pick her up and hold her. Not that she ever wanted protection, but here, before the storm was unleashed, before Sinatra and Madonna and a Madison Square Garden full of people told her to go to hell, you just want to say 'I remember this, and thank you'.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Northern Sky"

Nick Drake - Northern Sky (1970)

Described by NME in 2009 as "the greatest English love song of modern times".

Nick Drake - Northern Sky. Watch more top selected videos about: Nick Drake

I've listened to some Nick Drake. So have you, a Volkswagen commercial ten years ago made sure he rose in the popular consciousness. This has the same backbone as many of the other songs we've heard; it's the same tuning to his guitar, and he's got the same whispering/murmuring/telling-your-heart secrets voice he usually does. What makes the song special are the differences. There are three different keyboard instruments at work here. Laying down a bass line the others dance on is an organ. The piano is the one doing most of the light touch work. It plays the fewest notes and yet has the loudest sound in the mix. They use it to do accents. The interesting keyboard is the celesta. It's an upright piano looking instrument, that sounds like a glockenspiel mixed with a vibraphone. You can hear it through the whole song, it's the one that sounds like church bells ringing. All three keyboards were played by John Cale, formerly of The Velvet Underground. Another important piece of why this song is so enjoyable is the drums. Very few sources mention the oddity of drums on this album. Nick Drake doesn't often use drummers, and in fact they are almost non existent on his final album Pink Moon. In this song the drums are nothing crazy, just a steady beat that keeps the song going, high hat, snare, maybe some tambourine or a wooden block. The drummer was Mike Kowalski, who was at the time, the drummer for The Beach Boys. Even more unsung is bass player Dave Pegg. His bass playing in this song is very background, but he was a pioneer in the electric folk sound for bass players. He went on to join Jethro Tull in the 80's. This song's got quite the pedigree.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"I Predict a Riot"

Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot (2004)

Spooky for two seconds, then a strong, grungy, fuzzy guitar intro; this song opens like a strong angry rock anthem. The lyrics support this. The focus of the song is the goings on in clubs and underground bars in Leeds including policemen, half-naked women, people getting in fights, and ultimately the titular riot. I'm just not buying the vocals.

Musically, you can't fault anything. The intro I already mentioned is stellar. The drums are a driving snare heavy beat. The bass is great, he never really sits on one note for too long, other than the chorus, he's playing on every beat and that helps push everything forward with a lot of momentum. It's just that the vocals are not quite right for this. He's not angry, or sneering, or even slightly mad. He's well over 3 minutes into the song before I hear any urgency in his voice, otherwise he's just singing pop, and fairly clear pop as well. The video doesn't help. It's about a pillow fight for goodness sake.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Another Girl, Another Planet"

The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet (1978)

Another one hit wonder by a British band. At least this one is a great song.

Really good Punk/New Wave song. 3 Minutes long, perfect length. Rhythm guitar starts us off with a simple progression, hidden in the back of the mix. When the bass guitar starts in playing a few notes to bottom out the chords, the rhythm guitar adds a little bit of complexity in the strumming. The drums sneak up on you, kind of a rolling sound, with heavy bass drum and tom. By the time all the instruments are in we are almost 30 seconds into this short track and we've got a serious dance-able pop sound. The way the guitars interact around :40 makes it clear that this is not a polished band with the backing of millions of dollars, this is a couple of lads with a song and some guitars, and it may not be perfect, but you love it.

The vocals come in just before the first minute. He's not a professional either. His voice is nasal and his "flow" is off. the lyrics seem to just sort show up on the track when he feels like, rather than rhythmically along with the melody. He's behind the beat, then he's stumbling through a line with too many syllables trying to stay ahead of the beat; it's odd, but considering the lyrics are about drug use, it's a style that fits.

The guitar solo that starts at 1:45 and dominates the track is a real highlight. It's 30 seconds in a 3 minute long song. It's kind of got a surf rock thing (so do the drums later) going on. Actually, with the British vocals, space rock/surf rock sound, really short length, and vague drug references, this song could have easily been a hit a decade before it was written.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Mr. Tambourine Man"

The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

The less said of Shatner, the better.

Lots of interesting trivia on this one. Bob Dylan wrote and recorded this song, but it was The Byrds that took it to Number 1. Upon hearing their version, Dylan excitedly became interested in "going electric", which he did later that year. The band was not interested in recording it, even after changing up the beat and making it rock. The song is considered one of the prototypical songs of the Folk Rock style. Jangling guitars, poetic lyrics, all that 60s swirl coming together. Even though The Bird would eventually go on to be on of the most respected bands of the 60s, at the time, their record company didn't really trust them. For this, their first single, The only member of the band playing an instrument was Roger McGuinn on his 12 string guitar. The rest of the instruments were played by studio session extraordinaries, The Wrecking Crew. The vocals are all members of The Byrds.

The recording is in Stereo. The bass lives in the left side with the guitars coming out of the right. The tambourine also only shows up on the left side. Drums and vocals are mixed in the middle. The lead and harmony vocals are "soft". I don't mean quiet I mean they feel like a warm blanket, or something like that. They are the opposite of edgy. Most of the song is a relaxed folky thing, but the drum runs at 1:30 and 1:47 as well as the lead guitar and bass duo at the beginning and ending of the song give a hint to the edge that the 60s had as well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"I'm in Love with a German Film Star"

The Passions - I'm in Love with a German Film Star (1981)

Wow, what a pretentious title huh?

Apparently the subject of the song wasn't a film star, or even German. It was a roadie for the Sex Pistols that did do some minor German films. The song is really about texture and sound, like shoe gaze, rather than rocking rhythm or guitar riffs or whatever. The vocals are dreamy, misty and a little echo/reverby; just like the guitar parts. The little lead guitar lick around 1:00 is the most interesting part of the song. Everything else is very basic three chord rock with a mind numbingly boring drum beat.

This video is a Top of the Pops version, but it's the album audio; bands didn't play live on TOTP at the time. Honestly I don't know why this British one hit wonder band gets placed on a list of 1001 songs to hear before you die. I feel like I could have gone a couple of lifetimes without hearing this one.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"More Than a Woman"

Aaliyah - More Than a Woman (2001)

Not a cover of the Bee Gees song.

I had to look up "electro hop" (Wikipedia has it marked down as one of the genre's of the song). It's hip hop with harsh synth sounds, distorted guitar and bass and more minimal drum sequences than a typical hip hop song. Well the distorted sounds are evident for sure. There are some fairly straight forward electric strings on the track that aren't really distorted, and the electric guitar sound isn't really messed with much, but the bass sound is really changed. The guitar may be a real guitar, but there is no bass player listed on the album's personnel, so I think it's a synth bass sound that is then heavily distorted.

Producer Timbaland gets a lot of work out of a looped sample of Syrian performer Mayada El Hennawy called Alouli Ansa. The sample is right at the start of the song. Timbaland is also one of the song's two writers. The other is Steve "Static Major" Garrett. Static was Aaliyah's primary writer, who penned most of her top ten hits. This song is about young woman's coming into her own woman-hood and feeling confidant, sexy and strong. It was written by two late 20 something men. May sound weird, but they were successful; this song was a big success in America and a bigger success in the U.K. Unfortunately, it was one of the last singles released before her plane crash.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Sister Morphine"

Marianne Faithfull - Sister Morphine (1969)

Best I can tell, this is the original 1969 single version mentioned in the book.

Written by Faithfull, Richards and Jagger, at least according to the credits; but Keith doesn't play on this version, so I wonder if he really wrote it at all. Best I can figure it, on the Faithfull single, they were all three credited, but only Mick and Marianne really wrote it. Richards and Jagger were almost always credited together in those days, just like Lennon/McCartney. The single was pulled when the big wigs at Decca figured out that the song was about a man who was begging for relief as he lay dying in hospital from a car accident. The single died of course without support from the record company. Later, The Rolling Stones recorded the song for their 1971 classic album Sticky Fingers. Keith Richards played guitar on that version, and he and Jagger were the only credited songwriters on the album version. People claim that they were protective of royalties, others claim that they were trying to keep Faithfull's manager from getting any money, but payed Marianne on the sly. Richards was instrumental (according to Faithfull's autobiography as well as his own) in getting her the credit for the song that she deserved.

Musically the song is a organ heavy blues. Jagger is playing acoustic guitar, and Ry Cooder adds the slide guitar that makes it sound so country blues. The drums are really understated, (that's a Charlie Watts trademark) letting the rest of the instruments shine. Faithfull's voice here is unlike everything she was known for in the late 60s. She always sang quiet safe and melodic tunes. This would have really broken her out of that label had it ever really seen the light. The most crazy messed up couplet in the song: What am I doing in this place? Why does the doctor have no face?

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Never Ever"

All Saints - Never Ever (1997)

"The alphabet runs right from A to Zed"

This is a really great example of girl group pop from the 90s. Why this wasn't as popular as the Spice Girls here in America I don't know. It starts with a really long intro that takes a page right out of the 50s/60s do-wop sound: piano/organ laying down the theme, choir singing the backup wordless and the lead being spoken. When the main body of the song kicks in, we've got a more modern, behind the beat, R&B drum track. You add a low heavy bass and you'd have a straight ahead though forgettable song. What makes this song different is the continuing organ. The song is based on Amazing Grace. They never play the melody, but they chord structure is the same, and the organ helps lead your brain to that church place. The woman all sing well as a group, though none of the individual voices are worth writing home about. As the song ends, the organ drops out and the song becomes instantly worse for it. Then to top it off, they crank the auto tune/compression up on the featured singer's voice and it washes away all of the good the song did for my mood.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Born to Run"

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run (1976)

"Roy Orbison, singing Bob Dylan, produced by [Phil] Spector."

You don't often hear glockenspiel in a Rock song, but when you are trying to make a wall of sound, I guess you use a lot of instruments building it. This was the breakout song of the breakout album for one of Rock's most enduring legends. The previous two albums had failed to attract too much attention outside of the North Atlantic fan base, and this was pretty much the bands last chance as far as Columbia Records was concerned. That's one side of the story. On the other side, Springsteen and his producers were given a lot of time and money to put this together. The quote above the video is actually Bruce himself on what he wanted the album to sound like. A big voice, singing meaningful lyrics over a wall of sound.

The song is slower than I remember. that's not a slight against it, it's just that in my head the song is faster. We kick off with a drum beat, then really quickly start layering piano, organs, guitars, bass, saxophones, and the previously mentioned glockenspiel. I love the false fade out ending (I clearly have a preference for that particular trick) at 3:00 before we get counted back in. I love the fact that we get a sax solo (presumably from "The Big Man") and I love the guitar piano and bass at 2:38 doing a kind of country train feel thing. I'm surprised that trying to get a wall of sound feel they didn't go with any background singers. Near the end, Bruce has got a really slight delay thing on his vocals so he's 'kinda' backing himself, but there are no back up singers. Honestly though, the weirdest part of this whole recording to me is that the drums are not Max Weinberg. He's the drummer for every other song on the album, but not this one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City"

Bobby Bland - Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City (1974)

"...Oh the sun don't shine from City Hall to the County line..."

Love song, message song, funk song. A lot of people have spent a lot of time breaking this song down. It's been successfully covered by Whitesnake, and used by producer Kanye West in Jay-Zs Heart of the City (Ain't No Love) this simply constructed song is a perfect Polaroid for the time period.

We've got at least three distinct guitar sounds, including one pushed through a serious fuzz amp. We've got drums and bass giving a just behind the beat laid back feel. There is a brass section, some flute, and a string section giving us depth over the guitars. I really like the occasional back-up singers. They only show up to give a haunting almost echo to a few lines. Bobby Bland's lead vocal track here is really emotive. He's lived a hard life. By this point in his career, well after the success he enjoyed as a blues singer in the 60s, after the breakup of his touring band, and after his alcohol fueled depression, no one would have blamed him if he just laid down. Instead, after his contract got bought along with many others in a big record label shift in the early 70s, he released another album. It had some success, so he recorded Dreamer; the album this song is on. He's still getting royalties on this one; it was just used this year in The Lincoln Lawyer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Dog Days Are Over"

Florence & The Machine - Dog Days Are Over (2009)

A song, based on a text installation piece by Ugo Rondinone seen here.

The more instruments get added to the mix, the darker and more unhinged the song gets. When it's just Florence, or Florence and a ukulele, or some percussion, the song is almost a children's song. As we get a backing choir and the piano comes in, I am suddenly worried about what exactly happens when the dog days are over. I do love the false ending. Everything drops out, then she gives a a bit of a coda-sounding bit before launching back into the uproarious bacchanalia. Then the piano and chimes drop out for four measures leaving us with just the thudding percussion (at least part of that sound is said to be Florence hitting the wall in the studio) then everything drops out for almost a measure.

I really like her voice, it's strong and not whisper thin. She sings with full belted on confidence and it's sexy. The multi-layered instruments starting with ukulele and finishing with chimes, piano, hand claps, wall, and everything else comes to us courtesy of the songs co-writer, Isabella Summers; and indie producer of Arctic Monkeys, James Ford.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Boys Don't Cry"

The Cure - Boys Don't Cry (1979)

This is a really catchy song.

It's got such a peppy upbeat feel in the music, contrasted of course by the lyrics; the singer has given up on regaining the love of the object of his affection. The guitar is simple, effective, keeping the song light and staying out of the way of the vocals. The drums are almost all closed high hat and snare keeping a real fast beat, staying on top of it and never letting us quit. The bass is a little quiet in this mix for my taste. It mostly doubles the guitar. The bassist was out of the band before the song ever broke in America. The little bit of lead guitar work is such a famous little riff. I think if you played just that little rise up into the fall, almost everyone would recognize it. All in all, the song is short, catchy, a little repetitive, and a classic.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Oh Happy Day"

The Edwin Hawkins Singers - Oh Happy Day (1968)

I think I first heard this song in Sister Act 2

This song has a great story. It's based on a much older hymn, but Edwin Hawkins wrote this arraignment for the Northern California State Youth Choir of the Church of God in Christ. He was the musical director of the 50 member choir. They needed money to get to a youth congress in DC so they recorded an eight song record and pressed 500 copies to sell as a fundraiser. One of those records got into the hands of a San Francisco DJ who began to play Oh Happy Day on his underground station and it became a local favorite, being requested on other area radio stations. A record producer heard the track and bought the national distribution rights. He renamed the group The Edwin Hawkins Singers. The song was a hit, and has been covered by gospel, folk, R&B and country singers.

The instrumentation is simple: piano, bass, drum set. Then you've got the big choir, and lead vocals by future gospel star Dorothy Coombs Morrison. The instruments don't even take a back seat here, more like the jump seat in the back of a station wagon. I don't mean they aren't important, they do make sure the piece rocks, but it is all about that big vocal sound. When they all break out you can't help but nod along.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"River of Deceit"

Mad Season - River of Deceit (1995)

The other grunge supergroup.

Many people know Temple of the Dog, made up of members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (albeit before they became Pearl Jam). This group, Mad Season, was made up of members of Alice in Chains, The Walkabouts, Screaming Trees, and Pearl Jam. Released a year after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, as the grunge scene was dying; the song is in no way a light note. It is a down track that seems to be about the addiction that singer Layne Staley was fighting which would ultimately take his life. Like the songs on the Pearl Jam album Ten, this track was written as an instrumental jam and then the singer came along and added his vocals.

Musically, we've got a good track here. Not a great track, but nice. The drums are really sparse, mostly we hear a ride cymbal and 'click' of a drumstick on the edge of a snare. There is almost no tom or bass drum, and very little crash cymbal. This is of note because drummer Barrett Martin is known for his heavy tom use. At least, that's what the Internet says. Bass wise I have very little to say, he's holding the song together, but it doesn't resonate with me. Mike McCready is the primary lead guitarist for Pearl Jam. His guitar work here is very technically good. It's a little loose and jangly, but the song needed something to lift it up out of the darkness. I'm not feeling anything emotionally attached to the guitar parts, it's as I said earlier: the song was written as a instrumental jam, therefore it was always going to be a platform for something else. Staley's vocals are touching here. His lyrics are raw and the vocal sound really adds to your connection to them. As a platform for Staley, the song shines.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Feed Me with Your Kiss"

My Bloody Valentine - Feed Me with Your Kiss (1988)

I've seen these guys live! I did not really enjoy it!

The video is just someones clips. But it is a good audio quality of the album version, that doesn't start halfway into the first measure like some of the others I found.

So this is the classic lineup of what is perhaps the quintessential shoegaze band. Half English, half Irish (well, Irish American for one of them) this band was the band cited by every major shoegaze band of the late 80s and early 90s as their primary influence. What is shoegaze you ask? Originally it was a demeaning term for bands that couldn't care less about the fans or even being understood on vocals. The layers of sounds from the guitars are what they focus on, and 'all they care about'. So they stared at the ground, not caring if anyone could hear them on the microphones or if anyone was enjoying the music besides themselves.

Personally on this track I think the drums are outstanding. Really fast when they need to be, and holding down time right on the beat for the whole song. They even change volume, which not enough producers allow the drummer to do. By 2:00 you can hear the bass holding together the 'melody' while the guitars are just adding sound over the top. I don't like it, but an almost four minute long version lets me understand what they are going for. When they play live, the songs go on for about 15 minutes and the last song was at least 30 minutes of noise. Vocally I think it sounds terrible. They have produced themselves here, and it's clear they don't care about the vocal track. The vocals are thin, covered up, and Bilinda Butcher honestly sounds out of tune when she's singing by herself.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Vuelvo al sur"

Gotan Project - Vuelvo al sur (2001)

French, Argentinean, and Swiss musicians come together in Paris to make 'dance' tango.

This is a blend of traditional Argentine musical instruments and modern sequencers and effects. Besides guitar and percussion, the dominant instrument is a bandoneón. It is a large concertina. They have a lot of echo effect on it. Reminds me of trip hop actually. The singer that comes in mid way through the song is so smooth. Her voice is low and smokey and world traveled. I can't tell if she reminds me of Edith Piaf because she really sounds like her, or if I just don't listen to enough mature non English singing women.

The break beats in the song actually work for me here. I know I've been fairly dismissive of dance music, so I'm not sure if it works for me here because the music is 'Hispanic' so I'm willing to cut it some slack; or if it works for me because it is more subtle, letting the acoustic instruments shine through more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"I Try"

Macy Gray - I Try (1999)

This song was released as a single in September of 1999 everywhere except North America. Where it was released in January of 2000. Do artists still do that now?

A great look back to soul of an bygone era. The instrumentation here is lush and beautiful and full of real instruments, not software. We've got a Hammond organ, piano, strings, and a drum beat that sits right behind the beat, keeping us laid back. When the drums drop out and all we hear is the vocals we get tense, leaving us wanting more.

Macy Gray's voice has been described as a muted trumpet, a whiskey soaked lounge singer, and harsh and raspy. I think it works so well here. The "rough" in her voice comes across as nervous at the beginning of the song, and then slowly builds until we realize that the song is about a break up and we hear the heart break in her voice. By the end, when she is layered back over herself, that "rough" is anguish and cathartic release.

P.S. Her cover of Nothing Else Matters is pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"7 and 7 Is"

Love - 7 and 7 Is (1966)

No chorus, just two verses, and barely over two minutes long.

If you saw the record cover with the band on it, and guessed based on the year and the name of the band that this was a trippy/peace-nic/love-in kind of track you would be way off. This is a seriously hard charging track, drums going full bore and many sources refer to it as proto-punk. A early influencer on The Ramones and Alice Cooper.

The vocals are shouted, the bass and guitars often double each other giving a loud if not complex sound, and I already said the drums were crazy. This song starts loud and only gets louder. The climax at 1:55 is the sound of a gunshot, slowed down and processed to sound like an explosion. Then we get a electric bluesy outro that you would think would link to the next song on the album, only this was only ever a single for the band, so it just meanders off into nowhere after the bomb.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990)

This song wrecked me every time in Rock Band. Crazy Drum Intro.

We've got two guitar solos, one from each guitarist, the drums are ridiculously fast and Rob Halford's vocals are so high and loud it is an absolute shock that anyone else could sing like him. I don't want to forget the bass playing. When you've got a vocalist that sings in the stratosphere, and dueling lead guitar solos, the only thing holding the song together is the rhythm section. The drums are tight, but the bass is what makes it stick. Nothing too fancy, Ian Hill plays simple steady and melodic bass lines.

This was the first album to feature new drummer Scott Travis, and the last album (until the 2005 reunion) to feature Rob Halford. It was also the first single and album to follow the Subliminal Message trial. I first heard of Judas Priest because of the trial and then Beavis & Butt-head. This song is later Judas Priest and is clearly their attempt to update their sound to compete with Megadeath and Metallica. The song is faster, the lyrics are louder, and it just sounds more urgent. I think it works for them.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


The Carpenters - Superstar (1971)

Falling into a similar category as Killing me Softly, this song is from the point of view of a fan singing to a "Superstar".

My goodness this song is sad. I just really listened to the lyrics rather than letting it wash over as a sound like you do when 'easy listening' comes on the radio, but this is some seriously lonely pop. The singer has almost completely defined themselves by a one time affair with the 'Superstar' of the title and now gets misty just listening to the radio. Karen Carpenter sings this with such compassion and feeling you would think she had actually been in that situation.

The production takes advantage of understated strings and Karen's own quiet drumming. The choruses really come alive and make the casual listener forget what the song is about. We've got Horns, Trumpets, and the strings come more to the fore. Then we're back to the verse with just that little bit of drums, a heavy bass line and Richard Carpenters piano. When they use backing vocals they sound haunting, and the use of an oboe to lead off the whole track really sets the mood for this painfully honest song.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Yé ké yé ké"

Mory Kanté - Yé ké yé ké (1987)

More Dance Music.

While the phrase was introduced in the 60s, it was the mid 80s before the music industry jumped on the idea of promoting World Music. This was one of the earliest hits of the nascent genre. Yéké is apparently "the sound young women make when they dance" according to the singer himself. So this is a song that can be hard to translate, but is close to "Shake it, shake it." Or perhaps "Boom-shakalaka". The chorus adds the word n'nimo which translates to sister-in-law which, when used in Guinea by young men is a way of casually flirting with women. So all together, the song is a playful command to bend over, because he wants to see you shake your tail feathers.

Traditional African drums and kora are almost supplanted by brass, fuzzy electric bass, orchestra hits, and multiple synths. You can really hear the kora at 2:00. The beat is traditional, and holds the song together, so that it is not just another repetitive drum machine and synth dance track, but it is a close thing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sixteen Tons

Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons (1955)

"...another day older and deeper in debt."

A song about the plight of the working man. Paid in company script so he could never save cash and get out of debt. The narrator is so in debt that he asks St. Peter not to take him yet, because he still owed the company. This cover was recorded in 1955 and was as big a hit as the early Rock and Roll it was up against on the charts. Originally recorded in 1946 with just a simple acoustic guitar to make it sound like it was from an even early time; this version was jazzy and upbeat for having such a serious tone. Clarinet, muted trumpet and upright bass are held together with a set of brushes on a basic drum set. Producer Lee Gillette claims that the finger snaps provided by Ford were just his way of helping the band come in but Gillette loved it and left them in the mix. The image of a vocalist and band performing together on a recording is so foreign to modern audiences, but it was the only way to do things back then, and it provides perfect stories like that, that lead to great little add-ons that can really make a song a classic.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Step into My Office, Baby"

Belle & Sebastian - Step into My Office, Baby (2003)

This song sounds like a TV soundtrack from the 60s. I don't mean that in a bad way. I miss those old themes.

It starts off almost sounding like it was recorded in a garage. A really crappy garage, but by the first vocals breaking in it is a glorious sound quality. Lush strings, Horn, beautiful harmonies, and all woven together wonderfully.
The first 1:30 really does have that up beat happy and yet telling a little story kind of sound that you used to get in a TV theme. The horn is used constantly in this piece and it is amazing. such a versatile instrument. Then the change. We get amazing A Capella that then segues into a lightly instrumented (drum and string) choral segment. Then we kick back to the original up beat for a while. This drags down to a choral section I can only describe as what someone would play when the Romantic Interest in an action movie dies. Then we finish up with the fast beat again. This is a remarkably fun piece. The lyrics are witty and describe an office affair without getting ribald. The video takes it a bit beyond "an" office affair.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Stereo MC's - Connected (1992)

I can't find a version that will let me embed it here in blogger. So click on through, but be warned. It's not really worth it.

This song takes all the elements of an early nineties hit and puts them together in the right order. It's got an infectious bass beat, simple easy to sing along with lyrics, and just enough other elements to make the song stick out enough to get noticed. In this case we've got the loud accent of the baritone sax, the occasionally heard turntable scratching, and the even rarer flute hit. These elements are different enough to get some attention, but not scary enough to turn off listeners.

The song was used in a number of early 90s movies and TV shows and does certainly make you think of the times, but it ultimately fails to convince me that it is worth petitioning the label for a twentieth anniversary re-release. Or even adding it to my iTunes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The Stranglers - Peaches (1977)

Walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches.

The bass line is one of the most written about parts of this song. It rings out, each note blending into the next. It is also really really repetitive. Honestly I don't think it's really that great. The whole song feels really dated. It's the kind of song that gained notoriety by being rude and crude with the lyrics; and by today's standards it's not that rude or crude. The drums are as repetitive as the bass, and the guitar just adds very occasional accent. It's the same accent all song long. The organ doubles the bass for the majority of the song. Organ is not a typical punk instrument, but it even gets a solo @ 2:35 (a good one!) that lasts almost a full minute of this four minute song.

It is actually that solo, and the part immediately preceding it that makes the song still interesting. Starting at 2:20 the vocalist forces the young disaffected youth who are his most likely listening group to face the fact that their bored disinterested complaints about a dull English seaside vacation are out of place with what is happening all around. And he does it in 15 seconds. The bass actually plays something different than the rest of the song, and then we get the crazy-almost-throwback-psychedelic-era organ solo.

Monday, October 3, 2011

" I Want You Back"

The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back (1969)

Damn this song is good.

Killer bass line. So important to a Soul/Funk number. This one is constantly moving, not repetitive, doesn't ring out so much that it covers up what else is going on in the song, and even though it is doubled at various times by other instruments (trombone, piano, etc.) it holds it own through the whole song. Honestly, you can listen to just that line and groooove.

This is a well produced song. You've got piano, strings, electric guitar, brass, drums, that amazing bass line, backing vocals, and what was destined to become one of the most known voices in the Western world, and you can hear all of it. The balance is perfect. This is the first song the Jackson 5 did with Michael on lead vocals, and it was the first of four number one hits in one year. Lyrically, as the book points out, this may be the most upbeat unhappy song every made. The singer has realized they have made a mistake, and let the love of their life out of their life. But the music never lets you focus for too long on this downer of a theme.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Ali Farka Touré - Amandrai (1987)

I think this is the version talked about in the book. 7 minutes and 20 seconds long and just a man and his guitar. Also, the book spelled the name of the song wrong at the top of the page; but correctly in the article.

Mali, a landlocked Western African nation is often mentioned when people talk about where the Blues came from. This performer certainly gives some credence to that school of thought. You are either going to love this song and sit in wonder while it plays, or you aren't going to get it. I can't sway you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Deep Cover"

Dr. Dre introducing Snoop Doggy Dogg - Deep Cover (1992)

'Cuz it's 187 on a undercover cop...

The first solo effort by Dr. Dre and he had already found Snoop. Snoop was an unknown twenty year old when this song was recorded; and Dre. was the 26 year old producer and rapper who had recently become the third member of N.W.A. to leave for a solo carer. The song features a heavy repetitive bass line, and drums sampled from the much loved Sing a Simple Song by Sly & The Family Stone. There are a lot of synthesizer effects sounds on the track as well; high pitched, minor chord driven organ like sounds. Underneath it all, there are a few saxophone riffs trying to be heard. This is G-funk. Dre is one of the pioneers of the sound, and this song is a template.

Lyrically the song is about finding an undercover cop hiding in your criminal organization. It was written as the title single for the Laurence Fishburne movie Deep Cover. Vocally this song is the introduction of the biggest sound in 90's rap. Gangta rap had a lot of players, many of whom were affiliated with N.W.A. but this team of Dre and Snoop had the biggest, most recognizable singles in the genre. Dre had the angry rough raspy voice, and Snoop was the syrupy sweet, laid back counterpoint. Still performing today both together and separately, this track was the first time the world heard them together.