Archive for the ‘Friday Five’ Category

h1

Then you’ll know all the heartaches of a fool just like me.

February 11, 2012

One of the nicest ladies I’ve ever known and will ever know is named Judy. She’s a family friend who’s known me before I could form memories and even though I’m knocking on 30, she still kind of sees me as the kid I once was and usually insists I take an extra brownie or slice of pie if my family and/or friends are dining at her place in the summer. She’s awesome. And for the lone fact that she’s been around the longest, she the epitome of “Judy” to me.

Others aren’t so fortunate. Apparently there are a lot of Judys running around. Maybe the Judy you know is an English-lit loving faux beat poet, maybe she’s an easy-to-impress flirt, maybe she’s an honorable take-no-mess sort. Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of them running around.

Or at least there were. For a brief spell around the 1940s, Judy actually ranked atop the list of most popular name for baby girls. Since then it’s been a steady decline (there was a brief resurgence in the early 1990s), but according to the good people at Wikipedia (who’s accountability or accuracy I have no way of verifying), “Judith” was the 652nd most popular name for baby girls born in the United States in 2007. If anyone’s updated those rankings in the past 5 years, that information would help this paragraph, but I’m not particularly interested in digging for it.

My point is that once upon a long ago, there were an awful lot of girls named Judy running around. And there still are to a lesser extent today, but as male songwriters are always looking for muses, an awful lot of songs about women named Judy also surfaced. Enough for a double album compilation, actually. But since I haven’t done a Friday Five in a while, I thought I’d share five about Judys who seem to be cut from a different cloth than the woman who still worries herself that I’m not eating enough.

And here you thought only Crosby, Stills and Nash had got to it.

The Friday Five
Songs about Judy

Billy Bragg and the Blokes – Another Kind of Judy
Bragg’s 2002 album, England, Half English got a lot of stick for pulling Billy down a pubrock route, but I’ve always thought it was a fine little album. It has Ian McLagan on it, for God’s sake. And really, when you get down to it, songs like “Take Down the Union Jack” and “NPWA” are right in line with everything he’d done before. The change came with songs like this one and “Jane Allen,” where he mused on middle age and looking at women in a completely different way than “The Saturday Boy” once did. This Judy? Well, she’s another kind of Judy, obviously—a single mom who’s younger than our narrator and seems to have the ability to spark the fond remembrance of youth only to ultimately prove that remembrance, like youth itself, is a fleeting thing. She actually makes him realize he needs to change, although that’s a hard concept to grapple with if it means forsaking one’s own record collection. Seriously. The lyric “She filled my head with the awful noise of her disappointment and the Pet Shop Boys” makes the whole song. Although I’ve always wanted to ask Bragg’s sometime collaborator Johnny Marr (who’s also a sometime Pet Shop Boys collaborator) for his thoughts on the line.

Bobby Darin – Judy, Don’t Be Moody
This is a cut from Darin’s self-titled debut in 1958. It’s a pretty interesting record—Darin lending his vocals to backing music more in line with the budding rock ‘n’ roll movement as opposed to the big band swing that would dominate his career (and a genre he would dominate, mind). You hear a couple of the vocal ticks that’ll reappear on some of his more well known stuff (listen to the hiccup the last time he sings “Don’t be moody,” a trick he’d bring back in on “Mack the Knife”). The Judy in question on this song seems to be like girls I’ve previously dated—a little self-conscious and paranoid about my impressions of them. Although to be fair, Darin’s buddies apparently aren’t doing him any favors by ratting about his dates with Rosemary, so Bobby finds himself having to do a little more reassuring than your average guy going out with an insecure gal. But when facing an inquisition about the possible other woman, Darin calmly responds: “Why should you think it’s true? Baby, baby, it could never be.” How can you argue with that? It’s not as if guys lie about that kind of stuff …

Hoagy Carmichael – Judy
The oldest cut on this list, dating all the way back to 1934. That means, yes, that Judys were tormenting poor dudes even then. Carmichael takes the vocal here, but the lyrics were actually penned by Sammy Lerner (famous for having penned “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”). This song’s Judy sets Carmichael’s heart aglow like Bragg’s Judy (albeit without the kid), only to inevitably leave him disappointed and forevermore jaded, like every other female muse in the history of pop music. A subsequent factoid illustrates a pretty horrendous difference between men and women. Men would hear this kind of song and share a sympathetic pat on the back and share a heartbreak story of their own. Women would hear this and aspire to be this shatterer-of-dreams. Case in point: A young actress named Frances Gumm heard this song and thought of a stage name. You know her as Judy Garland. Damn.

John Fred & His Playboy Band – Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
Totally kickass song from 1968. I don’t know much about Fred or his band of Playboys, but I’ve loved this song ever since I was digging oldies radio in my youth. It’s one of those songs that has a melody and hook that takes your mind off the lyrics. If you actually examine them, though, it’s eye-opening. This particular Judy carries a bit of that multiple personality disorder that I might find briefly intriguing at the start of a relationship but positively annoying—if not horrifying—two weeks later. OK, OK, those are some convincing sexy-time groans. Three weeks later. Fred’s Judy seems to be a bit klepto, “taking everything in sight except for the strings on my kite,” so you have to wonder about from where the bracelets and brand new car came. Judging by the allusions to lemonade pie and cantaloupe eyes, I’m also figuring she’s got a slight citrus fixation or has supplied this poor man with heavy doses of psychedelics. I’m going to conclude it’s the latter (or that Fred too has reached his three-week threshold), since he ultimately dismisses her as no more than “a circus of horrors.”

Ramones – Judy is a Punk
A minute and a half of classic energy from the Ramones’ 1976 self-titled debut. The title’s totally misleading. Jackie’s actually the punk, while Judy is a runt. And Sheena is a punk rocker, but I’m not sure if that’s quite the same thing. Maybe it’s the fact that even though she is a runt, she’s willing to go down to Berlin and skate that makes her a punk. Or maybe being a runt with a friend who’s a punk but not acknowledging yourself as a punk is somewhat punk in itself. I don’t know. I certainly don’t make the rules and I’ve never paid much attention to them. For all the bottled energy here, the Ramones’ Judy actually seems the most stable mate on offer here. She’s goal-oriented, doesn’t let her shortcomings produce any apparent insecurity, is tough enough to join a radical left-wing army, and perhaps she’ll die, but c’est la vie, right? Tell me this Judy doesn’t make the best case of any on offer here.

Moral of the story? If your name is Judy, be cool. There’s a whole litany of illspeak about you already and you don’t want to add to it. Try taking a young boy under your wing and making sure he eats enough and gets enough dessert. The whole world will think better of you.

Happy weekend, all.

Advertisements
h1

No less. No more. No sea. No shore. No sand. No pail. No fairytale anymore.

July 1, 2011

Been a good while since these parts have seen a Friday Five, so why not one now, eh?

I’m pleased to report that on the evening of July 31, I will be seeing my favorite Beatle at my favorite ballpark. Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field. How excited am I? Being that this is my fourth time instead of my first, the excitement is somewhat tempered. I saw Macca at the United Center in 2005 and although I was thrilled with the set list (“Too Many People,” “I’ll Get You,” acoustic versions of “I Will” and “In Spite of All the Danger” as well as a solo piano turn for “For No One,”), McCartney’s ticket prices do tend to attract a corporate crowd that might not appreciate the show as much as fans who might only have the means to shill $20 or $30 for a ticket. Far be it from me to tell one of the richest men in the world about anything having to do with finances, but when I’m tapped on the shoulder and told to sit down during “Jet,” well … I get a little sour.

Nevertheless, it’s a Beatle. And he usually plays two to three hours. And thanks to these reissues of late, he’s focusing a bit more on Wings material, which I’m all for. So if you’re at Wrigley on July 31, look for me in the 200s section down the first base line in seats for which I might have paid a little too much.

How can Paul make it up to me? Well he did “Junior’s Farm” in Las Vegas. I’d love to hear that. I’d be thrilled with a few “Venus and Mars” tracks. But if he really wanted to make me happy, he’d go delving into the least covered material of his career – the B-sides. McCartney’s B-sides throughout the years have ranged from “dismal” to “questionable” to “Good Christ, man, why don’t you release this as a single right now?!” material, but for whatever reason, there has never been an appropriate B-sides compilation. I suppose if you’re wealthy enough to shell out for the deluxe editions of all these solo catalogue remasters, there’s a good chance you’ll get them all, but for those of you that can’t or haven’t checked into it, this month’s Friday Five looks at Macca’s 5 best post-Beatles B-sides.

The Friday Five
Paul McCartney’s Other Side(s)

Paul McCartney – Broomstick
I’ve heard (but never verified) that this song dates back to about 1986 in terms of writing and early recording. The early-to-mid 1980s were a bit of a fallow period for McCartney that generated a lot more filler and half-cooked material than true classics. It really wasn’t until Macca revisted his solo glories with the All the Best! collection that he started to find his sea-legs again (duff lyrics aside, “Once Upon a Long Ago” is a pretty great track, and “Back on My Feet” served as a more-than-worthy B-side). If the 1986 inception is true, then there’s a good chance that Macca could have been wary of this song’s power, but thankfully he got his buddy Steve Miller (yes, the Joker) to lend a hand during a 1995 session (the same collaboration also yielded “Used to Be Bad” and “Young Boy” for the 1997 Flaming Pie LP). The result here isn’t necessarily mind-blowing, but for a hard-to-find B-side placed on disc 2 of the “Young Boy” single, it proved a worthy reward for the fans willing to hunt down the disc (probably at a little too high of a cost on eBay … as I discovered and paid in 1999). Really relaxed, enjoyable groove.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Daytime Nightime Suffering
Both Paul and Linda cited this song as personal favorites when asked about their favorite post-Beatle Paul material, so the fact that it was a little harder to find than other Wings’ tracks (released only as a B-side to the “Goodnight Tonight” single in 1979 and then as a bonus track on the 1993 reissue of the critically-reviled Back to the Egg album) seemed a tad odd until Macca included it on the Wingspan collection in 2001. Since then it’s enjoyed a bit more widespread recognition, but for long-time McCartney fans this one’s always been counted among his best. Thematically, it’s a bit scattershot, lamenting the fact that a woman is only left with the bones after putting the hard work into a relationship, before shooting off on a wild tangent about a mighty river (is that supposed to be sexual?). The clumsy lyrical links make it seem like an early sketch for a song instead of a concentrated effort to sit down and write a unified tune. But aside from that, the groove is generally undeniable and it’s more than understandable that Paul would be proud of this one.

Paul McCartney – Kicked Around No More
According to my logs, this is the third time this track has appeared on my blog since its inception way back in 2006, but as this is my all-time favorite Macca B-side, and quite possibly my all time favorite solo Macca song, I shall not apologize for the multiple reposts. Tacked on the “Hope of Deliverance” single that was first issued in 1992, this song never got quite as much exposure as “Big Boys Bickering,” because this song doesn’t drop an F-bomb. But trading on his love for Brian Wilson-esque harmonies and the rare theme of disappointment and heartbreak (it’s still somewhat of an untapped well in McCartney’s solo oeuvre, but was in particularly short supply during Linda’s time on Earth), this brooding song carries a dark majesty that you rarely (if ever) find on a McCartney album, let alone a single. For years I’ve lamented its lack of exposure, but here’s hoping that when Off the Ground gets the Paul McCartney Archive Collection treatment and rerelease, it gets the attention it’s more than deserved since first bubbling up to no notice 19 years ago.

Paul McCartney – Mama’s Little Girl
Although credited to McCartney alone, “Mama’s Little Girl” dates back to the Wings days and was first cut in 1972 during the Red Rose Speedway sessions. Why this stayed buried for so long vexes me—McCartney got around to mixing it and finishing it in 1987, but wouldn’t release it finally until 1990 as a B-side to the “Put it There” single. Another three years later it got added as a bonus track to the CD release of Wings’ Wild Life (which actually did serve to enhance a pretty mundane otherwise album). The track could’ve brought plenty more charm to either Wild Life or Red Rose Speedway, but as a B-side to another finger-picky McCartney gem, it also complements its A-side perfectly. This is the kind of song you figure Macca can essentially make up as he goes, and when the result is something this simply disarming, it just makes you wonder: Why the hell sit on it for 18 years?

Paul McCartney & Wings – Sally G
The B-side to Wings’ standalone single, “Junior’s Farm,” this 1974 cut is one of the few to feature Geoff Britton on drums. He would be replaced in the Venus and Mars through London Town era by Joe English. Like it’s A-side it was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee (Wings had a history of doing ‘location’ recording that also included Lagos, New Orleans and the Virgin Islands). Unlike its A-side, “Sally G” actually takes to the flavor of Nashville, as McCartney sings over a country-steeped backing track, helped by Nashville session vets Vassar Clements, Lloyd Green and Johnny Gimble about a girl who performs in Printers’ Alley and takes up with the narrator before ultimately the relationship ends in shambles … as is the progression a Nashville tune would take. The song’s chock full of charm and actually charted at #17 in the United States, and for all of the derision Macca gets for lyrics, I have to doff my cap for “I never thought to ask her what the letter ‘G’ stood for, but I know for sure it wasn’t ‘Good.'”

Enjoy the weekend, all.

h1

Oh, sing me that song.

November 20, 2009

Any student of songwriting will be familiar with something that always comes up in lessons, interviews, autobiographies or what have you — write about what you know. If you’re a hopeless romantic that always gets shafted by love, well… there are emo kids out there waiting to hear you sing your diary. If you like writing about purple haze and kissing the sky, then have another hit of LSD and preach to the ones who see what you’ve seen.

But writing “theme songs” for your band or identity is something that’s not hugely prevalent in rock and roll. Mainly because when you think of “theme songs,” there’s one that always comes to mind and kind of sours ones appetite for trying to write one of their own. It’s kind of an arrogant exercise to write about how great you are or what you do, but it’s also not something that’s completely foreign to popular music either. Indeed, pretty much every successful rapper has staked a career on audacious boasts about how great they are, and you can certainly find theme songs in the catalogues of guitar-wielding troubadours.

For this month’s Friday Five, we take a look at five of the best theme songs that only ever worked in musical form and not as a dual intro song for a poorly-written television sitcom… which isn’t to say they couldn’t. It’s just good that they didn’t.

The Friday Five
Our Own Personal Theme Songs

Bo Diddley – The Story of Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley wrote a lot of songs about himself, and while this isn’t the best (that honor goes hands down to “Bo Diddley,” which was consequently on an album called Bo Diddley), but “The Story of Bo Diddley” which kicked off a 1959 EP has a great autobiographical touch to it. Plus the three chords turning over and over are just irresistible. The self-assured swagger of this song is no different from many of Bo’s other best songs, but the cocky laughs and way he describes himself as “a killer diller” are just pure magic. No one else could do this song like this for obvious reasons, but it didn’t stop them from trying, and even if you’re a white boy in the suburbs learning to play guitar, this one is an essential learning block.

The Mamas and the Papas – Creeque Alley
Not only a fabulously catchy story of the Mamas and Papas’ folk roots beginnings, but also an examination of their formative years rubbing elbows and trading jobs (and busking, of course) with members of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Byrds.  The song’s most famous line of course is the shot about no one getting fat except Mama Cass. It would seem that Cass had the kind of attitude to have a laugh about it in the context of it being a popular single, but you also have to wonder if this didn’t plunge some kind of knife into self-consciousness. Not only is the hook a crack about her weight, but the song also alludes to her unrequited love for Denny. Given that the band’s other hit singles alluded to inter-band love affairs and now John’s daughter is out telling everyone she had an incestuous relationship with her Papa, well… maybe they just found harmony in pain. But this is certainly the highlight of the band’s 1967 album Deliver.

McAlmont & Butler – The Theme From McAlmont & Butler
David and Bernard are still best known for their stupendous 1995 single, “Yes,” but I still say their real genius rests in the underrated 2002 album Bring it Back. This blistering cut kicks off the album, alluding to the “stratocaster kind of guy” and  his partner who can “sing like a bird,” but the track isn’t so much an examination of the two as it is just a soaring album opener that goes right for the listener’s jugular. It builds and builds into a cinematic experience and if the chorus isn’t one of the most glorious things you’ve heard, well… check your soul. Part of you has to be a bit pompous to write this kind of song, but I’m reminded of that old adage about talking the talk AND walking the walk when I hear this.

Ocean Colour Scene – Better Day
As hard as OCS could rock in the mid-to-late 1990s (see “The Riverboat Song” and “Hundred Mile High City”), lead singer Simon Fowler was already showing a heavy preference for folkier, Ronnie Lane-tinged songs. The beauty of the band at that point was that they countered it with heavy guitars and drums to give the songs some muscle — latter day OCS songs have just kind of stayed in the folk area with little rock to buoy it. Simon wrote this as an autobiographical piece about the band’s formative days (Sonny, Stevie, Minnie and Harry are Simon, Steve Cradock, Damon Minchella and Oscar Harrison respectively), while the lyrics also give nods to Paul Weller and the band’s manager, Chris Cradock. It’s got a heavy melancholy tinge to it, but listen to the guitars and drums and how much punch they give this thing. While the Marchin’ Already album came out on the eve of Britpop’s demise in 1997, it proved the band’s most successful chart offering — peaking at #1 in the UK charts. Too bad America never quite caught on. We couldn’t have all enjoyed this? Come on.

Old 97’s – The One
The 97’s actually wrote this one back in 1996 after being signed to Elektra records and making the jump from the indie scene of Bloodshot and into the major label territory where a lot of their alt-country peers were making a killing. Appropriately, the song paints Rhett, Murry, Ken and Philip as a gang of bank robbers California-bound and hell bent on taking the money and running. The boys never had the stones to put the song on their major label debut, Too Far to Care, however, and for more than 10 years, the song squandered its life away as part of Rhett and Murry’s acoustic sets as the Ranchero Brothers. But 12 years later and back on the indie label circuit, they found a comfort level suitable for giving the song a proper recording and used it to bring up the rear of 2008’s fabulous Blame it on Gravity. And the fact that it sounds like a Too Far to Care outtake is by no means a strike against it.

h1

Just to keep believing.

October 23, 2009

Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop of Travis are doing an acoustic show at the Majestic here in Madison tonight.

I’ve opted to go to this show, but I must tell you it’s been one hell of a dilemma for me when it came to the question of buying the ticket.

I know what you’re thinking — “Oh, for Christ’s sake, what’s the big issue?” — but, see, with Travis, I’ve been highly judgmental and critical since 2001. And the thing is, the year before, they were well positioned to go down as one of my all time favorite bands.

I know I’ve broached this topic before on this blog, but the shimmering brilliance of 1999’s The Man Who and the care-free bombast of their debut, 1997’s Good Feeling poised the band to be the next big thing in the UK and with an arsenal of nice melodies, big choruses and a self-deprecating and good-natured frontman, they seem well-positioned to hold the mantle for as long as they damn well pleased.

The vacuum created by the death of Britpop in August 1997 and Oasis’ ensuing three-year exile from the studio left the door open to anyone with a healthy knowledge of a few chords and an ear for a fist-in-the-air chorus, and Travis had both. What’s more, the refined and moody The Man Who SOUNDED like a band who’d studied Oasis B-sides and knew what the healthy masses of arena rock fans really yearned for. You need the transition from “All I Want to Do is Rock” to “Writing to Reach You,” dammit, because even if you’re a teenager with an overdeveloped taste for beer and a proclivity to use the phrase “Aw, f*ck off” a little too often — you’re still sensitive and (somewhat) deep too, dammit.

And if Oasis weren’t delivering “Talk Tonight”s or “Half the World Away”s to satiate that other side and Radiohead had all but given up that muse after 1995’s The Bends, well, who was gonna do it? Travis answered the call and was paid in spades.

And maybe through no fault of their own, everyone caught wind of just how easy that kind of songwriting was. Indie sensitivity gave birth to an entire range of emotive Brits from the intriguing (Badly Drawn Boy) to the obvious pretenders (Starsailor), and in their undying quest to identify the next big thing, British magazines lauded praise on everyone and everyone in between as if they were to be the next Beatles.

Travis could have enjoyed their time as shepherds of the movement, but the thing is a pesky little band called Coldplay released Parachutes in 2000 and posed a serious threat to Travis. Not so much because they had the tunes to match Travis’ power, but because people in America were taking a serious listen to “Yellow” and “Trouble.”

For Travis, the UK was a cakewalk. In 2000, they were festival headliners, enjoyed massive chart time and were actually lauded for tongue-in-cheek B-sides like an acoustic rendering of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” But outside of Anglophiles, Americans weren’t paying too much attention to them outside of enjoying “Why Does it Always Rain On Me?” every time it popped up on the radio. Travis put the time in to cracking in America. They supported Oasis on the US leg of the Standing on the Shoulder of Giants tour and I can distinctly remember seeing them as headliners in small Chicago clubs three times in the span of a year. The clubs never got MUCH bigger, but the sense was that all this work was going to pay off for something.

So imagine another British band with a big heady song about a color basically taking your template and strutting right into America’s heart. I was not there to witness it, but I have no trouble whatsoever imagining four Scottish dudes muttering, “Motherf*cker…”

And for years, interviewers went after Fran Healy and Chris Martin, both playing up their friendship and lauding each other, but one has to imagine it was a pretty easy PR option for Martin whose band was well on its way to U2-sized popularity, while Healy’s band was visibly set adrift by the Coldplay swell.

First there was 2001’s The Invisible Band, which was a decent record, but an outright rewrite of The Man Who, that seemed to scream, “Look, we were here first, we’ve been doing this, check the last album, dammit.” Then they got a bit more bitter and moody with 2003’s 12 Memories. I’m sure the video for “Re-Offender” was done somewhat tongue in cheek, but you have to think there was some truth in the jesting.

In 2007, they release The Boy With No Name, which was another pretty transparent grab at stoking nearly decade-old fire from The Man Who. The diehards loved it, but they didn’t generate new fans, so they decided to strip down and go rocky again for last year, Ode to J. Smith, which — all told — produced one really good song.

As a fan of the band (I honestly don’t root against them, you know), it’s hard not to listen and think they’re still conscious of being in competition with Coldplay. I wish they didn’t care so much, because despite the escalating ticket sales (and prices), Coldplay’s music has gotten worse since Parachutes.

But I suppose the best analogy (and any male who was a fan of Travis in 1999 or 2000 will appreciate this analogy) is warming up a girl for a relationship by going the “friendship” route she insists upon because she doesn’t want to ruin that special bond. So you work at the friendship line for weeks, months, hell, maybe years. You spend time together, you tell each your thoughts that you don’t tell anyone else. You have jokes that no one else gets and while you want to scream from the mountaintops how good you would be for her and that she probably knows it, you know that any rash move like that could blow the whole operation. So you build up, and just when you’re about to make the small-but-firm move to push things to the next level, some guy who looks just like you comes in with a mix tape and is cocksure enough to get a date.

F*ck that guy, right? He’s scoring off all the priming you did, and is it going to send you into a jealous fit? Yeah. Are you gonna go off with some girl you probably never would have otherwise? Yeah, probably, because you don’t know what else to do.

I mean, hell, why do you think early on in the American version of “The Office,” it was Travis’ “Sing” that Pam and Jim were listening to on shared iPod headphones that night in the parking lot? Travis is the culmination of that kind of “almost” frustration.

And as a fan that damn near wore out the “Coming Around” single in 2000, well, I’m still waiting for the care-free album for which that tune should have been the trailer. It’s been almost a decade.

But to say that everything in the past 9 years has been subpar would be unfair. And for this month’s Friday Five, let’s celebrate the diamonds in that multi-year rough.

TRAVIS1jpg

The Friday Five
Travis’ post-big time moments of glory

Travis – Somewhere Else
The best tune from the moody 12 Memories, and while it warms the cockles of my heart that they never put this one out as a single, part of me wonders what kind of popularity the never-issued single missed out on. This song is arguably the best thing they ever wrote, and to end up as a deep cut on the album that would become forever known as “the low-selling one” seems a little criminal. But it’s also good to know you can pick up the album with a bad rap, work your way through it and find an absolute gem like this. No matter how inconsistent their albums may be, there’s always going to be one cut that floors you.

Travis – Walking in the Sun
The obligatory “new” cut for 2004’s greatest hits compilation Singles. Put up alongside the songs that made them as big as they were at the turn of the century, this cuts fits in beautifully with the nicely balanced electric and acoustic guitar interplay and a gorgeous little chorus that burrows itself comfortably into your head for a long time after listening.

Travis – My Eyes
Given The Boy With No Name‘s conscious similarities to The Man Who (and The Invisible Band), I actually think it’s a big compliment to say this is really the only song on the album that sounds like it could have fit on The Man Who (and let’s not kid ourselves, “Selfish Jean” is great, but that would have been a killer Man Who-era B-side, a la “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” or “High as a Kite”). The fatherhood theme was already tackled with “Flowers in the Window,” but this one works a bit more effectively and the “Welcome in, welcome in” bridge is just solid gold.  This one did make it out as a single, but I think the choice in making the cookie-cutter “Closer” the first single (Ben Stiller staring video and all) probably quelled a few expectations. Ah well.

Travis – Lovely Rita
Given the country’s proclivity for celebrating musical anniversaries and pumping nearly every music magazine full of “Best British Albums EVER” lists, it’s probably no surprise that the BBC commissioned a lot of popular acts to rerecord songs from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album for a big “Wasn’t that album great?” radio documentary in summer 2007. The one question I had is why on earth that question needed to be asked, but c’est la vie. Beatles covers are dangerous waters to go treading into as 12 bands found out (even Oasis’ cover of “Within You, Without You” sounded like a bit of a train wreck), but lo and behold, Travis were the only ones to hit it out of the park with a to-the-detail faithful cover of one of the album’s most underrated songs (even down to employing the comb and paper). Watching this video in 2007 reminded me how much I loved them when I was 18.

Travis – Something Anything
The aforementioned one good cut from last year’s Ode to J. Smith. I don’t doubt they still can rock and bring the balls they did on 1997’s Good Feeling — this song is proof enough. But this was the only song that merged the balls with the Travis-brand catchiness. And that’s the important difference, you know… I don’t think Coldplay could do a song like this.

h1

Don’t seem fair to keep you hangin’ ’round.

September 25, 2009

Last week when I was in Chicago for the Proclaimers show, I spent the day with one of my oldest friends, who got around to lamenting the fact that the only major Chicago representation in the music scene right now comes from bands like the Plain White T’s. He noted the Smashing Pumpkins time has passed and Billy Corgan is thought of with too much indifference (or resentment) these days and it’s a sad state of affairs since there are good bands to be found in the city streets.

I fully agree with him that the good bands are there, but I still feel compelled to ask that when the standard of popularity now is a song like “Hey There Delilah,” does anyone even want to share the stage? I went to the same high school the Plain White T’s did and I remember not liking them back then. I suppose part of me thinks it’s somewhat nice that they found their way out of the suburbs, but every time I start to feel momentarily good about it, I think about their music.

The fact of the matter is the Chicago music scene has a ton of good stuff to its name, and while it may not have the national renown right now that Austin or Portland does, it deserves a fair shake. For this month’s Friday Five, we take a look at five of the best Chicago offerings you don’t know about. And given my general reluctance to go deep into any city’s local scene, you know these songs have to be really good. So listen up and go dig for more stuff from these bands. There’s more out there.

chicagodusk

The Friday Five
“Hi-de-hey — baby, don’t you wanna go?”

Company of Theives – Oscar Wilde
I was just made hip to this band, and quite glad my friend was kind enough to bestow the knowledge upon me. This cut, from 2007’s Ordinary Riches, is all sorts of wonderfully angular Spoon-esque brilliance and was a nice soundtrack from a drive back to Madison from Chicago in the wee small hours of a Wednesday morning. I think I played this song about 18 times over during the drive. Unbelievably hypnotic. The fact that they did a brilliant “Rushmore”-inspired video only endears me that much further.

The Differents – Dawn
OK, this song is about 10 years old and I posted it a few months ago, but it’s fantasticity is still blowing my mind. Differents mainman Lou Hallwas is off with Penthouse Sweets for the most part (who are also pretty damn good mind you), but the Differents were nice enough to reunite earlier this year for the fans that are still around the city and also put out the album they recorded but never released 10 years ago, Fate’s Goin’ On. It’s f*cking hard to make good use of a banjo in any song, alright? And not only do these guys pull it off here, but they give you a chorus that you’ll be singing along to before the song ends.

Hollus – Miss Daisy
Yeah, yeah, this band is full of some of my best friends so there’s personal bias here, but the yardstick by which to measure this band is the fact that anytime this song shuffles up on my iPod at a party, there are a lot of inquisitions. And it’s without me going, “Oh, listen to THIS ONE!” mind you. They’ve got heaps of great rock tunes, but this track is the centerpiece of their Joker and the Queen album that’s up on iTunes and more than worth tracking down. Listen to that chorus. Listen to that electric piano. Listen to this whole thing. Again and again.

The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra – Invisible Woman Standing on a Bridge
I first got hip to Nick about four years ago when he opened with a solo set for his pal Alejandro Escovedo. Given that it was my first time seeing Alejandro, I went into the show thinking I’d have little patience for whoever opened that night, but Tremulis immediately blew me away with his songs and personality. I subsequently found out he’s got a rock-solid rock and roll outfit when he’s not moonlighting by his lonesome, and if you get the chance to see them, give it a crack — they put on a hell of a show. This cut kicks off last year’s Pinky, one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums that nobody knows about. If you’re not around Chicago or prone to checking out CDBaby, get your fingers to take you to iTunes and download the beast. It’s quite fabulous.

The Steepwater Band – Lord Knows
I’ve been fortunate to catch the Steepwater boys live a few times and can personally attest to them putting on a good show, full of ’70s-styled rock and roll goodness (they also stop by Madison with some frequency, so you locals would do well to keep your eyes peeled for upcoming show announcements), but I will also say that despite an arsenal of solid songs, I wasn’t ever floored until I heard this song from last year’s Grace and Melody. This thing is perfect driving music, perfect morning music, perfect end of the night music and a perfect microcosm of what “American rock and roll” should be defined by. And at 2:49, it’s short enough to leave you pining for more. Also sports a spiffy video.

h1

Everybody needs a little help sometimes to seal the deal.

August 14, 2009

What is it about doctors that make them such good fodder for songwriters? Their abilities to provide medicinal or psychiatric help? The tribal doctors with strange practices? The white lab coats? The fact that trying to rhyme something with “PhD” is always going to pose a challenge?

I don’t know. I’ve never been a big fan of doctors. Or dentists. They like to tell me what I’m not doing right. It’s never a good self esteem exercise to visit a doctor. Or a dentist.

By the way, you suppose that dentists get offended there aren’t as many songs written about them? I think there are more songs about novocaine than there are about dentists, come to think of it. That’s gotta suck for dentists.

Anyway, my personal feelings, doctors provide great inspiration for popular music — if not in songs, then certainly in stage names (I’m looking your way, John and Dre). For this month’s Friday Five, we take a look at five solid rock ‘n’ roll doctors.

lucy

The Friday Five
The Doctors Are In

Aretha Franklin – Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)
Well, what? You didn’t think I was gonna post that f*cking Motley Crue song did you? Aretha’s 1967 album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, is probably her best and is far more renowned for carrying “Respect,” but from a soul standpoint, it’s hard to argue there’s anything on the album better than this. The song moves along at a wonderfully soulful trudge, with a blissed-out organ wailing away behind the piano, bass, drums and horns. Dr. Feelgood doesn’t appear to be a licensed practitioner, but someone who can makes his lady feel particularly good in the morning, which… let’s face it, can be like brain surgery sometimes.

The Beatles  – Doctor Robert
Who the actual Doctor Robert has never been completely verified — speculation holds that it’s about a guy named Dr. Robert Freymann, a New York practitioner that supplied a lot of celebrities with amphetamines. John Lennon also said it’s an autobiographical song, since he was the band’s pill carrier in the early days. Regardless, the song is a not-so-subtle appreciation of someone who can prescribe the goods to leave a mid-1960s rock and roll star “feeling fine.” In terms of Beatles songs, it’s probably not their best, but that said, it’s still a pretty cool little tune and blends into their best album, Revolver, quite nicely.

Crowded House – Dr. Livingstone
The Crowdies cut this track back in 1989, and while it bubbled up on a B-side to a limited edition single here and there, it finally got a proper showing 10 years later on the band’s fabulous odds-and-ends post-mortem release, Afterglow. Livingstone doesn’t sound like a guy you’d go to visit in a suburban office, but instead a strange interloper in Africa. No idea what this song’s point is, really, but whatever the trouble may be, the good doctor holds survival in his hands.

Kula Shaker – Dr. Kitt
Dr. Kitt, like Dr. Livingstone, doesn’t seem to be the suburban office type, but unlike Dr. Livingstone, he seems a little more prone to cure whatever storm-induced ills befall his patients. Also a hell of a lot more philosophical — dude doesn’t seem to leave anything to chance. But why would Kula Shaker do a song about anything less cosmic? This psychedelic doodle is actually one of the finest and most underrated on Kula’s 2007 comeback album, Strangefolk.

Steely Dan – Doctor Wu
I admit that while I’m an admirer of Steely Dan’s lyrical abilities, I’m usually almost completely in the dark when it comes to understanding what the hell they’re going on about. For years I’ve listened to this song thinking it’s about a girl named Katy who two-times the narrator, and Doctor Wu is like a therapist that ends up being the dude Katy’s two-timing with. Seemed simple enough? Then I read an interview with Fagen in which he said “Doctor Wu” is just the personification of a dope habit. Of course. Why would I think the song would make any common sense in the first place? Nevertheless, a fantastic pull from the oft-overlooked 1975 album, Katy Lied.

And as a bonus for all you dear readers, I realize I’ve been a little lax in posting lately, so here’s ONE MORE fabulous song about a doctor.

David Seville – Witch Doctor
Give it another listen. It’s a lot of fun.

h1

Turn it up. That’s enough. So you know it’s got soul.

July 17, 2009

Surely one of the greatest purchases I ever made in my life was the complete box set of “The West Wing,” which I know I’m not the only fan of. If you haven’t watched the show, I can only say spend the pretty penny and get into the series now, or at the very least, fill up your Netflix queue. 

As far as the debate goes about which direction the show headed after Aaron Sorkin left following the 4th season, yeah a lot of the humor was traded for heavy drama, but don’t tell me you weren’t loving following the Santos campaign. 

Of course, the one thing that kind of stunk following Sorkin’s departure was the flair for really good music to back comedic and dramatic moments. Sorkin’s always seemed to boast a good ear for a tune — it was “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” that introduced me to Corinne Bailey Rae and has forever implanted “Trouble Sleeping” deep in my psychosis. 

With “The West Wing,” Sorkin had a good go-to guy in “Snuffy” Walden (who wrote the show’s majestic theme song) to provide proper musical accompaniment to tense or funny moments. But that didn’t mean he shied away from dipping into his own CD collection to make things just a bit more salient, either. 

Usually I hate the use of “contemporary” pop music in television and movies (particularly the way people like Cameron Crowe use it in things such as “Vanilla Sky” as if to say, “Look what great taste I have in music!”). Maybe that’s the same thing that Sorkin does, really… but I love Aaron Sorkin, so there.

For this month’s Friday Five, we look at five of the best musical moments from “The West Wing.”

westwing

The Friday Five
Rocking the West Wing
 
 

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
Song can be heard on: Season 2, Episode 22: “Two Cathedrals”
Song can be found on: Brothers in Arms

Poignant as all hell. Bartlet has just lost his faithful friend and secretary Delores Landingham in a car accident. He also just disclosed to the country that he’s suffered from multiple sclerosis for years, but never let the American people know while on campaign or in the White House. Staff is trying to perform damage control, but all the press wants to know is if he’s going to have the stones to try running for re-election. C.J. plants a doctor in the audience to try to get the first question to be a medical one and try to control the press conference. Bartlet brushes off the plant and takes the re-election question instead. And the second season ends. What you don’t get from this clip is a flashback from earlier in Bartlet’s life — where Landingham points out that whenever he puts his hands in his pockets and smirks, it means he’s made up his mind to do something. Mark Knopfler’s poor man Bob Dylan impression blends in perfectly. 
Best exchange:
Bartlet: “I’m sorry, Sandy, there was a bit of noise there. Could you repeat the question?”
Reporter: “Can you tell us right now if you’ll be seeking a second term?”
Leo: “Watch this.”

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
Song can be heard on: Season 3, Episode 22: “Posse Comitatus”
Song can be found on: Grace

Yes, I know, Buckley’s reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has become a staple for almost every quasi-emotional season finale out there, and maybe it’s my preference for both Jeff and “The West Wing” that led me to include it in this list, but it’s hard to argue with the emotional weight the song adds to the scene. After learning that her stalker has been apprehended, C.J. realizes she can finally start seeing the special agent assigned to her, Simon Donovan, socially. C.J. has to join the President and staff to see a performance of the “The War of Roses,” and Donovan patiently waits outside, then drops by a convenience store to buy her flowers. What he thinks is an unlucky twist of fate for a mugger ends up being an unlucky twist of fate for him as the mugger’s partner jumps out from hiding. C.J. is told the news, Shakespearean dialogue reverberates, Josh costs Amy her job and Bartlet is pressed to make a decision on whether or not to covertly kill a known terrorist. “Hallelujah” somehow makes beautiful sense.
Best exchange: 
Josh: “You can’t win the White House while the middle class thinks you disdain work and responsibility!”
Amy: “I would hope not. And I congratulate you for punishing poor women as a symbol of the strength of mainstream values!” 

Massive Attack – Angel
Song can be heard on: Season 4, Episode 22: “Commencement”
Song can be found on: Mezzanine

The Britpop outsiders (don’t even tell Massive Attack they were Britpop) provide the perfect atmospheric backdrop as tension mounts between Josh’s girlfriend and his long devoted secretary, Donna. Bartlet’s youngest daughter Zoey celebrates her Georgetown graduation with her slimeball of a French boyfriend, Jean-Paul, who dopes her up on ecstasy. Danny Kincannon grills C.J. to find out if the White House covertly killed a terrorist. And then all hell breaks loose as Zoey goes kidnapped in the exact way her father predicted in Season 1. It’s chilling and it makes you glad to have the DVDs, because I can only imagine waiting weeks and months to find out what happened next at this point of the story was veritable torture. 
Best exchange:
Donna: “His sister died in a fire while she was babysitting him. She tried to put it out, he ran outside. He went off campaigning, his father died. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers the President’s been shot. He goes through everyday worried that someone he likes is gonna die, and it’s gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast? Anyway, when you looked at the list of replacements, and said, ‘That’s a windfall,’ what he heard was, ‘Thank you, Josh, you did it again. More for us.'”
Amy: “You said, ‘You have to get Josh…'”
Donna: “Yeah. That was — I didn’t mean to say that you don’t … get him.”
Amy: “Are you in love with Josh?”

Ronny Jordan (feat. Dana Bryant) – The Jackal
Song can be heard on: Season 1, Episode 18: “Six Meetings Before Lunch”
Song can be found on: The Quiet Revolution

Perhaps one of the show’s most defining moments — to celebrate the confirmation of Mendoza as the Bartlet administration’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, C.J. breaks out an old lip-synching act she used to do on the campaign trail, much to the delight of the rest of the West Wing — particularly her male counterparts. The cut was originally pulled from Ronny Jordan’s 1993 album The Quiet Revolution, and apparently both Allison Janney and Richard Schiff used to lip-synch and air-guitar (respectively) to this song in Janney’s trailer. Sorkin popped in on them once during a performance and got such a kick out of it, he wrote it into the show. Millions were gratified.
Best exchange:
Josh: “There’s a little speed bump with Jeff Breckenridge. Leo gave it to me ’cause he thinks you’re burned out on Mendoza. I told him I thought that was ridiculous. What do you think?”
Toby: “You’re talking to me during ‘The Jackal’?”
Josh:  “I was just –”
Toby: “Never talk to me during ‘The Jackal’!” 

Van Morrison – Caravan
Song can be heard on: Season 3, Episode 21: “We Killed Yamamoto”
Song can be found on: Moondance

The chemistry between Josh and Amy Gardner is almost there — they’re all set to spend Sunday together, but as always, a snafu gets in the way of Josh’s romantic happiness and Donna tells him he has to get back to the office for a meeting. “Caravan” has always been one of the best things in the Van man’s arsenal, so it was nice to get to see it appreciated. For what it’s worth, Mary-Louise Parker has never looked sexier than she does in this scene. Well, almost never. And yes, I kind of dance like she does to this song.
Best exchange:
Donna: “How does a person get to Bismarck?”
Josh: “The Iditarod, Donna. They have an airport. It’s the capitol.”

 

Have a good weekend, all.