New Music: “Ordinary Girl Undone” (EP) – Kady Z

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Pop-songstress Kady Z’s latest release is an acoustic EP entitled Ordinary Girl Undone.  The set strips down five of songs found on her 2013 full-length Ordinary Girl.

Since the original Ordinary Girl is more pop-oriented and accented with dance beats and synths, the acoustic versions offer a more detailed insight into the songs. “Crush Gone Wrong” comes off as more of a lament over a soft piano. “Save Me From Myself” begins with a piano melody that sounds more classical than pop. But the real highlight is Kady Z’s voice which is front and center. Without the extra sounds, she sounds alive and confident even in the darker and sad moments.

To purchase Ordinary Girl Undone, check it out on Itunes.

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My Life in 33 Songs: #25: “Sail” – AWOLNation (Or The Simple Joys Of Being Married)

 

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“Sail” has got to be one of the stranger songs to become a rock hit in the last few years with a mix of industrial rock, indie rock and synthesizers crunched together loudly. All the while there’s a melodic piano that anchors a song that has no real chorus except Aaron Bruno’s distorted cries of, “Sail!”

That cry is the heart of the song. It pulls you in.  It gives the song a  human feel amidst the electronic din. It’s a hook that’s easy to sing along with, even if you can’t sing. Its simplicity is what makes it so effective and memorable.

It’s interesting how your view of songs can evolve depending on when you listen to them or who you listen to them with. Lyrically, “Sail” is pretty bleak: “Maybe I should kill myself!,” Bruno screams at one point. Despite that, it’s never seemed bleak to me. My own experience of the song has turned it into something fun.

I first heard “Sail” at a bar while attending a friend’s birthday party. Most of the music that was playing consisted of stereo-typical late ’80s rock. Halfway through the night, something new and different came through the speakers. It seemed to come out of nowhere. The heavy synths, booming drums and Bruno’s muffled vocals cut right through all the other war-horses of a night out at a bar.

My wife turned to me, “Do you know who this is?” I shook my head. I had no clue, but I was immediately taken by it.  ”Go find out!” shetold me. I hurried off to the jukebox and looked at the flashing screen which read: “Sail” – AWOLnation. I had heard of them before on Sirius XM’s Alt-Nation, but this song was completely new. When I came back to the table I had to promise to remember the name of the song.

The next morning as we were preparing for a trip to visit my parents, my wife asked me if I could download ”Sail” for the car ride. On the hour drive we must have listened to “Sail” about a dozen times. Each time it seemed to get better and better.

As we went hiking down a trail on the cool fall afternoon, I could not get the song out of my head. It was stuck. I tried hard not to sing lest my parents think I was crazy.

For the next few weeks, “Sail” was on pretty regular rotation throughout the apartment. Random shouts of “Sail!” to each other  were pretty common. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but for whatever reason we just started doing it. I would be in one room on the computer writing something and I would hear her voice through the doorway of the other room yell, “Sail!”.  I’d naturally shout “Sail!” back with as much gutteral gravel as I could muster, and we’d both go about our business and finish whatever we were doing. Sometimes we’d look at each other and known it was totally ridiculous but revel in it all the same.

It still happens occasionally, those random shouts of “Sail” to one another, completely out of the blue, unexpected and for no reason at all.  No real reason except that at this point they mean as much as saying “I love you” and once you start saying it, it’s hard to stop.

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My Life in 33 Songs: #26: “Buddy Holly” – Weezer (Or What Happens When You’re Stuck in an English Maternity Ward at 13)

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I’ve always thought that the cover for Weezer (The Blue Album) was one of rock’s greatest album covers. It’s so simplistic with the four band members standing against a blue background. It’s an iconic shot that conjures up the feeling of the mid-90′s. I remember looking at the cover as a 13-year old, seeing Rivers Cuomo with his bowl cut and thinking he looked just like me. All the other rock stars at the time looked like…well rock stars. The cover of The Blue Album made Weezer seem approachable and relatable.

Songs like “The Sweater Song (“Undone)”, “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So” were all over rock radio the fall of 94 and spring of 95. With their witty lyrics, massive hooks and crunchy guitars it’s easy to see why they became such a mainstay of the Alt-Rock scene.

But it was the video for “Buddy Holly” that captivated my attention. In contrast to all the other Alt-Rock videos, this one was bright and fun – much like the song itself. I didn’t get the “Happy Days” reference at first. My older brother had to explain it to me and stated, “Happy Days was the most American of all TV shows.” It was a direct arrow through the heart of angry young man pseudo-grunge. When Rivers Cuomo sang, “I don’t care what they say about us anyway, I don’t care about that,” a new admiration for him sunk in. To me, that line was more that just being in a relationship as the song suggests, but more of a personal manifesto: be yourself and don’t care what others think. And with his horned-rimmed glasses, the dude did kind of resemble Buddy Holly.

You could argue that the video for “Buddy Holly” and Weezer’s emergence on the rock-scene was a watershed moment for Geek Culture. They looked and acted nerdy, but somehow were able to be accepted by the mainstream. No one looked or acted like them at the time. It’s part of the reason why their first two albums are so beloved by their fans.

After seeing the video I begged my mother to let me buy the album but she quickly shot me down.  To be fair, she probably had other things on her mind. My mother and I were getting ready to travel to England to visit my sister who was living there at the time and about to give my parents their first grand-child. My mother, herself from England was no doubt excited to come home. I was too young to really appreciate or understand the significance of what was taking place.

I however, I was more concerned with what music I was going to bring on this trip. Six weeks is a long time to be gone, and I couldn’t bring just anything. As the date for our departure grew closer, Weezer was blowing up the airwaves. I had no idea if they were popular in England or not, but I had the feeling I was going to missing out if I didn’t have the album. My luck came through when a friend copied it onto a cassette for me the day before I was supposed to leave. I finally felt like I was ready for the trip across the Pond.

The morning after we arrived, my mother awoke me with a violet shake. “We have to go! Your sister has to go to the hospital.” Eh, what? I thought this wasn’t supposed to happen for another few weeks. I was going to be an Uncle! That thought truly hadn’t sunken in until that moment.

Since there was only one car, my mother and I had to go as well. When we arrived at the hospital, my mother went to be with my sister and her husband leaving me all alone in a darkened corridor of a maternity ward. I felt like I was in the inside of a 1950′s Insane Asylum and was half expecting to hear electric shock patient scream from the rooms nearby.

I reached for my Walkman and put on The Blue Album to pass the time. I must have rewound “Buddy Holly” a dozen times while I waited. Replaying the video in my head as the song blasted through my headphones made me miss the U.S. I had only been in England less than two days and I already missed home.

About two hours passed. Clearly, my mother wasn’t coming back any time soon. Wanting to conserve the batteries for my Walkman, I decided to take a walk around the hall. I noticed a dozen children’s drawings hanging on the wall. A sign said, “Tell us why ‘Breast is Best!’” Curious, I took a closer look and noticed that the grade-schooler’s drawings had drawn rudimentary pictures of stick-figure mothers breast-feeding their children. One caption read, “My brother likes breast milk because it tastes good!” When I drew pictures as a little kid, it certainly wasn’t of mothers breast-feeding their kids.

Somewhat confused and shocked, I walked back to the spot where I was earlier. A few moments later, my mom finally arrived. Thank God! I can finally get out of here! She gave an update and said it was going to be a lot longer and she had to go back in a few minutes.  She paused for a second and looked at my Walkman. Then came a bombshell: she asked if my sister could borrow my Walkman to help calm her down. I knew I had no choice and gave up my Walkman.

When she left, I was truly alone. The Walkman had been my one solace. And now I didn’t even have that. Even to this day, I have never been so fucking bored in my life. I attempted to sing the words to “Buddy Holly” but I botched them because I couldn’t remember all the words.

I looked around for something to read. Anything. I assumed there would be trashy magazines like the ones hospitals and dentist’s office provided back home. No such luck. The only thing available was a pile of pre-natal and birth books. Augh….

I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Finally, succumbing to sheer boredom, I flipped open What to Expect When You’re Expecting to save myself from what seemed like insanity. I didn’t care what I was reading at this point; I just needed to pass the time. Having only a basic knowledge of pregnancy at birth at this point (hey, I was 13), the details inside were a bit of shock: they were a lot more explicit than anything I had learned in my Sex-Ed books. Wait, what?…that actually happens? And that too? I was learning a lot more about pregnancy and birth than I wanted to know.

A nurse came by and seeing what book I was reading, looked at me rather bizarrely. Yes, I know it’s weird, but I’m fucking bored. But it wasn’t as weird as what came next: she asked how prepared I was to be a father at such a young age. My jaw dropped as I tried to find the words.  ”Uhhhh…no. I’m just waiting on my sister.” Her face softened with a bit of relief. “Well, if you have any questions about anything please let us know. You’re American right? They really do have a backwards attitude towards breastfeeding.” How I wished for my Walkman so I could just tune her out.

After what seemed like hours, my mother finally arrived to rescue me. I must have flipped through almost the entire book by then. By this point, it was late into the evening. I had hoped she was going to tell me that my niece had arrived and we could finally leave. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We were leaving, but we’d have to come back the next morning since it looked like delivery was still a long way off.

That night as I tried to sleep, “Buddy Holly” was playing constantly in my head. I tried to erase all the stuff from What to Expect to Expecting from my teenage brain. But it was stuck. And it also latched onto “Buddy Holly” and has never let go: whenever I hear the song now, I’m brought back to the maternity ward.

When my niece finally arrived the next day, I felt relieved. And not just because I no longer had to wait. After all the reading I had done, I was relieved for my sister. As much as I tried to block all the stuff out of my head, I gained a whole new appreciation for what she had just gone through.

About a year ago when one of my best friends and his wife were expecting their first child, my friend’s wife mentioned some of the crazier aspects of pregnancy. I chimed in about a detail and everyone looked at me with curiosity. “Yeah, so let me tell you why I know this stuff…”

 

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My Life in 33 Songs: #27 – “Shout at the Devil” – Motley Crue (Or When Drinking Might Make Any Song Sound Good)

 

 

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I’ve never really been into Hair-Metal. It’s a genre that passed me by when I was little. And due to Grunge, it never really caught on afterwards. It’s a product of its time, perhaps even more so than Disco. Still, I’m slightly nostalgic for it, in all of it ridiculous glory. 

Even when I was college in the early 2000′s, it was passe. Yet the ghosts of Motley Crue, Van Halen, Kix and Poison among others still reared their ugly heads around every once in a while. One of my best friends in college deemed that “Mullet Rock” (as he called it) had to be contained in one place. Like The Trap in Ghostbusters, he created a 6-CD collection with the most well-known Hair-Metal songs. It was then divided into several categories (of which I can’t remember them all) but the most hilarious being the Power Ballad mix dubbed  ”Lovin’ In an IRoc.” These mixes, he declared could only be taken out on specific occasions.

Specific occasions almost always meant when the party ended, and it was just six friends drunkenly burning the midnight oil when no one else was around. Usually when the clock hits 2:30 AM, I’m in the mood for something a little more mellow, but someone would inevitably break out one of the Mullet Rock CDs. It became a sort of ritual after a while to break those songs out.

For my friend, this was time to play  Rock Professor. Over beer and cigarettes, the rest of us were given lessons in the finer points of the genre. David Lee Roth was the Clown Prince. Eddie Van Halen was compared to Robert Johnson: both apparently sold their soul to play guitar. Kix were the Christian Band. Poison were the party-boys who also had a sensitive side.

Motley Crue were the Kings of Mullet Rock.  By their song titles alone, they could have easily made that claim: “Girls Girls Girls”, Looks that Kill”, “Dr. Feelgood” and most importantly, “Shout at the Devil”.

“Shout at the Devil” is the ultimate Hair Metal song. It’s got everything: high-pitched guitars, a simple sing-along chorus and over-the-top lyrics that seem controversial. It’s almost so bad that it could actually be awesome.

I would try and sing along to the song but my friend would always stop me. “No, Matt. You’re doing it wrong!  Your voice needs to be more screechy. Like this.” He then went into his best Vince Neil impression: “‘Shout at the deeeeeeevil!” And with that, he threw his arm into the air creating the devil sign while head banging simultaneously.

Sober, my friends and I had wildly different musical tastes. I pretended to have better taste in music than I actually did. One friend loved the Grateful Dead and all things Jam-Band related (much to my disdain.) Another friend was the most obsessed Red Hot Chili Peppers fan I’ve ever met. To anyone who says they like weird music, my then room-mate has you beat. He once played me a record where a guy clicked rocks together in various rhythms using a 4-track.

But the one thing we could agree on was “Mullet Rock”. Partly because it was so bad, and partly because it only came out when we were drunk. Come morning, “Mullet Rock” was out as we nursed our hang-overs. That is, until the next party.

http://youtu.be/aqO8LpE0GU4

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My Life in 33 Songs: #28 – “Shit Towne” – Live (Or How I Viewed My Hometown As a Kid)

 

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Many teenagers grow up thinking that their hometown is a shit-hole. It may or may not be true, but it’s certainly a rite of passage the same way that liking Led Zeppelin is.

My hometown of Frederick, Maryland isn’t the complete shit-hole as I remember it being. For a teenager though, there definitely wasn’t a whole lot to do except go see movies, hang out at the mall or go to a Pizza Hut. The downtown area was small while the strip mall sections seemed to go on endlessly for miles. Outside of the city, there were small developments but it was mostly just farm-land.

With both Baltimore and DC an hour’s drive away, Frederick seemed to exist on the edge of the Earth. Those places bristled with excitement and possibility. I desperately wanted to leave Frederick and never look back. I spent years trying to escape from it the way Springsteen characters do in Born to Run.

But Springsteen was a few years off.  The early teenage loathing of my hometown was best represented in Live’s “Shit Towne” found off their 1994 album, Throwing Copper. Live hailed from (relatively close by) York, Pennsylvania, which really wasn’t all that different from Frederick. It didn’t seem that far-fetched for me to really believe that they could be referring to Frederick as a “shit towne.”

“Shit Towne” was one of the many reasons that Live became my favorite band during those awkward years between 7th Grade and Freshmen Year of High School. Throwing Copper became the first album I was truly obsessed with. I listened to it day and night and would preach about it to anyone who would listen. Their mix of U2-style earnestness and hard-rock was perfectly suited to my pre-teen/teenage sensibilities. Ed Kowalczyk sang with such conviction that he made singles such as “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes” seem important.

I would study the black and green booklet looking for clues to figure out the meaning of songs such as “TBD” and “Pillar of Davidson”. When I discovered that “TBD” stood for the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I told anyone who would listen the song referred to the Tibetan Book of the Dead – as if I had any idea what the Tibetan Book of the Dead actually was. That hardly mattered; it sounded like something I should check out. (Really though, rock bands should never take lyrical ideas from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. When the Beatles used it for inspiration in “Tomorrow Never Knows” at least they broke musical ground.)

I was naive enough to believe that Live were going to be one of the great rock and roll bands. I had no idea that they were just riding the wave of grunge and that Throwing Copper was actually pretty clean and pristine in its production. Throwing Copper was the perfect musical companion for a kid caught between simply being a kid and being on the threshold of becoming a young adult. A kid who thought who that his hometown was the worst, when it was just like any other American suburb.

Listening to “Shit Towne” while writing this piece made me cringe. I It is without a doubt, a terrible song. The chorus (“Gotta live, gotta live, gotta live in shit towne”) which I once thought was perfectly suited to my own views and situations, comes off as completely idiotic. There’s no insight as to why Live viewed their hometown in such a way (or is it an attempt at social commentary?) other than that “the crack heads live down the street”.  As 20-somethings on the cusp or stardom if they hated it so much, why didn’t they just leave? (I didn’t have that exact same luxury.) One of life’s great questions, I suppose.

Ironically, since I moved from Frederick to Baltimore about 8 years ago, it’s become something of a hot-spot for fancy bars and restaurants. The entire downtown area has been revitalized and there’s a lot more to do there now than there ever was. Livability ranked it as Number 6 in a list of “Ten Best Downtowns” and CNN recently proclaimed it to be “America’s Best Small Town”.  Not bad for a town that I used to view with something of contempt. It’s still weird though, to find Baltimore residents who are jealous of the fact I grew up in Frederick.

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My Life in 33 Songs: #29: “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin (The Song that Changed My Musical Perspective)

 

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I discovered Led Zeppelin as a teenager thanks in part to the Legends specials on Vh1. Those specials were visual textbooks on classic rock bands. The Led Zeppelin episode convinced me that they were the greatest band on earth. I was mystified by the band’s sonic power and tales of debauchery. This really was the stuff of legend.

It also helped that Zeppelin was one of the few bands that my mother outright forbid me to listen to. She didn’t know much about popular music other than what my siblings played for her, but she knew of Zeppelin’s reputation as sexual deviants and “Satanists”.

“I don’t want you listening to Led Zeppelin!” She yelled at me once when she discovered one of their tapes in my room. “Do you play Dungeons and Dragons too?” In her mind, the two were interlocked and I was heading down a dark, dark path.

My two best friends had also seen the Vh1 Special, so I wasn’t the only one who it had a profound affect on. While watching fireworks on the 4th of July with our families, the three of us would talk about the finer details of Jimmy Page’s guitar solo on “Heartbreaker” or the sexual references found in “Black Dog”. We argued over which album was better: IV or Houses of the Holy.

The cream of the crop was “Stairway to Heaven” with its majestic intro and hard-rocking ending. To our teenage minds, it was the ultimate epic. It had everything: a soft beginning, mystical lyrics and the greatest guitar solo of all time.  I used to pull my headphones closely to my head so I could hear Bonham’s drum rolls during the solo.

“Stairway” made all the other bands I listened to all the time seem small and quaint. I could totally understand why it was the most requested song of all time on FM rock radio. There was just something about it that set it apart from others.

The fantastical lyrics directly aligned with The Lord of the Rings which I was reading at the time. It was the perfect soundtrack as I read about Frodo’s trip to throw the One Ring into the pit of Mt. Doom.

One afternoon while my parents were gone, my brother caught me playing Zeppelin on my family stereo. He shook his head in disgust. “Turn that shit off,” He growled. Before I could protest, he took out a tape and popped it in the stereo. An old blues recording filled the room. “This is Howlin’ Wolf,” My brother declared. “Your beloved Zep stole tons of riffs and lyrics from him and other blues artists.”

First he played Wolf’s “How Many More Years” and informed me that the lyrics for “How Many More Years” were in fact taken from this song. Then he played “No Place to Go” and I could tell that riff from Zeppelin’s “How Many More Years” was stolen from this song too.

Taking riffs and lyrical ideas is part of the blues tradition and it’s not unique to Zeppelin. Several artists I love and admire have done it. Bob Dylan has did it numerous times with his latest albums. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” off of Modern Times which takes its title and melody from a Muddy Waters song of the same name. Jimi Hendrix did it with “Catfish Blues” – which turned into “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return”).  The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” lifted its melody from a gospel song by the Staple Singers.

But my teenage mind didn’t know that. I wondered how they could get away with it and felt betrayed. Almost instantly, my love of Zeppelin vanished and my view of them completely changed. They were no longer thunderous gods. They suddenly became silly, bloated and excessive. I’m not sure my friends had the same revelation I did, but they also stopped listening to Zeppelin around the same time.

And with that, “Stairway” became the worst offender. What I had previously thought was a gorgeous epic became a trivial and bland piece of music. Page’s solo suddenly represented the worst of ’70s excess. Plant’s lyrics in “Stairway” with its references to pipers and may-queens seemed incredibly dorky and clunky.

There’s no shortage of people who view “Stairway to Heaven” as a cultural touchstone. It’s probably not hyperbole to suggest that “Stairway” had a huge affect on a generation’s musical tastes. But for me, it represented what type of  music I don’t want to listen to: masturbatory guitar solos, long suites in songs, drum solos, etc. Many of the artists from the ’70s I now love – like The Stooges, The Ramones, Joy Division, The Clash – are the exact opposite of Zeppelin. In other words, pretty much any stadium rock band from the ’70s that’s not The Who or The Rolling Stones is not for me. I just can’t do it.

Ironically, the only Zeppelin song I still listen to is “When the Levee Breaks” which is entirely ripped off an old blues song from the 1920′s.

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My Life In 33 Songs: #30: “Sweet Soul Music” – Arthur Conley (Soul Music 101)

 

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Do you like good music?

It’s no secret that I love Soul Music. It’s one of my favorite musical genres and it always puts me in a good mood. It’s one of the few genres that almost everyone can agree on. No wedding is complete without a few Soul songs thrown in.

The odd thing is, I’m a relatively new-convert. I’ve always liked it, but for whatever reason I never bothered to truly explore it until recently. Once I did get into it, I became a full-fledged fan. All it took was one boxed set and a little help from help from Arthur Conley.

One Christmas I received a $50 Gift Card to a local record shop. About a day or so after Christmas when I returned to Baltimore from my parent’s house, I took a drive over to the record shop. Usually when I get a gift like this, I have a pretty good idea of what I want. Usually it means something special that I would not otherwise buy.

This time though, I had nothing particular in mind. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. The possibilities were endless and the chances of getting something new was high. On the flip side, there was also the potential to end up with some really shitty. Or even worse, I would just buy something because I had a gift card.

I wandered around the small store flipping through the discs for at least a half hour. Bob Dylan? Nope, I have everything I want by him and I’m certainly not going to buy one of his Christian albums. Lou Reed? I have Transformer and the only other one is Metal Machine Music so that’s a definite no. I suppose I could get the debut album from this new band, but they seemed to get crappy reviews.  

Feeling frustrated, I walked over to the boxed set area. Nothing there seemed to fit either. On a whim I pulled out a 4-disc set called Soul Spectacular – The Greatest Soul Hits of All Time. I was expecting it to be a third tier collection – one that has a lot of songs from a genre, but due to record licenses the most well-known songs are left off.

Upon further inspection, this set did indeed have a ton of great material on it: “Respect”, “Green Onions”, “Midnight Train to Georgia”, “What’d I Say” among numerous others. Now I knew that I had found my purchase.

As I drove home and listened to the first disc, I was surprised by how fresh and exciting all these songs felt. I felt cooler by the minute having James Brown, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and Otis Redding blast from the speakers of my car. There were quite a few songs I knew, but the majority I didn’t. Clearly, I had to a lot to catch up on.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to do a lot of research just yet. It was provided for me in Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”. ”Sweet Soul Music” is like Soul Music 101 led by Professor Conley. If the answer is affirmative to the question, “do you like good music?” you know you’ve come to the right place. “Just as long as it’s swinging,” is the course description. Get your notebook ready, because in a quick two and a half minutes, Conley’s going to lead you through a quick and easy guide to Soul.

Spotlight on Lou Rawls.
Ah don’t he look tall y’all.
Singin’ loves a hurtin’ thing now.

I have to admit, I’d never heard of Lou Rawls before. Obviously he must be pretty important if he gets a shout-out. I glanced at the track listing for “Loves a Hurtin’ Thing” to see if it was included on the set. It was. I played the song and realized I had heard that song before and had no idea who sang it. Got it!  Thanks Professor Conley.

Spotlight on Sam and Dave now
Ah don’t they look boss y’all.
Singin’ hold on I’m comin.

Sam & Dave I knew. My first introduction to them was The Blues Brothers when I saw it on TV as as a kid. I was too young to fully appreciate the musical moments in that film. I brushed them off as Oldies. Which is a shame, because the musical scenes in The Blues Brothers were probably aimed at people like me – who had an ignorance in Soul Music. Sam & Dave have since become one of my favorite groups of Soul in part because of their famed call and response passages.

Spotlight on Wilson Pickett.
That wicked picket Pickett.
Singin Mustang Sally.

Wilson Pickett was another familiar name. I knew of “Land of 1,000 Dances”  thanks to the ending of The Great Outdoors. But “Mustang Sally?” Didn’t know that one.  Since then, I’ve grown to love Pickett for his raw energy and sexually charged vocal performances. And his cover of “Hey Jude” might actually be better than The Beatles’ version.

Spotlight on James Brown now.
He’s the king of them all.
He’s the king of them all.
Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Everyone knows James Brown. How can you not? His influence is vast and wide even beyond Soul. And Conley’s right for leaving him to be the last. Without James Brown, Funk might not exist and Mick Jagger wouldn’t have his famous dance moves.

The simplicity of the lyrics  in “Sweet Soul Music” is perfect. If there were any additional lines in the verses, it would be robbed of its power. It’s direct and catches your attention. In a way, it reminds a little bit of The Ramones: the lyrics are reduced to their essence and yet still serve a purpose. With this song, I gained some more knowledge of Soul that I might otherwise would have.

Do you like good music?
That sweet soul music.

Yes, I do. Thanks Professor Conley.

ww.youtube.com/watch?v=grE0lwTsSPg

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My Life in 33 Songs: #31- “The Queen Is Dead”- The Smiths (A Childhood Favorite)

 

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My sister and I are separated by seventeen years. She’s the eldest of my four siblings. While she was in graduate school learning the finer points of poetry and writing, I was still learning to walk and talk. Despite our age difference, I always looked forward to seeing her come home during breaks.

All my siblings have had some sort of musical influence on me in some way or another, but my sister’s is probably the one that started the earliest. In the mid-80′s with College Rock in full bloom and she quickly introduced me to the then current acts who are now considered classics of the genre: The Smiths, R.E.M., The Waterboys and The Clash.  As a six year old, I definitely had the coolest taste in music.

One of my favorite possessions was a mix tape she gave me. Included on it was The Clash’s “London Calling”, The Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon” and The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” among a few others. I loved all the songs and would bounce on my bed to them (much to my parents chagrin, I’m sure.)  I felt like I was being let in on some big secret that only my sister was letting me in on.

In a way, I guess I was. The ’80s may been now seen as a sort golden age for Alternative Rock, but it was still underground. College and graduate students like my sister were listening to Alternative Rock, but the rest of the majority of the nation was. And kids my age certainly weren’t. I had no idea that the tapes and songs that my sister was giving me were cutting edge or part of some big cultural shift. They were just songs that she was sharing with me.

Of all the songs included on the tape, “The Queen Is Dead” was my favorite. With its thunderous drums, aggressive bass and slashing distorted guitar. Everything about seemed epic – from its intro sample of the Music Hall song “Take Back to Dear Old Blighty” to the false ending. The six minutes felt like an eternity to my six-year-old brain. I loved every minute of it as I jumped up and down to the song on my bed.

The nastiness of the lyrics went completely over my head. Half the time I couldn’t understand a thing Morrissey sang, which was probably just as well, considering the song’s take down of 1980′s England. But I still sang along to the lyrics all the same. It must have been pretty amusing for my sister to hear her kid brother belt out lines such as “and the church will snatch your money” without having an idea of their implication. I’m sure my English mother didn’t appreciate it, but perhaps she thought I was just babbling.  Oblivious to the politics of the song, I just figured that he was being funny when they declared, “the queen is dead, boys.”  Of course, she’s not dead! Silly singer!

An an adult, I fully understand Morrissey’s position of 1980′s England. Lyrically, it’s one of his best songs. He manages to be both scathing, self-deprecating and hilarious on the track, which is no easy feat. His trademark wit is just as razor-sharp as his take verbal take-downs. Take the scene where he breaks into the palace and has an audience with the Queen. Any other writer would have written it completely differently. But Morrissey’s version of the Queen not only recognizes him, but tell him he “cannot sing.”  His response? “Eh, that’s nothing. You should hear me play piano.”

The kid in me however, finds it hard to truly view the song as a piece of protest music. It’s tied too much to my childhood for me to really grasp onto it the way it is intended. Every time I hear the song I’m back to my bedroom, looking forward to my sister’s visits.  If I hadn’t been exposed to it as a kid, I might view it the same way I do “God Save the Queen” or any number of Billy Bragg songs.

“The Queen is Dead” makes me happy and reminds me of my youth in a way that would enrage Morrissey, I’m sure. Here’s hoping he does it with some of the wit found in “The Queen is Dead”.

 

 

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My Life in 33 Songs: #32 – “Poker Face” (My Not So Secret Guilty Pleasure)

 

Lady_Gaga_-_Poker_Face

Nearly five years after she arrived on the music scene, it can be easy to forget how wild and revolutionary (in Pop music anyway) Lady Gaga was. You could argue that she’s become tiresome or over worn her welcome. With the exception of her hard-core fans and Tony Bennett, it seems that the rest of America has moved on.

But in 2009 “Poker Face” was everywhere and America ate Lady Gaga up. At the time, I was working in a job I hated. It was not my thing and I was feeling pretty low about it.  To make matters worse, pop music was always in the background. Hearing these awful songs did not improve my mood.

But “Poker Face” was different. It was catchy, a little bit edgy and extremely melodic. As much as I tried, I couldn’t resist it. Hearing that song lightened my mood, if only for four minutes.

I tried to convince myself it was a guilty pleasure. I can’t like pop music, I told myself. But oh, guilty pleasures – they’re such bullshit. We use them as masks to wash our hands of something we know we shouldn’t like but do anyway. It’s a way of admitting we might like something without truly admitting that we do.

By defining Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as a guilty pleasure for myself, it made easier for me to enjoy a pop song. Even if I wasn’t willing to come to terms with the fact that it was a good song. At least not yet.

The more I listened to it, the more I broke down. It became the one thing I looked forward to at work. But I still tried to come up with “legitimate” reasons for enjoying it.  ”It’s weird, that’s why I like it,” I told myself.  ”Gaga’s a mix of David Bowie and Madonna – that must be why I find her kind of cool.” It couldn’t be the fact that I found the song pleasurable for its own merits. No, I have to like “Poker Face” ironically.

But “Poker Face” is a good song. As far as pop goes, it’s pretty great. The chorus is such an ear-warm and easy to sing along to. And it is weird.  The Techno/industrial beat may seem quaint now, but it came out of left-field in 2009. The “ma ma ma” that opens the song and repeats throughout? Who the hell came up with that idea? And “bluffin’ with my muffin?” That’s an extremely idiotic lyric, but somehow within the context of the song it works.

I’m not sure I would be as attached to it if it weren’t for my work situation. Music has the power to lift your spirits and in an odd way, “Poker Face” did that for me. For a few brief moments when I heard that song I was fairly happy at work.

Guilty pleasure?  Nah.

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New Music: Jensen Reed & Taryn Southern Cover Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)”

By now, you’ve most likely heard Tove Lo’s single “Habits”.  Alt/pop artist Jensen Reed recently put his on spin on the song with some assistance from Taryn Southern.

The original is melodic and catchy. Musically at least, it only hints at the desperation and loneliness found in the lyrics.  Reed’s cover is sonically darker with sparse beats and haunting vocals from Southern. Slowing the pace down of the song down is key to Reed’s cover.  It reveals the problems of the narrator even more than before and perhaps make you think of “Habits” differently.

 

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