A mixed list, with hopefully something for everyone, at least something to keep all of us happy and to turn you on to some new music as well (or in this case, old music, but what is The List for if not to turn you on to both new and old music and to remind you of what you really loved in the first place and why you came here to begin with?) This time, we went all the way back to Robert Johnson with the blues of “They’re Red Hot” and then back again to ABC and “The Look of Love” and everything in between (no Dylan this time though he is mentioned offhand, bien sur).
“They’re Red Hot” by Robert Johnson – Go back a way to the early blues tradition and you’ll find Johnson seated there. “They’re Red Hot” is one of his most memorable songs, one of the easiest to dance to and the sort of thing you would expect to hear in a gin joint. Likely you don’t know this song, but it is well worth your time to look up this simple number. It’s worth looking for. It takes a while to appreciate early blues -– or it took me a while anyway -– but once I got there it wasn’t long before I found Johnson and really got into his riffs and his lyrics most especially; simple though they may be, they seem to pulse with a sexuality that is blatant and come-hither. Give it a chance; you just might like.
“Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie – I couldn’t find much on this album that I liked, though this one song appealed to me so much that I went through a phase of playing it over and over again. “Transatlanticism” is a classic love song (“I need you so much closer” is the line he repeats again and again as the song builds and builds on itself). You think the whole thing will come tumbling down as it keeps building but miraculously it does not – it is a gentle letdown. A summer song, or at least for me it was, and even though a few years old now, what on this list isn’t old, and isn’t that sort of the point? To refresh us of what was and to bring it forward and perhaps make it new again? This is our hope. You probably know Death Cab for Cutie. If you don’t know “Transatlanticism”, find it and take a listen. It’s a long song – probably about nine minutes in all,; it certainly feels that long and could even be longer, and although the lines are repetitive, a lot of this is made up for by the fact that the song is so musically interesting.
“Before Today” by Everything but the Girl – A plane comin’ in to land. This is what she tells us she feels like at one point and this is what this song sounds like. It had all the force behind it of a jet engine and all the pop of a Friday night with the promise of first love. It’s everything we expect from Everything but the Girl and then some.
“Just Like Betty Page” by Jazz Butcher – Difficult-to-find album, so it is highly possible, perhaps even likely, that you have never heard of the The Jazz Butcher anywhere but this column. Search for them through Amazon. Search for them through used record venues. Search for them period. They’re worth it. They’re that good. “Just Like Betty Page” is about being “roped and trussed just like dear Betty Page” but really it’s a song about a date or assignation that went well and we get the sense that the boy just does not want it to be over (“and I’ve no wish to disengage… oh, girl what you’ve done to me….”). In a funny way, on the surface although it may sound like a song about sadomasochism, it’s a rather sweet song and I wouldn’t take the lyrics at face value and would take them one step or two deeper than the surface. To take them at their very surface level would be naïve and show a profound lack of understanding of this song, at least in this review’s opinion. Yes, the lyrics will support sadomasochism in some form, but again, it’s really just a song about a boy and a girl and him being willing to do pretty much anything to stay with her – that’s my take.
“Me and Bobbie McGee” by Janis Joplin – Feeling good was good enough for me, she sang. We all know that was true and sadly all too true – that is, if she felt good at all, or conversely, if Joplin was so miserable that she drank and drugged herself into an early death because she was so miserable. Or perhaps she was feeling good and that was good enough for her. Regardless, the sweet memory she sings of here –- of “me and Bobbie McGee” — is a trip down memory lane and a lovely song about youthful love and lust and all of those good things that we remember well.
“Take California” by Propellerheads – Was not just an iPod commercial with a geeky guy dancing about with his iPod. It happens to be a great song by Propellerheads, a label that applies to so many songs by this band (“Velvet Pants” among them). This is a song without much in the way of lyrics and what lyrics do exist are sampled from older clips that blend well with the music. Excellent music to drive to and especially good if you like stuff by Orbital and the like, then you’ll probably like Propellerheads. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone not liking them, but that’s me and everyone has their own thing. You could give it a shot.
“Thirteen” by Big Star – This is a beautiful song and an older song and if you trace it way back then you’ll eventually get to the origins of The Replacements, but that is a whole other story. “Thirteen” is a beautiful tribute to very young love and about carrying school books and walking home from school. It is sweet and lilting and lasting and it never goes off, unlike many songs today which, like so many books, have the shelf-life of yogurt. The late Elliott Smith did a great cover of “Thirteen” that is relatively easy to find as a downloadable version and like most covers that Elliott did, is true to the original. Although it’s not quite the real thing, it is good in its way. If you know the song “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements, then you know the line, “I never travel, too far, without a little Big Star.” I would recommend that this be true of all of us. Big Star should become part of your musical repertoire. They have a lot to offer besides this one song.
“Tempted” by Squeeze – Remember Squeeze? Remember the whole album being good, and remember playing it until it was practically in shreds like I did, or did you not, in which case you missed out on more than a few great songs. “Tempted” is but one, and “Black Coffee in Bed” (which should make The List soon) is another. “Tempted” works simply because it’s hard to say who among us has not been ‘tempted by the fruit of another.’ What made every Squeeze song was that it was immediately identifiable as a Squeeze song. You couldn’t mix it up with something else or anyone else’s music, it was clear that it was Squeeze and that was that and that was always a good thing – provided you liked the band, which most people did. Again, great lyrics to this song and although you know them already, for those who do not, I’ll post a few here:
I bought a toothbrush,
A flannel for my face
Pyjamas, a hairbrush
New shoes and a case
I said to my reflection
Lets get out of this place
Past the church and the steeple
The laundry on the hill
Billboards and the buildings
Memories of it still
Keep calling and calling
But forget it all
I know I will
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone
There’s no other
Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
“Open Arms” by Journey – Okay, I had to throw in at least one heavy metal rock ballad because that’s me and this is a good one. “Open Arms” is the quintessential rock ballad, along with “Don’t Stop Believin’”, which is also a great song. All remind me of high school, it’s true, and I know all the words, which I take as a plus and which my husband takes as a minus, and who can blame him really? Even I don’t like the fact that I like rock ballads – it is the stuff of the guys next door who are putting the shingles on the house and ogle me every time I go to my car. It is what they play on their radio and so, by association I am learning to not like this type of thing — and yet it has made The List. Go figure. I’ll leave it for you to debate. You know you love it.
“Sweet Melissa” by the Allman Brothers – Not just a Cingular commercial but a great song, “Sweet Melissa” is an all-time favorite by a band that I really don’t like and that are totally off-track for me. (I’m more of a Jam, Style Council, Propellerheads girl and so on.) But here again, the melody and that strum of the guitar combined with the lyrics are irresistible and I admit there is something irresistibly romantic about a guy traveling or running to his “sweet Melissa.” I love the guitar in this song and without it, the song wouldn’t be the same and wouldn’t have much going for it – yes, the lyrics are good enough, but it’s really the guitar riff that makes this song. But the lyrics, because they are not always clear are here, or partially anyway – because we know that “he won’t stay without Melissa.”
Crossroads, seem to come and go, yeah.
The gypsy flies from coast to coast
Knowing many, loving none,
Bearing sorrow havin fun,
But back home he’ll always run
To sweet Melissa… mmm…
Freight train, each car looks the same, all the same.
And no one knows the gypsy’s name
No one hears his lonely sigh,
There are no blankets where he lies.
In all his deepest dreams the gypsy flies
With sweet Melissa… mmm…
“The Look of Love” by ABC – I can’t remember being at a club that didn’t play this song. I also don’t remember being at a college party or even my own dorm room and spinning this song and also UB40s “Red, Red Wine.” He does almost cop a line from Dylan here which is when he says “and gravity won’t pull you through,” which is similar, though not a mirror of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” with the line “And negativity won’t pull you through.” It doesn’t seem plagiarized to me simply because the latter makes sense – gravity could or could not pull you through. If it did not make any sense then it might seem copped. That said, Dylan’s song has before that line “and your gravity fails/and negativity won’t pull you through.” I’ll leave it up to you to sort out whether or not there is any funny business that went on there though if there was, I’m sure we would have heard about it (assuming Dylan heard about it). Check out the lyrics from ABC;
When your world is full of strange arrangements
And gravity wont pull you through
You know you’re missing out on something
Well that something depends on you
All I’m saying, it takes a lot to love you
All I’m doing, you know its true
All I mean now, there’s one thing
Yes one thing that turns this grey sky to blue
That’s the look, that’s the look
The look of love