Mar 282013

I’m always amazed by well-crafted story songs. This goes back to one of my original favorite songs from childhood, The Band‘s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I’ve never been much of a story teller. Stories are important. A well-told story set to great music simply dazzles me.

I even appreciate story songs that I can’t stand, such as Don McLean‘s “American Pie” and Billy Joel‘s “Piano Man.” The latter, for all its relative Joel merits, quickly falls prey to the high bar set by telling a story song from the perspective of an old man when the songwriter is, in fact, a young man. That “when I wore a younger man’s clothes” line in “Piano Man,” for instance, is one of the song’s many deal-breakers for me.

Last night, as “Piano Man” played on the radio after a fun dinner out with the family, even our 11-year-old son began cutting up on the lyrics. “The music’s good,” he said, “but the lyrics are stupid.” In the front seat my wife and I began talking about Olde Thyme-themed story songs of our youth. “Midnight at the Oasis” came on next, and we all got a chuckle out of that one, reminding ourselves that it was supposed to be silly.

“‘Mr. Bojangles’!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah,” my wife replied, “what was the deal with ‘Mr. Bojangles’?”

What was the deal with “Mr. Bojangles”?

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Mar 042013

Easy as 1-2-3. Simple as do-re-mi. That’s how easy this little game can be.

Here’s all you got to do: I’ll start with a line from a noteworthy song, starting with the letter “A.” For good measure, and to show you how this game is played, I’ll give you another line, from another song, this time starting with the letter “B.” You’ll note that the second line makes sequential sense after the line that precedes it. This is an important rule! You are free to start a new “verse” once we’ve collectively strung together at least four lines.

To make this contextually relevant, I urge you to copy and paste the lines preceding the one (and only one!) you add, so we can watch the A-B-C of it unfold.

We’ll start with a free-for-all — any band, any song, just make sure you follow the alphabet and remember we each get just one line per post. As we progress through the alphabet a few times, we can get fancy, restricting the lines to just one genre, or artist, or just artists with beards who wore platform shoes and so forth.

Here’s my first line, and a further one to show you how this game is played:

Accidents will happen
Because the night belongs to lovers

I look forward to your responses.


Feb 092013

Before the big heart day — I thought I would share this little number called “Tape Your Wife to the Ceiling.”

Here’s another kind of anti-valentine song from Tom Petty.

A personal aside: The biggest rock band in the Twin Cities in 1980-81 was not Husker Du or The Replacements or Prince. It was a large ensemble group called The Suburbs, who had a couple of minor hits (“Music For Boys”, “Love Is The Law”), a 1-record major-label deal, and then kind of faded away into local lore. The ‘Burbs packed ’em in — I saw them outside at Navy Island in St. Paul with R.E.M. — and R.E.M. wisely opened for these guys, because the ‘Burbs were always a tough act to follow. (That concert is also memorable because I saw some of my sister’s 14-year-old friends at the show, which freaked me out, because I was an old man of 19.)

Personal aside II: Petty’s “Long After Dark” is due for a critical upgrade.

So, anyway, what’s your favorite anti-Valentine song?

Feb 082013

I’m not sure exactly where I heard this tidbit of George Harrison lore but half-assed Googling indicates that it comes from his autobiography. He said something to the effect that in The Beatles song I Want to Tell You, penned by Harrison, that he wished he had reversed the lyric,

But if I seem to act unkind
It’s only me, it’s not my mind
That is confusing things

to be something more like

But if I seem to act unkind
It isn’t me, it’s just my mind
That is confusing things

I admit that I could be butchering this story but I’m pretty sure that I have the gist of it. It stuck with me because I used to think that about that part of that song before I heard Harrison thought it too. It’s kinda obvious isn’t it? “Me” is so much more than “mind.” Anyhoo… Here is the only version I could find where it is sung by Harrison in this reversed way.

Unfortunately it is a pretty crappy version of the song,  IMHO. It doesn’t help that Eric Clapton, I think, is part of this performance as well. Feel free to Pince Nez me Townsfolk.

Dec 072012

One of my favorite albums of 2012 is Dwight Yoakam’s 3 Pears, which has “Rock It All Away” — a slow burner that I like.

Then I started thinking about other songs with “rock” in the title — and there are many of those, but what would be my favorite? I think I’ve settled on this chestnut from Garland Jeffreys’ out of print “Escape Artist” called “R.O.C.K.”

So, what’s your favorite song with ROCK in the title?

Aug 032012

I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” earlier today, while driving from Laguna to San Francisco, primarily through the kind of amazing California nowhere land that I-5 takes drivers. Hearing Stevie repeatedly pronounce the song’s key word as Cit-Ay I got to thinking of that horrible Journey song that pronounces the word the same way, and the possibility for a Last Man Standing. Then I realized there are probably a dozen other words that are only pronounced a certain way in song, a way that no one would ever pronounce the words in everyday speech. Then I realized that you can help budding rock singers identify and learn the proper rock pronunciation of these words. Go!

Jun 232012

Driving home tonight, I heard a song for perhaps the 10th or 12h time. I typed part of the lyrics into Google to find the title, and found out it was “Love You Like a Love Song,” by Selena Gomez.

This is a song I hear when my wife leaves the dance station on in my truck. I used to have a problem with this, kinda, but I don’t anymore. I think we are in a producer-driven golden age of dance music; I find many of the songs exciting and edgy.

“Love You Like a Love Song” isn’t one of these, but I did find something about the tune that caught my mind’s Rainman-like attention to patterns that sometimes manifest themselves in RTH posts.

It’s the lyrics. They’re mundane. But they are mundane in a way that has historical precedent in pop music. Take a look at the first two lines:

Every beautiful thought’s been already sung
And I guess right now here’s another one.

This is the sound of someone struggling to write a song, nay, write a HIT SONG. This is a very particular pattern in pop history. My mind leapt to dozens of songs that had this “guess it’s all been done but i need to write a song” genesis, that were then voiced that within the finished product.

I thought of a half-dozen right away. Most weren’t good, but some were very good.


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