Feb 072011

There'll be no more AAAAAAUGGGHHH!

We all know we’ve got strong opinions, weird ideas, and irritating hangups about this thing we call Rock. Further, we may all think we know why we’re guided by our peculiar illusions—and we have no problem holding forth endlessly, jabbing our fingers in the air, and blowing hard to convince others that we’re not fools for believing what we do.

But, really: do we really know ourselves well enough to know why we think the way we do? I say we do not! So when one of us comes forward with a decidedly peculiar position, shouldn’t we endeavor to help that Townsperson better understand the roots of that complex—rather than just try to convince them they’re wrong? Saturnismine, for example, thinks Nevermind is a better album than Revolver. I know Sat well enough to not bother trying to convince him he’s wrong about that. But I think I do owe him the courtesy of my best guess as to why he feels that way. It might help.

But let’s not pick on poor Saturnismine. I’ve got issues, too. For instance, I need somebody to explain to me why I find Al Green‘s secular music incredibly depressing, and thus almost unlistenable. That just doesn’t make any sense—does it? Can somebody help me here? Don’t tell me how or why I’m wrong. Help me understand why I feel that way.

Surely there are others among us with “bad rock thoughts” who could use a helping hand. Come forward, brothers and sisters, and share.  We’re here to help you understand. We’re here to help you heal—to help you love yourself again, as we have always loved you.

I look forward to your responses.



  37 Responses to “Shrink me!”

  1. This is a very helpful topic, HVB. Thank you. I wasn’t feeling that bad before reading it, but now I’m feeling vulnerable, in need of some healing. And that’s a good thing.

    Let’s examine your shocking disclosure regarding the secular music of Al Green. You say it makes you depressed. How? Why? Can you identify the areas of your psyche that feel depressed? And is there something large at issue, are you uncomfortable with feeling depressed, is sadness an emotion you choose to keep at arm’s length?

    I’ve got plenty of issues myself, and although I feel I know myself intimately, I will dig deeper and see if there’s an unexamined part of my musical life that can require additional therapy.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Thanks for helping me get to the bottom of this, Mod. I can’t really say where in my psyche Al Green bugs me. I have no problem with music that’s meant to inspire sex, as much of his early output is. And there are a few songs that don’t have this effect: “Let’s Stay Together,” for example. A real problem track for me is “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” For some reason that one really crystallizes my Al Green “problem.” Is it all that aching vulnerability? Is it because it’s so *good*, yet — really, let’s be honest — so insincere? For some reason the sparse arrangement bugs me, too.

  3. As great as it is I think of “How Can You Mend…” a well-executed exercise in a certain type of soul ballad more than a song that “flowed” from Green’s twisted soul. That one, in particular, seems like it was written with the intent of getting as many of his women fans wet as possible, so I wouldn’t focus too heavily on the tolls that one takes on your psyche. Of course, who am I to judge Green’s intent?

    Focus on songs like “Love and Happiness” and “I’ve Never Found a Girl,” a version of which by some obscure Northern Soul guy I played in Saturday Night Shut-In a couple of weeks ago, if you need reassurance that Green could give all that he had to give in a more direct way. Then there are joyous songs like “I’m Still in Love With You” and his covers of “Pretty Woman” and “For the Good Times.”

    Whether “rocking” or expressing joy, however, I think his career and that film of him in his Reverend phase in the ’80s (did you ever see that thing?!?!) make it pretty clear he’s an unusual cat. He’s not an artist you can put your finger on; he doesn’t come at you with a Grand Gesture, the way much of the rock and soul music you seem to love most does, so take that into consideration and see if you can’t enjoy all that’s rumbling underneath his songs. I think he easily cranked out an essential 20 songs.

  4. I love this quote from Jardine:

    Smile is the Holy Grail for Beach Boys’ fans, so it will be good.

    Sure, I guess Jardine never had a friend who dropped $30 on a bootleg cassette in 1989.

    Perhaps even more importantly, if any Beach Boys news could be more significant, how ’bout Jardine rejoining Mike Love and Bruce Johnston at the Ronald Reagan 100th Birthday Bash. And who knew Nancy was still kicking?

  5. Here’s my issue: beside the fact that I find their music boring why do I have such a bad attitude about well-intentioned power pop guys with thinning hair and, possibly, glasses: Marshall Crenshaw, Freedy Johnston, et al? I don’t recall anyone fitting that profile ever doing anything wrong to me.

  6. cherguevara

    A while back I heard Glenn Campbell’s version of “Sittin’ on the dock of the bay” and realized that although I became familiar with Otis’ version, that Campbell’s was the 1st version I ever heard (and I remember where too, it was on the radio in a thrift store).

    Thus, although I know Otis’ version was first and is arguably better, when the Campbell version came on recently, it just sounded “right” to me. It was kind of like the records that skipped and now when I hear those songs without those skips it seems strange.

  7. pudman13

    I guess I could mention how I hear music from the late 70s/early 80s that I hated at the time (and which, if I think carefully, brings back memories of really bad times from junior high and high school), and now it all gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. That sure says a lot about how nostalgia works–how it brings you back to what you wish a time was (or how you could have done it better knowing what you know now) than how it really was.

    I’m not sure if this is what your’e getting at or not.

    I also spend a lot of time thinking about how with music (and also baseball, which I love almost as much), how I get so much emotional pleasure from things created by people whom I not only have nothing in common with, but who, for the most part, stand for everything I despise.

  8. I may not exactly understand the point of the thread, but I do hold some peculiar positions. One is my view that The Kinks records are better than The Beatles records (over the time when both bands were active).

    Here’s my argument: Yes, the Beatles were the most innovative band in rock history (within their own time). Their studio tricks, interesting chords, and memorable melodies were all fantastic. But what was the point? So that we could be told things like “love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight” (which comes from one of my favorite Beatles songs.) To the extent lyrics matter in rock music, the Beatles lyrics do nothing for me. What’s their most memorable turn of phrase? (All you need is Love? Deep.) Pick just about any Dylan album and there is more thinking on one side than in the entire Beatles catalog. I’m a grown man. I just can’t listen to songs like Eight Day A Week or Can’t Buy Me Love unless I’m being nostalgic for my teen years when I discovered the Beatles.

    Which brings me to the Kinks. Musically, they were fairly innovative, but nowhere near as innovative as the Beatles. But who cares? Ray Davies wrote intelligent, beautiful songs that a grown man can relate to and enjoy without cringing. The Kinks music is just way more mature and in the long run I think that will win out. As the years pass, the Beatles musical innovations will get lost in history, but the Kinks great songs will still be just as smart as they are now.

    Am I crazy to feel this way?

  9. Am I crazy to feel this way?

    Not really. I basically agree with you. Although I think you underrate the Beatles’ lyrics slightly, they are more about the directly stated unifying proclamation than Ray’s style of quotidian lyric where the unifying statement is in the subtext. I will always prefer the latter. I wonder if its because I discovered ’66-’71 Kinks when I was fairly young, around 12 I think.

  10. I’d say that’s a remarkably mature and straightforward way of making your case, much better than the way people typically do so, in which they come off like they’re more concerned with showing how cool they are by supporting the “underdog.” I’d say there are plenty of great Beatles’ lyrics, but I know what you’re saying about The Kinks’ lyrics being more regularly rooted in more specific, meaty matters.

  11. misterioso

    “I get so much emotional pleasure from things created by people whom I not only have nothing in common with, but who, for the most part, stand for everything I despise.”

    That’s pretty spectacular!

  12. I’m curious what you think are the best Beatles lyrics. I haven’t made a study of the issue. It’s just an impression, so maybe I’m forgetting some good ones.

  13. I got the Beatles Mono Box (I think you’d really like it, Mr. Mod!) for Christmas, so I have been spending more time with their catalog than I have in a good while. Part of the great thing about Beatles lyrics is how well they fit in with the melodies, which are often as dazzling and harmonically rich as their reputations suggest. To cite just one example, “There’s a Place.” The lyrics have a really appealing, intimate feel of both loneliness and hope, and it just goes so well with the music and the awesome way John and Paul’s voices blends.

  14. mockcarr

    You’re not crazy to feel that way, and it’s certainly defensible, but I guess I think that in terms of how people generally write pop songs, the Beatles followed in that harmless tradition for the most part. As long as it doesn’t fall to “It’s Only Love” or “PS I Love You” level and call attention to itself, I think the words they sing can flow past as sounds used by their voices. Davies, Townshend, and Dylan should be given a lot of credit for doing something different, but I doubt it will be rewarded by history any more than “slice of life”, protest, or storytelling songs from the before the 60s are now, since you do alienate otherwise willing listeners with a challenging libretto. If you’re the type of person that gets a good phrase stuck in their head, that approach works, for others, maybe they hear the tune in their head, that’s how the synapse fires regardless of content. It must be so given how many young women will sing along to songs calling them ho’s. But Mr. Ismine will agree with your idea with regards to McCartney, and there certainly is a way of writing a love song so that it isn’t puerile and hackneyed. The Kinks aren’t immune to those sorts of lyrics either, for instance, I Need You has lines like “I need you more than birds in the sky”, but that it’s killer riff by the Kinks that I’ve enjoyed pretty well over the years.

    I wonder why that disco cymbal sound still bugs me over 30 years after it’s heyday, particularly when it impinges on my enjoyment of more recent songs by artists I otherwise like such as Brendan Benson. It’s a dealbreaker.

  15. I think Marshall Crenshaw is bored with himself — saw him a couple of years ago — and he did the whole show sitting down!

    Horrible show — and I LIKE Crenshaw!

  16. “Revolution,” “In My Life,” and “Strawberry Fields” are the first that come to mind. Lots of Lennon touch on emotional issues and issues of awareness; McCartney and Harrison did their share of work along those lines, too. And as much as I’m not a “love songs” kind of guy, there’s a need for a room for those lyrics as well, especially when the supporting music is so in tune with the vibe of the lyrics.

  17. Also “Julia” is extremely honest and beautifully written, and touches on Oedipal themes without being cliched or creepy.

  18. My biggest two are James Taylor and Diana Ross.

    Both are widely loved and celebrated, but I can’t see it.

    JT’s music is well-crafted but the man could sing “Happy Birthday” and make me want to die. It stirs a deep and unexplained feeling in me.

    The Supremes are supposed to be the ulitmate girl-group. Not for me. They seem to always ruin a good playlist on the oldies station. I don’t any of their record and have no plans to.


  19. misterioso

    Your distaste for James Taylor is both rational and well founded.

  20. Don’t know that I’d lump Freedy in with the “power pop guys”, even though he’s released his fair share of rock songs. What bugs you about his songs? Or is it his look?

  21. Honestly, tvox, I haven’t heard his music in years. I remember elements of it being nice, but it was all “squared up” just so – nothing cut, nothing threatened to disrupt the party. At the risk of sounding like E. Pluribus Gergely, there was no sense of “danger,” and I don’t mean over-the-top Iggy Pop-style danger.

    That said, yes, that Look of his bugs me. It’s an issue for me.

  22. I remember his stuff being along the lines of 128-string-era db’s, which I lump in with the same set of hangups (although I have no issues with anyone’s hair or lack thereof, even during their post-Stamey albums). I think this is all tied into the notion of “songwriting.” I don’t know why, but the inflated notion of songwriting that seems to have developed since the Super-Serious Seventies bugs me. It was bad enough that major ’70s singer-songwriters whose music bored me were lauded for their songwriting – at least that stuff was memorable and hummable. Over the last 20 years there have been loads of really unmemorable, unpopular songwriters who’ve been lauded for, what seems to me, the fact that they’ve got nothing going for them beside the fact that they write songs. This applies to both newer artists and third-rate songwriters from the ’60s. Somehow THIS is all tied into my hatred of moviegoers’ refererences to a movie’s script, as if they were handed a copy of the script when they entered the theater. “The script was fantastic,” I’ll hear them say, “but the performances brought the film down.”

  23. pudman13

    I almost like the Kinks from 1965-1969 as much as the Beatles, especially when you add the non-LP singles to the albums, but not quite. Davies is my favorite lyricist of the era, so I’m with you about appreciating the depth and meaning of their songs in a way I don’t with the Beatles, but I totally disagree about the Beatles not being great lyricists. The early love songs are a product of their time and have not aged well in every way, but something like “She Loves You” or “And I Love Her” was actually somewhat innovative at the time/in the context. Starting around 1965 or so, they have a ton of brilliant lyrics. McCartney had an amazing knack for getting to the heart of an emotion (“For no One,”) a person (“Eleanor Rigby,” “She’s Leaving Home,”) a place (“Penny Lane”) or, slyly, a situation (“You Never Give Me Your Money”), and nobody else could so simply say somthing like “and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” And Lennon’s lyrics were a perfect foil, whether they be brilliant nonsense (“I am the walrus,” “She Said She Said”), faux poetry (“A Day In the Life”), personal tales (“Dear Prudence,” “Sexy Sadie”) or warped characterizations (his short songs on ABBEY ROAD.) Anyway…I personally relate more to “People Take Picture of Each Other” or “Nothing to Say” or “Autumn Almanac,” but I love both (or, to be fair, all three) i their own way. Harrison had his fair share of sharp lyrics too…”Savoy Truffle,” to name a mostly ignored one, is more cynically vicious than anything Lennon ever did. By the way, McCartney told a number of short stories in ways that weren’t too far from Davies. Something like “Paperback Writer” or “Drive My Car” has a type of whimsy that is different in style but not too far removed in substance from Davies.

  24. Marshall Crenshaw always struck me as a little too clean. He was Un-Rock the way 7Up is the un-cola: remove the chemicals and the color.

  25. YES!!! That’s exactly what I’m getting at. Does this make me “dirty?”

  26. Great comment! We may be getting somewhere here (regarding the roots of my non-standard opinion). I can see that the Beatles lyrics worked well for the songs they were crafting. For No One is a perfect song for what it is trying to do. Same with Here, There, and Everywhere. I think my issue is that I just really love (and probably over-value) clever lyrics, word play, humor, and the tinge of defeatism that comes through on many of Davies’ songs. Though I see the “story” connection, both Paperback Writer and Drive My Car leave me completely flat because I don’t like the story. I’m more of a Tin Soldier Man kind of guy.

    I love reading what you guys write here. The posts and comments on this website are easily in the 99th percentile of internet quality.

  27. It strikes me that I shouldn’t necessarily refer to Mr. Crenshaw in the past tense. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice man. Hah, turns out he’s American! News to me.

    Now, besides his being from the Detroit area, this passage from Mr. Crenshaw’s Wikipedia page seems a little odd:

    “In the 2000s, Crenshaw played guitar as a special guest with the reunited members of the MC5.”

    Was Marshall going to MC5 shows? He’d a’ been 17 or so at the time of the Power & Glory clip posted the other day.

  28. Good point, eh. I forgot about his stint with the MC5. What are the chances of someone playing with them AND Beatlemania?

  29. Wow – this may have been the first time I need to check the dictionary from reading a RTH post

  30. jeangray


  31. jeangray

    His debut Apple album has it’s moments.

  32. And that’s the only thing by him that I own. More for the Beatle connection than anything.

    And yes, I also own that CD single for Elton’s redux of “Candle In The Wind.” Why? It was produced by Big George Martin.


  33. misterioso

    Incidentally, speaking of Klassic period Kinks, looks like the boys are trying to give Bowie and EC a run for their money in the “how many times can you sell people the same records” department. (And, yes, I will probably buy them again.)


  34. I like James Taylor in small doses, but too much makes me too mellow: I ripen and then rot (stealing an old Woody Allen joke).

  35. I’d have to say the inflated notion of “songwriting” is one of my bad rock thoughts. Why can’t I love hardly any singer/songwriters that are considered important? Maybe it’s because so many of them are trying to keep that “next Dylan” thing going. Unfortunately, a lot of would-be Dylans forget that Dylan tried to be pretty catchy on his early stuff. I guess that’s another bad rock thought I have. Why do I like Dylan’s melodies more than his lyrics?

  36. GREAT question, dickbonanza! This may need to go to The Main Stage for its own discussion. I get a sense of what you mean and, in some cases, agree with you. I wonder if anyone else feels this way.

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