Tag: Lyrics

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

Header

This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

Frustrated-1

This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 872: Here Come Ol’ Levy, He Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

Header

A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.

It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.

If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.

YouCantCatchMe-1

In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…

Day 862: Uoy Tpurroc Ot Sdrow Dnasuoht A

Header

I was fifteen years old when my dad utilized his extensive technological prowess to produce a cassette recording for me of all the Beatles’ so-called backward messages. By “prowess” I mean he played a reel-to-reel tape backwards. It wasn’t tricky.

Playing music backwards is a phenomenon that has existed since the advent of recorded music. Occultist and all-around weird cat Aleister Crowley  suggested in 1913 that anyone who was wishing to become fluent in the language of magic should listen to phonograph records backwards in order to train their brains. The realm of avant-garde music has experimented with backwards music for decades. But apart from the occasional squonked-brain traipse through the Beatles “Revolution 9” (forward or backward – there’s very little difference), I don’t care much for the avant-garde.

Luckily, the more ear-friendly genres under the canopy of rock music have toyed with stashing backwards lyrics – known as backmasking – within the folds of some well-known songs. Sometimes it’s done as a joke, and other times it’s because rock musicians are clearly in league with Satan and have devised a way to plant subliminal backwards messages in their music in order to corrupt our children and get them to take up smoking. Or something.

Rain-1

One evening whilst under the strictly medicinal effects of marijuana, John Lennon accidentally played the vocal track for “Rain”, his band’s new single, backwards. He loved the effect, and within a few short months the track was released with a snippet of lyrics at the end played backwards, sounding a little like John had picked up a foreign language during Ringo’s extended drum fill. Their accompanying album, Revolver, featured two backwards guitar solos, but it was the vocal message that really weirded people out. Read more…

Day 784: Show Me That Smile Again

Header

Lately I have found myself falling back in love with All In The Family. The jokes are still funny, the characters still compelling, and it’s the only show from the 70’s that can still be called ‘edgy’ by today’s standards. I wanted to do a piece about the show, but rather than delve into a history of the show’s production or spin a bullet-list of trivia (which I’ve already done for The Golden Girls), I decided I’d focus on the song.

You know, that song. The one where Jean Stapleton – whom I have recently decided is the funniest woman ever to appear on TV – hits that high note that can make your sofa cushions cringe. The song that Family Guy homage-ifies with their opening number.

TV Theme songs may seem like a fluffy topic, but they are certainly worthy of a couple hours-worth of finger-punching my keyboard. The lyric-laden theme song is a dying art form, yet these tunes are woven with the fabric of my slothful youth. Some became hits or were hits already – I’m not going to dig into the roots of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” or Al Jarreau’s “Moonlighting” here. But each of these songs was written and performed by somebody, and those somebodies had a story.

AllInTheFamily

“Those Were The Days” was penned by the team of Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, the guys responsible for the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie. There were a few versions of the performance recorded throughout the series’ run, and astute listeners can pick out Stapleton’s second-verse screech becoming more comically punched as the song evolved. Read more…

Day 762: Cuing Up The Fetid – Worst Music Part 3

Header

It’s time once again to clear the room of friends, family and suspicious strangers by cranking up the worst of the worst. You know, the most urethra-scrapingly awful thing about these terrible songs is the fact that they have each achieved a grotesque level of popularity. People who toil for eight, sometimes sixteen hours in a day, who often pay only the minimum payment on their Visa bill and who have likely contemplated buying the store-brand mayonnaise in order to save a little extra money for lottery tickets have nevertheless flushed some of that precious cash down the crusty-sewage-lined pipes of the recording industry to own these.

And we know these songs are awful – we all do. I’m not talking about stuff like Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration”, which is more harmlessly schmaltzy than outright offensive, or “Ice Ice Baby”, which grew exponentially more ridiculous until Vanilla Ice turned Amish and the tune shifted into ironic-nostalgia country.

No, these are the inexcusables. I’m pulling off of Blender magazine’s “50 Worst Songs Ever” list, one which I’m loathe to trust, due to its inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”, Huey Lewis’s “Heart of Rock & Roll” and The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” But despite these grievous errors, the list makes a few points. It also puts Starship’s “We Built This City” at #1, so kudos for that one.

AchyBreakyHeart

Number two on the list is inarguably more insipid, more soul-draining than Starship’s 1987 trudge through knee-deep fetid hoopla. Yes, I’m talking about Billy Ray Cyrus’s biggest single, a song so astoundingly wretched it is now considered to be an attempted mass murder in three states if someone tries to perform this as a karaoke number. “Achy Breaky Heart” is the song whose video introduced the 90’s fad of line dancing to popular culture. Remember when people used to make fun of the Ramones because their songs only contained three chords? This one features just two: A and E major. Read more…

Day 687: The *INDISPUTABLE* Big Box O’ Juke – 80’s Edition

Header

I have, in the past, been accused of acute music snobbery, mostly by people whose names I never bothered to commit to memory. Yes, as an employee of Music World for the summer of 1993 I would regularly look down on customers who purchased music that I deemed to be weak and unworthy of sharing the New Release rack with the 20th anniversary re-issue of Dark Side of the Moon. But I’d only do so in my head and to co-workers after those customers had left the premises. Usually.

And while I hold my own artistic opinion as a more accurate barometer of objective quality than that of the Billboard chart-driven display of ludicrous public embracement, I would be the last to declare my tastes to be definitively correct. I am a child of the 1980’s, an era when music didn’t have to be musicologically intricate – or even necessarily good – to be a terrific record. I’m okay with this – if someone whose sense of auditory aesthetics tells me that Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” is a crap single, I will quietly acknowledge a perfectly valid crevice of opinion, even if I feel they are wrong.

But there are some songs that seem to be objectively inarguable – purely and unavoidably great pieces of music. These are tracks that even the neo-hipsters of that decade will tap their feet to, the ones that truly warrant the moniker of ‘classic’. I’ve written about 80’s music before, but with these songs I can’t imagine any dissent. Or, you could comment below and prove me wrong.

But you won’t.

BruceSpringsteen

In 1984 there was no under-bed hidey-hole so remote it could not be penetrated by some portion of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA album. It still holds the record (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller) for having spawned seven top-10 hit singles; that’s seven massive hits off a twelve-track LP. And while perhaps you could uncover some twisted soul who’ll stick up their noses at “Dancing In The Dark” or “Glory Days”, I simply cannot fathom not cranking up the volume to “Cover Me.” Read more…

Day 594: “Til Her Night Cheese Was Ready To Poop” & Other Mondegreens

Header

“Ye highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray

And Lady Mondegreen.”

According to writer Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Harper’s Magazine essay, this was how she’d heard the first stanza of “The Bonny Earl O’ Moray”, a 17th-centuy ballad. The actual last line of the verse is “And laid him on the green,” but this wonky little misunderstanding led Ms. Wright to coin the term ‘mondegreen’ to refer to any misheard lyric, though ideally one which makes the song better. In this case, because it increases the song’s death count, I guess.

I think the term ‘better’ here is too subjective. When I used to sing along to the Beatles’ “Bad Boy”, I never understood what John was singing for the line, “He worries his teacher till at night she’s ready to poop.” I thought he was singing, “…till her night cheese was ready to poop.” Is mine better? The image is certainly a bit more interesting.

And then it became a Liz Lemon meme. Maybe I'm not the only one who heard the song that way.

And then it became a Liz Lemon meme. Maybe I’m not the only one who heard the song that way.

But we all do it. Our ears inevitably trip over some muffled lyric and allow our brains to process the wrong data. If we hear a term with which we aren’t familiar – and many lyrics tend to consist of poetic tweaks on the language – our brains will process an interpretation that we can understand. That doesn’t explain the ‘night cheese’ thing though. Read more…

Day 473 – The Big Box O’ Juke – 90s Edition

Header

Once again it’s time to twist that volume knob all the way to the right, wrap yourself in your favorite flannel shirt, bring your old Tamagotchi back to life, and ease into the latest batch of vintage tuneage from the Big Box ‘O Juke. Today we’re dipping into the music of the 1990’s, a decade that brought us mainstream music we called “alternative”, the death of so many record stores who sold actual records, and the birth of the mighty mp3.

The 90’s was the end of populist popular music. Where once a band like the Scorpions could share the same top-ten audience as Cyndi Lauper, now listeners were becoming more fragmented. Rock music hit a wall it still has yet to climb over – apart from a handful of trends (like the forgettable rap-rock phase), guitar-based rock, or at least the stuff that hit the radio, simply stopped growing.

Pop music became computer-based, and the best stuff was wading through an increasingly deeper pool of pap and fluff. But it was still out there. Depending on your tastes, this may or may not be a sampling of some of it.

MeatLoaf

I don’t think it’s a shameful confession, but I was never really a fan of Meat Loaf. Nothing against the guy, but his sense of musical-theatre-rock drama just never hit me in my groovocampus, the part of the brain that stores memories of the funky licks that get one’s boogie on. His song “I’ll Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was a monster hit for him in ’93, the first single off that Bat Out Of Hell II album I had to play ad nauseum when I worked at MusicWorld. Read more…

Day 434: 50 Years Of Feeling My Boner In Her Hair

Header

Not a lot of songs are so generously packed full of interesting tidbittery to warrant a thousand words. Three-hundred fifty-one days ago, I devoted an article to what I have yet to be convinced is not the worst song of the 1980’s, “We Built This City” by Starship. Today’s song is even more mired in infamy, though not due to a question of quality. “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen may be the most notorious record in the annals of rock ‘n roll history, spawning an FBI investigation, a number of local bans, and an incalculable bounty of inspiration to future rockers.

The song was written in 1955 as a Jamaican love ballad by a very non-Jamaican guy named Richard Berry. His version received a fair amount of airplay on the west coast, but never cracked the Billboard charts. He sold his rights to the song for $750 in 1959. At the time, that probably seemed like a great deal. A 1961 version by the Wailers became a big hit in the Seattle area.

In case the photo is not clear, this is *not* Bob Marley's band.

In case the photo is not clear, this is *not* Bob Marley’s band.

On the evening of April 5, 1963, Seattle band the Kingsmen, fronted by guitarist Jack Ely, performed a 90-minute version of “Louie Louie” at a local gig. This predates the era of jam rock, so either these guys were ahead of their time and skillful enough to keep this groove interesting for an hour and a half, or they wanted to drive the patrons out the door. The fact that they devoted a chunk of their recording session the next day to laying their cover down on wax would suggest the former. Read more…

Day 422: The Big Box O’ Juke – 70s Edition

Header

It’s time to dial up some tuneage from the distant past, back when cheese was king and fashions looked like rainbows had thrown up onto a jelly bean factory. Yes, it’s another edition of the Big Box O’ Juke, where you learn the stories behind the hits, and probably end up with one of these damn songs ricocheting off the inside of your skull for the rest of the day. I make no apologies; I suffer along with you.

Last month I strolled through the hot-pink neon glow of 80’s hits. I’m not sure if I have more readers who were kids in the 70s or the 90s, but I’m erring on the side of disco balls, ‘ludes and shag carpeting so thick it can trip a rhino.

LeFreak

On New Year’s Eve, 1977, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and bass player Bernard Edwards were denied entrance to New York City’s famous Studio 54. They had been invited to join Grace Jones inside, but Grace had forgotten to let the goons running the doors know she was expecting guests. Rodgers and Edwards were pissed, so they did what any self-respecting musicians would do… they wrote a revenge song. Read more…