11 May 2020

11 May 2020 - Bee Gees - Tragedy

The Bee Gees have never gotten due respect for their songwriting abilities.  And yet, in one day, they wrote this song, "Shadow Dancing", performed by their brother Andy, and "Too Much Heaven" - all while making a movie (the terrible Sgt. Pepper movie, but still)

That's three Number one songs in one DAY that they wrote.

This would be the group's fifth of six consecutive #1 hits.  The only other artists to match this are The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Bing Crosby.  They were this huge in the late 1970's.

The song itself is a breakup song - with the title becoming an exclamation point in a chorus to follow the desperate verses. 



You might be wondering how they get that exploding sound near the end of the song.   It was created in studio by Barry Gibb cupping his hands over the microphone and making the sound - and then duplicating it so it sounded impressive.

Yeah, you're making that sound right now. 

Here they are in studio, recording this song and showing the process - notice how Barry isn't singing every lyric in this take. 

08 May 2020

8 May 2020 - Childish Gambino - This Is America

Well, it ain't Troy and Abed in the Morning!

What it IS is a provocative song with a a video featuring a lot of Jim Crow imagery.   The song, which was a breakthrough song and Donald Glover's biggest hit to date, won four Grammys, including Record and Song of the Year.

The song itself moves between African-style folk, gospel, and dark trap rhythms, and it is exceptionally well constructed.  The lyrics - which address gun violence and police brutality, among other things - are not always easy to hear, the video difficult to watch at times.  Please, watch and listen anyway.   You'll be glad you did. 

06 May 2020

6 May 2020 -The Darling Buds - Hit the Ground

Remember music programs when they made the artists lipsync?

On this ninth annual Darling Buds Day, we go back to the late 80's and Top of the Pops, where there were no cables or microphone cords to trip over and the band sounded studio-fresh.

They STILL rocked it.



There was an official video for this song, too.  This way, you can hear the whole song.


Will we be able to do this in Year 10?  Well, the Darling Buds are rumoured to be in the studio, so I am guessing we will.




04 May 2020

4 May 2020 - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - Ohio

On May 4th, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guardsmen opened fire on students protesting the US bombing of Cambodia, a neutral party during the Vietnam War.  Four people were killed, and nine were wounded.

The poster announcing the protest at Kent State

Neil Young saw the pictures of the incident in Life Magazine and wrote this song.  Released in June 1970, the song was a top 20 hit - despite being banned on many radio stations for its indictment of the Nixon administration - and a poignant reminder of what had happened on that fateful day.



The incident and the song sped the tide of sentiment already turning against the US involvement in Vietnam.  The massacre in Ohio is one of the darkest moments in American history, and this song brilliantly captures the nation's feelings.  Music can really capture and sway a culture, and this song is perhaps the best example of that.

Here's Young performing his song solo. 

01 May 2020

1 May 2020 - KONGOS - Come With Me Now

John Kongos was a bit hitmaking musician in the early 1970s, best known for his hits "He's Gonna Step On You Again" and "Tokoloshe Man" (both covered by the Happy Mondays)

Kongos had four sons who went on to form their own hitmaking band, KONGOS.  They made their own label - Tokoloshe Records - to release their music.  Part of the result of that was this song - which you might have heard if you paid attention to big action movies or the WWE - because it became a big hit and directly resulted in their major label record deal.

It's a rare rock song not starring Weird Al that features a lead accordion so prominently - and yet this one does, giving the song a bit of a folksy feel without being folk music.  All four brothers sing and harmonize well... which is something they got from their father.

Also, check out the musically synchronized lipstick (and blowdried hair).



KONGOS is still around and still touring and releasing music.  Here's a taste of them performing in Toronto in 2019.

30 April 2020

30 April 2020 - Chicago - Hard To Say I'm Sorry (stereo sound)

"Hold me now

It's hard for me to say I'm sorry."

Man, don't we all feel that?

This very beautiful song about longing and trying to make things right was Chicago's 2nd #1 hit, in 1982.  In a bit of a departure from other Chicago songs, 1) it doesn't feature much in the way of horns, and 2) it features musicians that were not members of Chicago in supporting roles, including three members of the band Toto.

Peter Cetera's longing voice matches well with the lyrical content and the early 80's sound.  I hope you enjoy it!

27 April 2020

27 April 2020 - Oingo Boingo - Stay

There was a time when there was a band named Oingo Boingo, fronted by a man named Danny Elfman.  They had a fair amount of success with the theme from the movie Weird Science and an appearance in the movie Back to School, the latter of which Scott wrote about several years ago.

Elfman would go on to be a big time movie score guy and be embarrassed by Oingo Boingo.  He shouldn't have been.  They were amazing.

This is not a fun and happy song.  It's a love song.  Specifically, it is a song in which the protagonist is begging his significant other to stick around and work through their problems, rather than running away.  Comparing their relationship to many things that it isn't, it's a much deeper song than you would have expected from Oingo Boingo at the time - and remains one of my favorites.



After the music industry changed and left the sound of Oingo Boingo behind, they struggled to reinvent themselves, but ultimately threw in the towel in 1995 with a huge farewell show.  Here is the band, performing this song for the last time.



The song was not a huge hit for the band in the States, but, oddly, it was in Brazil, where it was used in a telenovela named Top Model.   That's not a joke. 


Hence, there were several Brazilian bands who have covered this song - and you can see them over on Totally Covered right now!

17 April 2020

17 April 2020 - Liz Phair - Polyester Bride

Girly Sound.

Those of you who are Liz Phair fan know approximately what Girly Sound is.  For those who don't, or only know about it casually, the Girly Sound tapes were early releases self-produced by Phair in the early 1990's - Girly Sound being her stage name at the time - that led directly to her record deal.  There were actually three of them - Yo Yo Buddy Yup Word To Ya Mutha, GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS, and Sooty.

I know what you're thinking (and no - it has nothing to do with how many shots I took).  "Why is he mentioning these lo-fi recordings when today's entry is clearly well produced?"  It's an excellent question, as this song was the opening single from Phair's third studio album whitechocolatespaceegg.  However, it was a rewrite/rerecording of a song from GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS.  So, all those years later, she was still using her Girly Sound stuff as a library.

whitechocolatespaceeg, unlike her previous work, came after she got married and had a kid - it wasn't just about sex, which Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart clearly were.  So, this song, written in her overtly sexual era, was reimagined as a more introspective and less sexual piece.



Compare this version to the GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS version.  First of all, it's a lot longer - so budget some time.   It's also a slower, sparser and I think sadder song - and more self-deprecating.  And Henry, her bar-tending friend seems to be more of a dick.



Phair still tours, and was supposed to be opening for Alanis Morrisette and Garbage this year on their tour.  I hope that still happens, but until then, here's a live performance from 2018.

16 April 2020

16 April 2020 - Madonna - Ray of Light

I usually start this posts with the official video - because, you know, that's how most people know the song. 

I'm not doing that this time.  That's Madonna with a guitar, people.  We need to appreciate this.  And, although this in its original form was electronic-driven (albeit with a significant guitar piece), I kind of dig this version.

So, before I get into some random facts about this song, I wanted you to rock out to Madonna.



I mean, we're of COURSE going to have the official video here, too. It's really good, too.  It's not just good because it's a great electronic dance tune (that, by the way, I just made you rock out to).  It's good because Madonna's energetic performance - not only vocal, but visual - is mesmerizing. 

The song itself, largely written by Ms. Ciccone, was written in the aftermath of the birth of her daughter and her career-changing turn in the movie Evita. It remains to this day one of my favorite Madonna songs.  Interestingly, it was purposely produced, musically, just outside of Madonna's vocal range.  When you hear her straining to reach the notes, that's real.  And it's spectacular.

15 April 2020

15 April 2020 - Norman Greenbaum - Spirit in the Sky

Today, we go ahead and embrace our hippie roots....

But this song seems a little Jesus-y for that, doesn't it?

And yet, that's exactly what Norman Greenbaum did - he wrote a religious hippie song.  Of course, it wasn't well-known or much of a hit in secular circles - it was legitimately a Christian song and a hit! - until Doctor and the Medics covered it in the 1980's

Really, the simple and earnest song was criminally overlooked at initial release - but it's a classic now.

14 April 2020

14 April 2020 - ABBA - Take A Chance On Me

This is a song that I am certain all of you have heard. There's not much more to say - it was the final UK #1 for ABBA (their 7th, a record), and was one of the biggest hits of their career worldwide.

Stig Anderson had assisted with the lyrics on prior ABBA singles - but on this one, it was all Benny Andersson and Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus, establishing them as a strong songwriting team in their own right.  This song is so sweet, and upbeat, that it endures to this day.  Agnetha didn't have much of a solo career outside of Sweden (where she was a hitmaker BEFORE ABBA) but this is really her song, even though most of the lyrics are shared with Frida (real name: Anni-Frid - get it?).



By now, you should know that I like to include alternative versions when I make a simple post like this.  This is the 1977 demo of the song.  It speaks to the consistency of the band that it was hard to find any variation from the final studio version at all!  Other than a slight key difference in the chorus, I don't hear one.



Compare this with a 1978 live recording.....  in a lot of live performances, ABBA frequently lip-synced their songs - mostly because the studio recordings were so complex, and not at all an indicator .  In this case - look in the background.  There's a complete orchestra!!!



If you got this far - this song was famously covered by Erasure.  Check out the Totally Covered post from 2012!

13 April 2020

13 April 2020 - Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

Like many of you, my parents were Simon & Garfunkel fans. I grew up listening to their Greatest Hits on repeat.  So, for a lot of us, this song is like a big ol' bowl of comfort food.

Now that I'm an adult, and I know that the song was, in Paul Simon's words, inspired directly by "Mary Don't You Weep", a pre-Civil War spiritual about the Bible story of Lazarus being raised from the dead, I hear it a lot differently.  Originally written for guitar, Paul Simon moved it to piano to keep the gospel feel and message.

And can we talk for a minute about Art Garfunkel's powerful voice that completely OWNS this song?  It's an instrument in and of itself.

10 April 2020

10 April 2020 - lovelytheband - broken

Lovelytheband has been around since 2016.  This, their debut single from 2017, remains their only US Top 30 hit (although they get a lot of rock and alternative radio airplay with subsequent singles).  If you're only going to have one hit, though, it should be a gem like this one!

The lyrics themselves aren't terribly wholesome at first - it's a late night pickup - but it gets sweeter as it goes along, as our two characters discover that they're both broken, giving them a connection and something to grow on.  It's a beautiful synth-pop modern love song.



So, what if you took away the synth - does the pop-rock vibe still work for this song? Thankfully, lovelytheband gives us the answer to this question in this live performance. 

It does, if you were wondering my opinion.

09 April 2020

9 April 2020 - Daddy Yankee & Snow - Con Calma | Daddy Yankee & Snow feat. Katy Perry - Con Calma

I bet you all thought my first Daddy Yankee post would be "Despacito", didn't you?

No.

This re-imagination of Snow's "Informer" is somewhat spectacular, and Daddy Yankee had the presence of mind, as well as the respect for those who came before him in reggaeton  to INCLUDE Snow in this.  It would become a minor hit in its own right.... and the biggest selling Spanish-language single for the first half of 2019.



....but a Katy Perry remix shot this into the top 40, making Snow a THREE hit wonder..... and this a Hall of Fame post.  See if you can catch all the callbacks to Teenage Dream.



The Katy Perry version received some bad reviews - one writer implied that the person who suggested it might be trying to sabotage her career (Pitbull, for the record, and he isn't) , but a largely Spanish-language song reached the top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 - so I think there's some credibility to the collaboration.

I mean, it can't be worse for her career than her decision to a an American Idol judge....


08 April 2020

8 April 2020 - Collective Soul - Shine

Of course we're all looking for a sign.  We're all in this crazy quarantine, and we all want out.  Collective Soul spoke to this long before all our worlds changed.  And they wrote a song about Heaven letting light shine down.

That doesn't mean they're a Christian hand.  This is a label they fought for years - but the chorus is "basically a prayer".  That's not me saying that.  That's Dean Roland, who is in the band - and the brother of the guy (Ed Roland) who sang and wrote the song.  At any rate, it's an uplifting song from a period when the dark angst of grunge ruled the day.

07 April 2020

7 April 2020 - Crash Test Dummies - Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm

It isn't often that a huge hit song features a deep baritone on lead vocal.  This one, the only American hit by Canadian band Crash Test Dummies, is the only one I can think of.  However, for this band that had six Top Ten hits in Canada, it stalled at #14 in their home country.... so it was a disappointment.

It is widely considered to be a bad song - frequently featured on bad song lists - but I disagree.  All three verses speak to various reasons for isolation - and the chorus is a sad resignation.  It's a deeper song than it gets credit for.

Plus, it's nice to hear a popular song that I can actually sing along with.



The third verse does get a little flack for being anti-church - and it's always been my belief that it is specifically directed at one Christian denomination, and not church in general. Vocalist Brad Roberts seems to clarify in this 2010 live performance..... when he whispers the name of a specific denomination during that verse...


Clearly, they cared about not offending fans, especially when they were big hitmakers - so they did have an alternative third verse about a kid whose mom threw out his tonsils in a jar.  Check it out below.

30 March 2020

30 March 2020 - Boston - More Than a Feeling

We all wish we had Brad Delp's voice here.

I do, anyway.

He didn't write the song, though.  Tom Scholz - the true brains behind Boston who went so far as to invent equipment to create their unique sound without synthesizers - wrote it - about the feelings an old song can bring back.  It is no coincidence that the guitar riff at the chorus is oddly reminiscent of "Louie, Louie". 

You never heard that before, but you do now, don't you?

It isn't the old song referenced, though.  That would be "Walk Away Renee" by the Left Banke, a song that lyrically inspired this one.

The song itself is very complex and took Scholz several years to complete.  It features a dramatic key change between verse (D Major) and chorus (G Major), with a significant falsetto - which brings us back to Brad Delp's vocal range, which was incredible....



....and a power he still had almost thirty years later.  I marvel to this day at the emotion he brought to his performance.  Sadly, Delp died of an apparent suicide in 2007.  Here's one of the last performances I could find of him performing the song that made him a legend.

 

29 March 2020

29 March 2019 - Kansas - Hold On

I rarely post on a Sunday, but this song seemed appropriate. 

Kansas was already a pretty popular band when they released Audio-Visons in 1980. This song, the first single from that album, was a top 40 hit, is my favorite Kansas song, and it is a beautiful song with a beautiful story. 

Kerry Livgren - the violinist and one of the leaders of this band - discovered Christianity in the late 1970's. He wrote this song to try to convince his wife to also convert to Christianity. It was successful, by the way - she did convert and they are still together.

Example: in the third verse, you will hear the line "Outside your door, He is waiting, waiting for you.". Note the capitalized "He" - the song is about putting faith in God. 

However, this caused some discord in the band - that led to lead vocalist Steve Walsh leaving the band (he would return in 1985 after Livgren left). So, a new vocalist was found - John Elefante. Those familiar with Christian rock know that he had a pretty successful solo career post-Kansas. Livgren didn't know of Elefante's Christianity when the hiring occurred - but that drove the direction of the next several Kansas albums. 

This version I post is of Elefante-era Kansas.  It seemed appropriate. 

07 February 2020

7 February 2020 - Pylon - Crazy

Pylon were an influential band in the Athens, GA scene in the 1980s.   You've probably never heard of them.  That doesn't matter.  What matters is that they were cool and influential.  Their lo-fi punky sound did greatly guide the direction of the entire scene.

This song, remarkably simple and famously and faithfully covered by R.E.M., is probably their best known, and the one everyone wants to hear when they reunite, as they did for this show in 2008.  It sounds as good as it did in 1982.

04 February 2020

4 February 2020 - Duran Duran - A View To A Kill

From the 14th James Bond film, 1985's A View To A Kill, this is, in my opinion, the greatest Bond theme ever.  It's exciting - lots of keyboard riffs to punctuate the excitement.  It's time-period appropriate - Duran Duran were at the height of their fame in 1985.  Even the video plays out like a spy caper, with scenes from the movie. 

It also remains the only Bond theme to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.... and Duran Duran's last #1 (although far from their last hit). 

03 February 2020

3 Febuary 2020 - Berlin - No More Words

One of the first songs I remember hearing and liking was this one.   It was never their best known, and I certainly did not understand its deep meaning when it was released - but I sure do now, and I appreciate it more now than I did then.   Enjoy!

01 February 2020

1 February 2020 - BLACKPINK - Kill This Love

Welcome to 2020.  Korean girl groups are starting to own the music industry.  And their English is getting better. Enjoy!