29 January 2021

29 January 2021 - Suzanne Vega - Tom's Diner

This is perhaps the oddest history of a song I have ever posted here.

I first heard the song in 1987, as the opening track on Solitude Standing, Suzanne Vega's 2nd album.  It was a crisp and clear acapella song... so clear that it was used to test the MP3 file format for clarity.  Yes, the answer to the trivia question "what was the first MP3" is "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega.  I immediately loved it.

This live version captures the album version quite perfectly.

Fast forward to 1990.  Two British producers that called themselves DNA remixed the song with a thumping bass track.  They didn't ask anyone if they could do this.  They just did it. They went ahead and released the track to dance clubs in Europe.  Her record label - A&M - caught wind of this and did something remarkable.  With the approval of Suzanne Vega (who actually liked what DNA did with her song), A&M bought and released the remixed song.  

It would become Vega's second biggest pop hit of her career (after "Luka") and arguably her most recognizable.  

28 January 2021

28 January 2021 - Depeche Mode - I Feel You

What do you get when you cross Depeche Mode with guitars?

One serious hot, rocking song and a huge hit song.

While Depeche Mode had a devoted fan base from their years of electronic-oriented music, this new direction for the band, which put a guitar in Martin L. Gore's hands and put Alan Wilder behind a drum kit, ended up bringing them one of their biggest career hits.  The unexpected bombast, as it turns out, resonated.

As bombastic as that song is, it is somehow more so live.  David Gahan somehow looks quite comfortable belting out the powerful, straight-ahead rock song.

27 January 2021

27 January 2021 - Blondie - Heart Of Glass

A couple of days ago, I was writing some posts for Totally Covered in advance, and I decided to pull out a Miley Cyrus cover of a Blondie classic, as I am SURE I am going to be billing that on Twitter.  Then I realized that, although I had posted TWO covers of this song over THERE, I had never posted anything about the original.  There's no good reason for it, so let's remedy this.  

This song was built around a drum machine beat, which opens the song.  This was something that, in 1979, was not commonly seen in rock music.... but was seen in the popular disco music of the day.  As a result, Blondie did suffer a temporary backlash in the punk community that had supported them for so many years.  

Of course, this song was also Blondie's first Top 40 hit, making it all the way to #1..... and led to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I think they made the right choice.  

Now, go to Totally Covered and check out not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different covers, all very different from each other, but all fantastic in their own ways.  

26 January 2021

26 January 2021 - Raf - Self Control | Laura Branigan - Self Control

It is generally accepted that the Laura Branigan version of this song, which was worldwide (outside of Italy and Switzerland) a much bigger hit, is a cover of the Raf version. 

Since Raf co-wrote the song, I think it's a legitimate claim.  However, I'm including both versions on this post, and not shuttling Laura off to Totally Covered.   I'll explain that decision in a moment.  

But can we talk about this Italian classic?  This was the debut single of Raf - some consider it to be the biggest Italian worldwide hit of all time (Tarzan Boy might have something to say about that). This was a #1 song in Italy and Switzerland (more on that second one in a moment) and first hit #1 on June 24th, 1984 in Italy.

The Laura Branigan version first hit #1 in Germany, on June 17th, 1984.  Perhaps stranger, it first hit #1 in Switzerland on June 24th.  The #2 song that week was the Raf version.  The two songs switched places the next week, and switched back on July 8th, where this version would remain for the next seven weeks.  

The two songs were contemporary.  While the Raf version was recorded first, they were released at the same time.  Both had a large impact, contemporaneously, and for that reason, I am placing them both here.  

25 January 2021

25 January 2021 - Aimee Mann - Labrador

I adore Aimee Mann. Over the last 10 years, Scott has seen her perform a handful of times. Happy to say that he saw her again on January 23, 2012! So let's go back to Aimee's "care free and light-hearted 80s days" in 'Til Tuesday.... that she remade shot for shot.

Today is my former co-author Scott's birthday.  Go to his Twitter and wish him a happy birthday..... and also read HIS original post.  

25 January 2021 - Noel Harrison - The Windmills of Your Mind

There's a lot you can say about Noel Harrison.   He was the son of Rex Harrison.  A champion of the giant slalom, Harrison went to two Olympics.

And his performance of this song won the 1968 Oscar for Best Original Song.  Featured in The Thomas Crown Affair, it is by far the biggest hit he ever had.  Here's a little bit of trivia for you - the 1967 Oscar for Best Original Song went to "Talk To The Animals" from Doctor Dolittle.   The performer on that song?  Noel's father, Rex Harrison.  

Enjoy one of the greatest songs written for a movie (according to the American Film Institute - that isn't just me making up superlatives).  

22 January 2021

22 January 2021 - R.E.M. - Crush With Eyeliner

When Michael Stipe wrote this song, it is said he was inspired by the over-the-top style of the legendary New York City band The New York Dolls.  The song is fuzzy and glam-pop inspired....

...but can we talk about the video for a second?  Michael Stipe famously hated to lip-sync his songs for videos, and he was pretty bad at it.  So, for this video, he set it at a Japanese karaoke bar and had other people do the lip-sync for him!

I don't like posting stuff from Top of the Pops, because that show has a famous policy against live performance, instead forcing artists to lip-sync.  They aren't usually that fun.  But combine that with how terrible Michael Stipe is at lip-syncing, mostly because he hates it... well, yeah, it's entertaining this time.

Contrast this with live R.E.M., who are clearly enjoying the performance more....

21 January 2021

21 January 2021 - Smash Mouth - All Star

I saw Smash Mouth live.  It was a miserable rainy day.  They didn't really seem to be enjoying themselves until this song.  

The song, featured prominently in the movie Mystery Men (hence the "superheroes" at the beginning - it is unclear why Janeane Garafalo did not appear), was one of the biggest hits of 1999.  And let's face it - it's darned catchy.  Heck, we could have even posted it in Positive December!

The band's hits might be in the past, but they are very much in the present.  Here they are performing the song live in 2015.

20 January 2021

20 January 2021 - Fitz and the Tantrums - HandClap

I don't know if you were aware, but Fitz and the Tantrums are pretty sure they can make your hands clap.

The song is actually a love song - with the vocalist trying to convey enthusiasm with.... hand claps. Clearly pop and soul influenced, the song is immediately catchy and is used to get crowds fired up at sporting events everywhere to this day.  

19 January 2021

19 January 2021 - Ednaswap - Torn

I loved having a cowriter on this blog, as well as my sister blog, Totally Covered.  Scott was an awesome partner, and we are still great friends.  He's welcome to come back and write for us anytime.

Today, I am going to tell you how we came to have the 2nd blog.

You see, Natalie Imbruglia had one big hit song in the United States, and on March 5, 2012, Scott wrote all about "Torn".  Someone made a comment that the song was a cover - which Scott had not mentioned, even though he was aware.  Since we knew we love covers, we started the 2nd blog the next week.  Yes, this one is far busier now, but I still post there as well, and you should check it out.  

The song was written by members of the band Ednaswap.  TECHNICALLY, theirs wasn't the first released version, but since they wrote it and did perform it prior to selling the song to other artists BEFORE recording it themselves, I felt they earned their place here.  

So, here you are.  Enjoy Ednaswap.  

18 January 2021

18 January 2021 - Matchbox Twenty - Push

So you aren't hearing it, are you?  The D-A-B-F#-G-D-G-A progression doesn't exist in there at all.   I didn't hear it at first myself.  

Because Rob Thomas wrote it in a different key. Canon in F#?  Hear it now?

Well, because it was in a different key, I didn't post it last week, but I felt it was worthwhile to mention that.  

The song itself is not at all about abusing women, as a lot of people assume - if anything, the narrator of the song - be it Rob Thomas or whatever character he wrote - is the one on the receiving end of abuse.  The more likely interpretation, however, is that it's just about an adult relationship, with give and take, where there are good and bad times.  

To his credit, Rob Thomas, who not only wrote but sings the song, throws his heart and soul into the song.  Here he is with Matchbox Twenty (not 20.  They changed their name to spell out the number) in 2012, performing the song live.  

15 January 2021

15 January 2021 - The Beatles - Let It Be

We could not end D-A-B-F#-G-D-G-A without including the single most iconic interpretation of the song in the modern era.  The song itself is an absolute masterpiece, as many Lennon/McCartney compositions were - but in this case, Paul got some help from Johann at the beginning.  

McCartney accomplished this chord progression on piano at the beginning of the song in a unique way, however.  His right hand was playing the chords.  His left was playing single notes.

The first four bars of "Let It Be"

Lyrically, the song was imagined during some hard times Paul's parents were having.  It's meant to be a comforting song - and the song nails that.

This particular version is what became the "Naked" version of the song, released in 2003.  This was originally produced by George Martin.

Compare that to the original SINGLE version - not the album version.  The SINGLE version - which was produced by Phil Spector.  We didn't lose the Canon, but we did gain a Wall of Sound.  

14 January 2021

14 January 2021 - Vitamin C - Graduation (Friends Forever)

Colleen Fitzpatrick, better known as Vitamin C, used to be lead vocalist for a band called Eve's Plum, so named after the actress who played Jan Brady on a certain television show.  She did presumably graduate from high school at some point.  

OK, that was weak.   This, however, is a song that got played at a lot of 1990's graduations, much like a song originally composed by Johann Pachelbel around 1680.  Accompanied by the NYC All-City Chorus, the song doesn't just interpret "Canon In D" - it gives the song lyrics.  

I know that I'm being a little flippant about the blatant lifting of "Canon In D" this week, but Colleen Fitzpatrick wrote some heartfelt and reflective lyrics.  They spoke to a lot of people, and even though the music was already written - the message really transcended graduation, despite the title.  

Here she is performing the song on Australian television.  Note that a lot of audience members know the words.

13 January 2021

13 January 2021 - Coolio ft. 40 Thevz - C U When U Get There

Sometimes, chord progressions are subtle.

Sometimes, they're straight up samples.  

Coolio samples Pachelbel's "Canon In D" pretty heavily in this slow jam, a message of peace that still resonates today.  The cellos - probably actually synthesized violins here - are accompanied by a strong bassline that brings a bit of beat to a song that's otherwise calm.

12 January 2021

12 January 2021 - Green Day - Basket Case

This has just turned into the weirdest theme week - or the biggest one for music nerds - we've ever done.

Yesterday, we talked about the famous chord progression of Pachelbel's "Canon In D".  Turns out, there's a lot of songs that use that progression, across many genres - although some do it with more subtlety than Blues Traveler did.

Take Green Day.  People in the YouTube comments like to talk about how it's just three chords.  It isn't.  It's six.  D-A-B-F#-G-D-G-A.   The band's second single from Dookie won them a Grammy and established the band as superstars - but a lot of people missed the homage to the classics.  

Green Day was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, and guess which classical piece they decided to play? 

11 January 2021

11 January 2021 - Blues Traveler - Hook

Despite how cynical this song might song, this is an incredibly positive tune - albeit the angriest one I'll post this month.  I'll explain.  

This song very clearly acknowledges that people are complex, and feel anger, and rage, and sadness, and yet still put on a positive face and push forward.  Yes, absolutely, it's a satire of how hit music is written - the hook truly will bring you back - but it's deeper than that.  The song is an absolute piece of art, because it works on so many levels.   

Now, usually, we talk superficially about the music, and dive deep into the lyrics on these posts.  This one is different, because the genius is just so much better.  When John Popper wrote the song, he took inspiration, and by inspiration, I mean the chord progression, from Pachelbel's "Canon In D".  It isn't anything ground-breaking that he did that - but given how much that song is used at weddings, it adds to the positive vibes of the song.

Now, over on Totally Covered, we have a tremendous cover that mashes the two together. Here, we have a little live music for you.

08 January 2021

8 January 2021 - Pixies - Tony's Theme

As some of you know, I used to be a college radio DJ.  This song opened almost every one of my shows, regardless of format.  (This one closed most of them, as you well know). 
You see, the Pixies were (and are) one of my favorite bands.  And they were formed in Amherst, MA, not too far from where I grew up in Northern CT.  To have one of my favorite bands with a song CLEARLY named after me..... well, there's no way I could pass up the opportunity to use the song, a lot.  

I hope they made a fair bit of money off my incessant plays of the song.  It still makes me smile every time I hear it.  I hope it similarly brings you energy today.

07 January 2021

7 January 2021 - Hole - Beautiful Son

It is crazy to me that we have not yet featured Hole on this blog.

Today, a lot of people think of Courtney Love as Kurt Cobain's crazy wife, but before that, she was something of a musical genius herself.  Her band Hole's first album Pretty On The Inside, released in 1991, was a gothcore classic.   

Yes, I just coined a term.  Use it.

The follow-up to Pretty On The Inside didn't come out until 1994 - ironically just days after Kurt Cobain's death (the release could not be stopped) - to satisfy their fans, Hole released the Beautiful Son EP in 1993.  It was decidedly less dark than its predecessor - and on purpose, as Courtney was trying to be a bit more accessible.  

06 January 2021

6 January 2021 - Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen - No Diggity

(Editor's Note: This post was originally scheduled for tomorrow, but in light of Dr. Dre's brain aneurysm that occurred as of this writing, I decided to move it up a day. I hope I don't have to add a 2nd post today) 

Trivia question:  Which song ended  the epic "Macarena" run at #1 in the United States?

Answer:  This song.

However, it almost didn't happen.  Dr. Dre wrote the beat for Tupac Shakur before Dre extracted himself from Death Row Records and took the beat along with him, selling it to primary songwriter Teddy Riley.  Plus, Blackstreet HATED the song at first - so much so that it took Riley himself performing on the track to convince them to go along.

It's a good thing he did.  This song ended up being their biggest hit and made Blackstreet into household names.  Plus, it's a slammin' new jack jam.  So I'm told.   

05 January 2021

5 January 2021 - Salt - Bluster

Nino Ramsby fronted the Swedish group Salt in the 1990s.  Back then, he was Nina Rambsy, but in 2015, he came out as a transgender man - something he had privately and internally identified as for years.  

None of that matters to the music, which is amazing.  I just wish we had heard more from Salt - this song hit US shores in 1996, and they were broken up a year later.  Ramsby is still a star in Sweden and still making music - his last few albums have been less grunge and more jazz.

At any rate, enjoy this gem.  

04 January 2021

4 January 2021 - Ashlee Simpson - Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)

On a cold day nine years ago, my friend Scott and I were talking about music.  We were DJs at a little radio station called WSBU in the early to mid 1990s, and we shared a love of alternative music at the time.  We were a couple of old punks.   

On this day, we'd find out we shared a love of Ashlee Simpson and other fun poppy music.  And so, I started a blog, with this post - an Ashlee Simpson song.   In fact, this is exactly what I said:
Let's open up this blog with one of the guiltiest pleasure songs ever performed.  It's hard to be bad-ass in argyle, but Ashlee Simpson tries, and pulls it off to some extent.   It's really hard to say "Ashlee Simpson" and "bad-ass" in the same sentence while keeping a straight face.
That was the whole post, people.  I also made this questionable font and design choice for this blog - but in nine years, I haven't bothered to change that.  

I hope 2021 brings us some new Ashlee music, but for now, enjoy her 2007 single that was a chart disappointment but is still entertaining and pokes fun at some of the scandals that plagued Ashlee throughout her career.  

01 January 2021

1 January 2021 - The Primitives - Sick of It

OK, enough positive.  Let's pull out an angry song that speaks PRECISELY to how we feel about 2020.

It's over now.  So enjoy a little nihilism and one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands - who are also really really nice.