31 August 2021

31 August 2021 - Brie Larson - She Said

In 2005, a discouraged actress from Sacramento, CA made an album with a couple of singles that got MTV airplay.  She was 16 at the time, and since this was her only full-length album, it seems early for her career to peak.....

The song itself is pretty standard fair bubblegum pop/rock, but it's earnestly performed.  Larson co-wrote about half the album, but not this song.

OK, let's stop being coy.  We all saw Captain Marvel.  We all saw Avengers: EndgameWe all read this post so we know Brie Larson can sing.  

I said she was 16.  The album was released in October 2005, about two weeks after her 16th birthday, but was originally slated to be released in 2004..... so, do the math, people.  This performance from January 2005 would put this future Academy Award winner at 15.  Her stage presence is a bellweather for the greatness to come.  

30 August 2021

30 August 2021 - Min x Erik ft. Khắc Hưng - Ghen | Ghen Cô Vy

In 2017, Vietnamese artists Min x Erik released a song called "Ghen" to YouTube.  It was a pretty popular song.  Everyone know "Ghen", the Vietnamese word for jealous.  The song was written by Khắc Hưng.  It's a catchy song about... well, jealousy.  

Fast forward to 2020.  The Vietnam National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health (NIOEH) were looking to commission a song that would help Vietnamese people learn how to stop the spread of Coronavirus, as it was called at the time (it became better known as COVID-19).   The timeline to write and record this was short.... so Khắc Hưng just went back to his old catalog and put new lyrics on his well-known song.  Hence, "Ghen Cô Vy", or jealous coronavirus.  

The song and accompanying dance challenge were a worldwide hit.  And who can blame people for loving this?  It's darned catchy.  And, even if you don't know Vietnamese 1) turn on the subtitles, because you'll find it's been translated into many languages 2) the video will give you a good idea as to what's going on here.

Of course, you could also listen to the English translation.

27 August 2021

27 August 2021 - The Minutemen - Corona

Here's a song all your jackasses will surely know.

No, seriously, this song was the theme for the MTV show Jackass.  That opening guitar lick was the perfect one to capture the essence of that show.  

But it's also a very simple protest song about injustice and greed, with d. Boon's guitar riff, George Hurley keeping time, and Mike Watt on the boom stick.  

That's it.  I went econo with this post.

26 August 2021

26 August 2021 - The Police - Synchronicity II

Let's just put this out there.  If you have heard the whole Synchronicity album, you know that there is a song called "Synchronicity I".  Both that song and this one were written by Sting, and he has refused to reveal the connection between the two.  

This song was a worldwide single for The Police, hitting the Top 20 in both the US and UK.  While the video was somewhat post-apocalyptic, the song itself is rooted in Carl Jung;'s theory of (guess what) synchronicity - which rejects chaos and seeks connection between unrelated events.  It remains my favorite Police song, possibly because it is so unlike anything else they ever did.

25 August 2021

25 Aug 2021 - Lionel Richie - All Night Long (All Night)

Lionel Richie left the Commodores to start a solo career.  It turned out to be a great move.  This song, the lead single from his second solo album, was a huge part of making Richie a superstar - even forcing MTV's hand in getting him more airplay, because the Carribean-tinged song was so popular with listeners. 

The song was written by Richie himself.... including the different language piece at about the 2:00 point of the song.  Fun fact: those weren't actually words.  He wanted African lyrics in his song, but didn't have time for a translator, so, well, he made up a bunch of African-sounding words.  

That's right.  He did that.  

The video was produced by Michael Nesmith, who used to be one of the Monkees and ended up being quite the music video pioneer.

24 August 2021

24 August 2021 - deadmau5 & Lights - When The Summer Dies

We're in the waning days of summer, so I felt like this was the day.  

This song from this summer, by two Canadian superstars (including the one that will forever be known around here as #1000), is a real banger.  Let's just start there. The song starts with pretty typical deadmau5 house beats - upbeat, danceable.  The addition of the (God help me for what I am about to say) light (sigh) poppy Lights vocal really sells the song.  It is the summer anthem we needed. 

This song is so cool, there was an official remix released two days after this came out, and it was amazing.  I don't usually share remixes here, but this one is that good.  

(Update: 7 Oct 2021) 'bout time we got an official video, folks.

23 August 2021

23 August 2021 - Big Grams - Fell In the Sun

This is something of a supergroup - a one-off collaboration between Phantogram and Big Boi from Outkast, with Sarah Barthel and Big Boi providing primary vocals and Josh Carter serving as primary producer. 

Big Boi famously accidentally discovered Phantogram when their song "Mouthful of Diamonds" was used in a popup ad he saw, and he immediately started promoting them.  That led to a friendship and professional relationship that included the Big Grams project.  

Did the entire project work?  No, of course not.  It's a weird mix of the distinctive Phantogram electronic sound and Big Boi's signature hip hop.  Where it DID work, like this song, it was sonic gold.  

21 August 2021

21 August 2021 - Kristin Hersh - Sundrops

This is the stepsister I told you about yesterday.  

This performance is from MTV and I remember watching it in 1994 when it first aired.  I was quite excited about the Kristin Hersh debut solo album, Hips and Makers.  You see, her previous band, Throwing Muses, was my favorite (still is), so I was expecting another album like that, maybe with less drums.

Lyrically, that's exactly what it was, but musically, it was far more acoustic-guitar driven.  This song exists in both an original version, which is pretty much Kristin with a guitar, and a "strings" version, which adds a few more, well, strings.  This performance is the former.   

20 August 2021

20 August 2021 - Belly - Now They'll Sleep

Look, I know.  I said yesterday that all the pieces were important.   However, today, we're going to dive a little deeper into one of those pieces.  

That piece is Belly lead vocalist, guitarist, principal songwriter, and postpartum doula Tanya Donelly.  This song, the second single off the band's second album, King, it was co-written with fellow band member Tom Gorman.  

Prior to Belly, Tanya was in a band with her stepsister who shall not be named here because we are talking about Tanya (and who I've written about pretty extensively).  Her songs with Throwing Muses were excellent - her songs with Belly better showcase her unique voice and signature guitar style, an instrument for which she is criminally underrated.  

This song was not terribly commercially successful, but history has been kind to it.  It is a classic power-pop song that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1995.  

19 August 2021

19 August 2021 - The Breeders - When I Was A Painter

So, I know what you are thinking.  I mean, I know what I'm thinking.

There's nothing at all guilty about this pleasure.  

Or, maybe, this isn't the Breeders song I know.  

This song was from their debut album, Pod.   At this point, the band was essentially the trio of women you see here - Josephine Wiggs (of the Perfect Disaster) on bass, the incomparable Tanya Donelly (of Throwing Muses and later Belly) on lead guitar, and Kim Deal (of the Pixies) on vocal.  If you look closely, you'll see fourth member Britt Walford (of the Slint) on drums in the other room. 

This very fuzzy rock song is lesser if you take any of these pieces away.  Without Deal's desperate vocal, Wiggs's perfect bass, or Donelly's distinctive guitar, it's a lesser song.  Together, it was pure magic.   

18 August 2021

18 August 2021 - Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

Boy, isn't it a shame that no one makes good, complex music anymore?

Anyone who knows this blog knows we don't actually believe that.  There is excellent music being created, and Billie Eilish's latest single - released July 30th, from her 2nd album of the same name - is what we'd use as Exhibit A.  It starts off quietly - a cool throwback to 60s vocal-heavy ensembles like The Mamas and The Papas. Getting a real Mama Cass vibe here.  At about the 2:30 mark, it smoothly switches genres to be more of a 90s alternative tribute, before really exploding at the 3:00 mark and ending with a huge sonic deconstuction.

Lyrically, it's not a happy song, despite the title.  Not only is the music complex, but the words express complex emotion - being happier without someone than with them, and articulating that in a way that captures the true range of emotions related to that. 

As with most of her music, this song was co-written by Billie and her brother/producer Finneas.  She's only 19, folks.  She's likely to have a long career ahead of her, and she's ALREADY flexible enough to reinvent herself.

As you do when you are the biggest star on the planet, it is customary to perform your hit songs on late night talk shows.  Which Billie did - last week, on The Tonight Show.  

17 August 2021

17 August 2021 - The GAP Band - You Dropped A Bomb On Me

I was thinking over this past weekend that I had been remiss in posting 80's R&B on this blog.  It's woefully underrepresented, and that's wrong.  

The Wilson Brothers from the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, OK were The GAP Band.  Despite urban legend, this song is not about the 1921 bombing of that neighborhood, but rather about a surprising end to a relationship.  The song WAS considering questionable because of this - and the origin of the band's name, as "GAP" in the bands names came about from the names of the streets where the bombs were actually dropped, Green, Archer, and Pine.

Yeah.  I went dark.  But this song went a different kind of dark - sadness sung over synth.  It ended up sparking one of their biggest hits, hitting the Top 40 on the pop charts and #2 on what was known as the Black Singles chart - and is now the R&B chart - in 1982.  

16 August 2021

16 August 2021 - Sam Phillips - I Need Love

This song, the first single from Sam Phillips's critically acclaimed Martinis and Bikinis album - her 3rd as Sam and 7th overall - was a true departure from her Christian music days.  The line "I need God, not the political church" is really a slap in the face to that world.  However, it's also some of the most critically acclaimed music of her career, and a revelation of what was to come.  

And by a revelation of what was to come, I mean it is said that the photos of Sam used in the album art directly led to her role as a mute terrorist in Die Hard With A Vengeance.  Yep, that was her.  You didn't know that, did you?  You learned something today.

Now listen to this and learn some new good music.  

Did you like that?  Well, here she is performing the song on late night television in 1994. It sounds strange to hear the song without the background vocals (which were also Sam, by the way), but it's also a pure rendition.

14 August 2021

14 August 2021 - Pixies - Isla de Encanta

Story here. 

So when I was younger, I studied Spanish linguistics.  That's true.  One of my classes was about the evolution of the language, and an assignment of ours was to choose a Spanish language song from a different part of the world and run with it - basically dig into the different dialects.

This was the song I chose.  Los Angeles Spanish from a Massachusetts band.  

I was ridiculed because it's a little Spanglishy, but really, that's what LA Spanish IS - there is English mixed into the Spanish.  

Plus, it's a great song.  

13 August 2021

13 August 2021 - Elvis Crespo - Suavemente

I guess this kind of turned into a thing.  Well, it is a good thing.  This has been a great music week.  

You know what else is great?  This 1998 single by Elvis Crespo, which actually crossed over onto the English-language pop charts for a couple of weeks.  For many, this was the first introduction to the horn-heavy merengue style.  For Elvis Crespo, this was his debut solo single, having been a member of a couple of Puerto Rican merengue ensembles prior to this.   

On a personal note, this is one of my very favorite songs in any language.  It is not remarkable lyrically (he's asking a girl to kiss him.  A lot) or musically (it's merengue), but together, it is a fun, energetic song.  By the end of the song, you're going to be singing "Besándome otra vez" too!

For now, sit back and enjoy this great tune, and try not to dance.

12 August 2021

12 August 2021 - Ritchie Valens - La Bamba

I really am not doing a thing here.   I just want to put it out there.  This classic song wasn't completely written by Richie Valens. But it's not a cover.  He took a traditional Mexican folk song and set them to a rock line - that he, at his very young age, wrote himself.  

The song was to #22 on the pop charts in 1958.  He died in February 1959, in a plane crash with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, aged 17 - so he was younger than that when he wrote this simple but perfect verse-chorus-verse rock song.

Now, what Los Lobos did when they took the song to #1 on the pop charts - THAT was a cover.

11 August 2021

11 August 2021 - Carlos Vives & Shakira - La Bicicleta

I promise you there are no plans for a weekly theme here.  But when Columbian superstars Carlos Vives and Shakira collaborate on a song that they cowrote and put on BOTH of their albums, I can't ignore that.  

The song, which was decades in the making, musically pays tribute to their native Columbia - bringing in many elements of Columbia traditional music.  The lyrics do as well - it is absolutely about a bicycle ride, but it's a nostalgic trip through their hometowns - a sweet, reflective song.   The video reflects the locales mentioned in the lyrics, as the two of them bicycle through their respective hometowns seeking out dance battles.   As you do.  

10 August 2021

10 August 2021 - Julieta Venegas - Todo Está Aquí

I mean, she's got albums besides Limón y Sal.  She's got a lot of them.  

I've been talking for years about the unsung greatness of Julieta Venegas - which I stand by.  I mean, it's not really unsung - she's got a Grammy (for Limón y Sal, to be fair) and six Latin Grammys sitting on her shelf.  One of those Latin Grammys was for Algo Sucede, the 2015 album from which this song is taken. 

The song itself is a simple love song - talking about the happiness of love and how you really need nothing else.  Because, well, everything is here.  It is brilliantly written and performed.

Julieta herself is multiinstrumental.  The original version of this song was, of course, piano-centered.  However, that doesn't mean she can't perform it on guitar, too.

OK, I feel better now.  

10 August 2021 - Julieta Venegas - Limón Y Sal

Don't worry.  We're not doing a Spanish week.  We ARE going to post Julieta Venegas whenever she pops up on our radar, though, because she is a delight, and she DID when we started writing yesterday's post - because, of course, all Spanish-language artists are the same, right?

Wrong.  Really, really wrong.  

This song, the title song from her Grammy Award-winning hit album of the same name from 2006, deals with the acceptance of a loved one for everything they are - the good and the bad - fitting in thematically with the whole album's theme of the ups and downs of relationships.

That's right, English speakers.  These theme exist in songs in other languages.  And few write them better than Julieta Venegas.  She has forged a quiet and understated, yet very successful, career writing thoughtful music in Spanish - and, thirty years into her career, continues to do so.  

She also continues to perform this song.  Here she is, on piano in 2000, giving a heartfelt rendition of the tune in a live performance to a pandemic-driven empty room.  I haven't mentioned here that she's multiinstrumental (I did here) but, she's multiinstrumental.  

09 August 2021

9 August 2021 - Mala Rodríguez - La Niña

I had to go ahead and just use all the special characters in this one.  

You see, this was a breakthrough single for Mala Rodríguez in Spain, but Spanish TV banned this video.  Something about a child as a drug dealer didn't sit well with the censors.  However, that's what the song is about - a kid who wants to be a drug dealer like her dad.  

I've said it before - people aren't used to a girl from Sevilla being so in-your-face with hip hop and talking about such taboo subjects - and so brilliantly. 

This song is from 2003.  So many years later, La Mala still performs it.  Here she is in April, taking a break from her yoga content on Twitter, to perform the song live.  Her performance at 42 is a little more laid back and subtle than at 24, but it's still epic and powerful, painting a colourful picture.  

06 August 2021

6 August 2021 - Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi

I had SO MUCH material for #MapleLeafMarch that I literally posted every day - and we rarely do weekend posts here - and even double posted for a couple of days.

I STILL have material.

Maybe I should make it an annual thing.  Hmmmm.....

I somehow didn't get to Joni Mitchell, from Fort Macleod, Alberta. That's right.  She's not only from Canada, she's from the part of Canada that 90% of the country doesn't live in.  Clearly, she is a legend - winning many Grammys and Juno Awards.  This song, from 1970, was one of her first hit singles, and it's a cheery-sounding song that actually decries the suburban sprawl that was happening at the time.  It is still one of her best-known songs, and the message still resonates, more than a half century later.  

That's right.  Joni Mitchell has been making music for more than a half century.  She's slowed down in her late 70's - largely due to a brain aneurysm rupture she suffered in 2015 - but she has not stopped.

05 August 2021

5 August 2021 - Blake Babies - Out There

Growing up, the Blake Babies were one of my very favorite bands.   And, well, the solo stuff that came out of that band - the Lemonheads, Antenna, of course Juliana Hatfield, Some Girls - that was all excellent, but I always felt the Blake Babies ended too soon.

I was lucky enough to see the band live once, at the Iron Horse Cafe, where they performed this song but did cut their set short because 3/4 of the place left after fans of their opening act didn't stick around.  Which is a shame, because I loved the show and made sure I told all of them I did.  Freda Love (their drummer) was super nice.  

Anyway, this was their first "big budget" video, and this is what they did.  It got them some MTV airplay, anyway.  The song itself was co-written by Hatfield and guitarist John Strohm and reads like the aspirational dreams of a painfully shy person - so I relate.   

In early 2020, by pure chance (and by pure chance, I mean that Freda Love's band was opening for Juliana Hatfield in John Strohm's hometown), the band reunited for this song.  They had lost NOT a single beat.

04 August 2021

4 August 2021 - Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion

Classic music videos for songs released in 1975 don't often exist.  

But then again, the male protagonist in this video would have been 1 in 1975.....

The song peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100, making this the first top 40 hit for the band and kicking off a string of hit songs.  I'm not going to talk about that.  I'm going to talk about the drums.  Now, you hardcore musicians know that, in a song in 4/4 time, the drum usually hits on the 2nd and 4th beat.  In this song, it hits on 1 and 3.  It's upside down, and it works, brilliantly.  

The band broke up in the early 1980's but reformed in the mid 1980's and enjoyed a resurgence, leading to a release of this single, alongside this video, in 1991.  

All these years later, the band still tours and still brings high energy.  Here they are in a 2011 performance.  Joe Perry's unusual background vocal is more pronounced here.

03 August 2021

3 August 2021 - Moby - Honey

Sure, this is probably the second best known song by Moby, and it was released three years after I saw him live, which means he didn't perform the song. 

This song is pretty heavily reliant on a sample - "Sometimes" by Bessie Jones - to the point that the the writers of that song are listed as co-writers on "Honey".  It is very clearly Bessie Jones singing all the lyrics on this song.  A later remix of the song included vocals from Kelis, but Jones is still central to the song.  It doesn't exist without her.

To his credit, Moby adds a lot to the samples with his forte, and that's electronic music.  

02 August 2021

2 August 2021 - Madonna - Beautiful Stranger

On days when we run out of ideas, we post about Madonna.

But she has had such a long career and so many guilty pleasures.   So it's hard to avoid her.  

Maybe we should have made her a Hall of Famer, instead.  Oh well. 

This song is from the soundtrack of the movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and ended up being a pretty big worldwide hit.  Ironically, because we were entering a digital era that the Billboard Charts had not yet accounted for, this song only reached #19 in the US, but that was WITHOUT single sales, which were a large aspect of the chart at the time.  It was a much bigger hit in almost every other country.

On a personal note, I've been a fan of Madonna since her first album, and this was a high water mark for her, in my view.

The song has become something of a staple of hers live, even to this day. Madonna does not alter her voice much in studio (and it's a little on the huskier side so hitting notes isn't usually an issue).

01 August 2021

1 August 2021 - The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star

40 years ago, at 12:01am on August 1, 1981, a new cable television station went on the air.  That channel was, of course, Music Television, or MTV, for short.  

You remember.

Famously, this was the very first video played on MTV.  Although a 1979 release by Trevor Horn's project, The Buggles, it did have a small resurgence in 1981 because of this.  

Technically, we posted this on the wrong blog.  Here's why I'm giving it a pass.   It was written by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, and Bruce Wooley - who were The Buggles.   Wooley left to form Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club and released his version of the song FIRST.  It's not the only song he took, but in the end, the Buggles version persisted.

Here is the Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club version of the song.  The recording features another "one-hit wonder", Thomas Dolby, on keyboard. 

Trevor Horn is still making music.  Here he is with his band The Producers in 2014, performing the hit that made Trevor Horn a worldwide star.   He's showing a bit more expression in this performance......