Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mary Chapin Carpenter : Grow Old with Me

Grow old with me
The best is yet to be

"Grow Old with Me" is a tune penned by John Lennon.  He never really made an official recording of it, but it showed up on his posthumous 1984 album, Milk and Honey.  John was never really about the love songs.  Not like Paul.  Or even George.  He was a cynical bastard with shitty parents.  At five, they forced him to choose between them, and he ended up with his mom, who a year later gave him to her sister.  Most of his songs betray those never-healing wounds.  They're full of the anger and condescension of a hurt little boy who suddenly finds himself with a megaphone and a world stage to shout from.  But then, something weird happened.  He grew up.  Maybe it was just his getting older, maybe it was his deep, loving relationship with Yoko Ono, but half his songs after the Beatles broke up are simple  paeans to love.  "Jealous Guy", "Beautiful Boy", "(Just Like) Starting Over", "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)".  Sure there's still some cynicism, but it's tempered through the lens of peace and love, less angry than bemused and bewildered at the idiocy of a world's populace that is so eager to destroy itself.

"Grow Old with Me" as recorded by John is a horribly produced song.  He clearly recorded it on an old Radio Shack tape recorder that was completely in another room under a pillow or something, because it sounds awful.  It's dressed up with the worst kind of schlocky strings and orchestra you can imagine, and is just by all accounts horrible.  Had I heard that song alone, I would have skipped past it after the first few seconds.

But props to Mary Chapin Carpenter, another of those "country" artists who are about as country as Michael Bolton.  She digs it out, strips it down, shines it up, and offers a beautiful little diamond in the rough.  With her simple (though slightly sappy) orchestration, she allows the song itself, the lyrics and melody, to shine through.  And shine it does.

This one is dedicated to my wife of 14 years.  God bless our love.

"Grow Old with Me" is from Mary Chapin Carpenter's 1999 release, Party Doll and Other Favorites.  The original can be found on John Lennon's posthumous Milk and Honey.

[You can listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Grow Old with Me" by navigating to the post "Song101" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bikini Machine : Monkey Bum Bum Boogie

Okay, aside from having one awesome song name, what does this song have going for it? Well, first of all, it's by Bikini Machine, a French band named for the titular contraption in the camp flick Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. There's not much on the interwebs about them, alas, but they do have a few albums out. Their sound is electronic-oriented dance rock, similar to Hot Chip, but they lean more towards the pop spectrum.

"Monkey Bum Bum Boogie" is a nifty slice of dance rock about, well, doing the monkey bum bum boogie I suppose. It's got a groovy little backbeat, reminiscent of the 60's, with a bit of organ mixed in with the rock guitars. The vocals echo 60's-style funky R&B, with an almost Temptations-like delivery. But even with its retro trappings, it's decidedly modern, draped in swathes of electronica and wrapped in the production styles of today. You could easily toss this on at an underground rave or a Northern Soul rave-up. It'd fit either nicely.

"Monkey Bum Bum Boogie" can be found on Bikini Machine's debut release, 2003's An Introduction to Bikini Machine. Being French and not particular popular, their discs are tough to find, but Amazon has a couple. It's a great, fun record, just in time for summer.

And with that, song #100, I leave you temporarily.  I love sharing music, but this writing thing, while fun, is starting to push other more important things aside, so I'm going to set it aside for a while.  Once summer seriously kicks in, I would like to get back to it, because I do enjoy it.  But I gotta stop & catch up on some other stuff first.  Thanks for listening.

[You can listen to Bikini Machine's "Monkey Bum Bum Boogie" by navigating to the post "Song100" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Broken (Again)

Well, it looks like my file host is still down.  It's been down all day and dropped a little earlier this week. I can only hope it comes up soon.  Meanwhile, the articles will continue and I'll post the songs as soon as I am able.

The Puppini Sisters : We Have All the Time in the World

The Puppini Sisters are a vocal team (not actually sisters, although one is actually named Puppini) who perform swing music with close vocal harmonies, much like the Andrews Sisters and other similar acts. They perform all sorts of tunes, from old swing standards like "In the Mood" to more modern tunes like "Heart of Glass", "Walk Like an Egyptian" and "Crazy in Love", as well as some originals.

"We Have All the Time in the World", originally sung by Louis Armstrong, was written by John Barry for the soundtrack to On His Majesty's Secret Service. The lyrics were penned by Hal David, who was the other half of the classic Bacharach/David songwriting machine.  The song is played over the closing credits of the movie as James Bond cradles his dead wife, so in the movie there's a sort of sad irony to the lyrics.  But it's a gorgeous song with a lush melody that expertly straddles the line between joy and pathos. 

Here the sisters turn this hidden gem into a slow, stilted cabaret-style waltz in a surprising 5/4.  The song is primarily scored with an acoustic jazz trio, but it starts and ends with some plaintive accordion and is enveloped in the middle with sumptuous strings.  And of course they bring their gorgeous voices to bear on some exquisite harmonies which you won't find on the original, but which send the song truly soaring.

You can find "We Have All the Time in the World" on the Puppini Sisters' most recent release, 2007's The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo. Everything I've heard off this album has been top notch, and it's at the top of my "to buy" list.

[You can listen to The Puppini Sisters' "We Have All the Time in the World" by navigating to the post "Song099" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

José Feliciano : Golden Lady

A touch of rain and sunshine made the flowers grow
Into a lovely smile that's blooming
And it's so clear to me that you're a dream come true

Stevie Wonder is pretty good. I don't think he's quite the genius everyone works him up to be, as he has a lot of output. He has put a lot of song to tape. And while some of it is fantastic ("Sir Duke" for example), a lot of it is just boring, or worse, crappy. "Golden Lady" is not one of those songs. "Golden Lady" is a fantastic love song, nothing fancy but funky and cheerful. It's purely celebratory.

We've discussed José Feliciano in passing earlier in this blog. Aside from penning the ultra-mega-super Christmas hit, "Feliz Navidad", and of course the excellent theme to "Chico and the Man", hit the charts primarily with his covers. He usually brought a nice casual latin groove with his fabulously expressive voice and simple acoustic guitar.

His take on Stevie's "Golden Lady" is no exception. He brings his trademark latin flair to the original, taking a great song to the next level. Where Stevie's tribute to his woman was a laid back affair, José injects a passion that crescendos throughout the entire piece. By the end, there's no doubt how he feels about his woman.

I'm dedicating this one to my woman, with heaven in her eyes.

"Golden Lady" is from José's 1974 release, And the Feeling's Good, which was literally just re-released. My copy came from the most excellent most excellent compilation, As We Travel: Folk Funk Flavours & Ambient Soul, which also gave me the song from American Gypsy and several other amazing tunes.

[You can listen to José Feliciano's cover of Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady" by navigating to the post "Song098" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Genesis : Mama

Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, leaving Phil Collins to captain the ship. As time went by, even with Phil embarking on a solo career in 1981 (not to mention Mike + the Mechanics stepping out in '85), he still managed to keep the band together, selling albums and getting them into the charts. They released their self-titled album in '83, right as MTV was really catching on.

"Mama" is an example of a style which I think Phil borrowed heavily from Peter's 1980 "melting face" album*. You can see Phil's first experiment with it in the intro to the classic "In the Air Tonight" in 1981. He followed it up by producing Frida's "I Know There's Something Going On" and then his own "I Don't Care Anymore" in 1982.  All of these songs are propelled by an incessant, heavy, electronic groove and layered with brooding moody synths, building slowly to a crescendo as the song progresses. The lyrical content is generally dark as well, further adding to the atmosphere.

"Mama" is no exception.  It starts slow and heavy, slowly building up as the band adds layers of sound to the beat, including Phil's own drumming, and his vocals become more and more ragged and insistent. The lyrics are all about 'pain', 'heat' and 'steam', which lend to the general creepiness, as do the weird little laughs and moans Phil drops in.  Of course, the fact that throughout the entire song the singer is begging someone named 'Mama' not to leave him, only further ups the Norman Bates feel.  Apparently, the song's about a young man's fixation with a prostitute.  News to me, but it's still plenty creepy without knowing that.

"Mama" can be found on Genesis' 1983 self-titled release.  This album has the distinction of being one of the first physical CDs I ever owned, along with Hot Rocks by The Rolling Stones and Abbey Road by The Beatles.  My dad bought them for me, along with a little CD boombox, as a going-off-to-college gift, except he liked Abbey Road so much, he kept it for himself.  It's okay, don't worry, I've since bought my own copy.

*Trivia: He made the melting face by taking a Polaroid snapshot of himself and smooshing the goop around inside it with an eraser before it developed. Try it at home kids!

[You can listen to Genesis' "Mama" by navigating to the post "Song097" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Red Hot Chili Peppers : Nobody Weird Like Me

Back before the Red Hot Chili Peppers lost their cojones under the bridge, they were a pretty fierce funk-punk alternative radio standard.  When Mother's Milk came out in 1989, it was still two years before Nirvana would shatter the Billboard charts (thanks to SoundScan) and bring hard rock back into vogue as a potential revenue stream.  At the time I was just discovering the college radio scene (having just gone to college and all) and was listening to Nothing's Shocking, Disintegration and Hunkpapa on heavy rotation.  (I didn't discover the Pixies until much later.)  Mother's Milk fell right into the mix.

"Nobody Weird Like Me" is a great example of the crosscutting of funk and punk the band was famous for.  It begins with a hyperactive funk bass line, hammered out by Flea in quadruple time.  It's quickly joined by jackhammer drums and a metal-ish rock riff.  The song careens along at full pace, highlighted by Anthony Kiedis' rock-rap vocals and intermittent vocoder exclamations, until it culminates in an explosion that peters out into a slow funk groove for the remaining minute or so of the song.  Blam.

"Nobody Weird Like Me" appears on the Red Hot Chili Pepper's 1989 release, Mother's Milk.

[You can listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Nobody Weird Like Me" by navigating to the post "Song096" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Century

Well, the blog is coming up on a century of posts, with the big 100 looming just around the corner.  In order to celebrate, I thought I'd open up the floor to you all, my faithful readers, and let you choose a few new tracks to post.  I'm always open to specific suggestions, of bands or tracks, but I thought to celebrate the centennial I'd like to ask you all, of the 100 previous posts, were there any artists you'd like to hear more of?

Then I'd post supplemental posts with different songs from those artists.

Let me know in the comments what you think and who you'd like to hear more from.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Bubble Puppy : Hot Smoke & Sassafras

Heh. Bubble Puppy. Bubble Puppy hails from the great state of Texas, home to such rock legends as ZZ Top and The 13th Floor Elevators. In 1969 they committed "Hot Smoke & Sassafras" to vinyl and managed to score a Top 20 pop hit with it. They followed it up with an album that failed to go anywhere and promptly folded.

But, aside from the obvious appeal of the name of both band and song, the tune itself is pretty great. It lands pretty squarely in the hard psychedelic rock genre, somewhere between Yes and Jimi Hendrix. Or maybe Cream. There are nice hard blues-rock riffs with slightly aggressive rhythm change-ups, copious use of stereo panning and sweet sweet vocal harmonies.  There's even a nice little rocking breakdown in the middle and the lyrics are gloriously dopey. 

I first learned of Bubble Puppy while reading the rock bible, Rock and the Pop Narcotic, by Joe Carducci.  In it, Joe tries to breakdown what makes rock rock and why that is different than pop.  I once got into a debate over whether Van Morrison was "classic rock". If you know the answer (and it's not "yes"*) or consider yourself a true die-hard rock music fan, you must read this book.

You can find "Hot Smoke & Sassafras" on Bubble Puppy's 1969 release, A Gathering of Promises. It really is a great little song and it's sad it hasn't seen more play.

* This fellow was trying to tell me that "Brown-Eyed Girl" was classic rock.  Van Morrison is classic and has some amazing tunes, but he doesn't rock, pretty much ever, unless you are talking about his stint with the awesome Them, in which case, he did fucking rock. 

[You can listen to Bubble Puppy's "Hot Smoke & Sassafras" by navigating to the post "Song095" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Four Tet : Twenty Three

Four Tet is Kieran Hebdan, an electronic music artist who crafts ambient-feeling abstracts by melding basic beats with low-key instruments and concrete sounds, prefering to lace his tunes with acoustic guitar and clacking computer keyboards rather than bombastic synths. His works, at least on his early albums, are very relaxed but they refuse to fade into the background.

"Twenty Three" is off what I thought was his first album, but is actually his second. It's a pretty straightforward piece, kicking off with a variety of wind chimes. As the song progresses he adds in bits of sound, layering acoustic guitar, a chiming organ, a nice trumpet and a smooth backbeat. Plus there's the only vocal on the entire album which is just somebody going 'tok tok'. It serves as a rhythmic counterpoint to the beat, but the oddness of it, especially against the otherwise organic and flowing sounds, is really arresting. This juxtaposition is what pulls the piece up from a simple exercise in new wave environmental records to something interesting and worth hearing again and again. I think you could even toss it into mix for a dancefloor crowd.

The whole album is pretty good and is a pleasant listen to late in the evening. You can find "Twenty Three" on Kieran's post-debut album, 2001's Pause.

[You can listen to Four Tet's "Twenty Three" by navigating to the post "Song094" and clicking or right-clicking on the title or the link.]