Song of the Week – Criminal, Fiona Apple

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When Fiona Apple sings “I’ve been a bad, bad girl,” I believe her.  The opening line from her 1997 hit, “Criminal”, is chilling.  Then she goes on…

I’ve been careless with a delicate man
And it’s a sad, sad world
When a girl will break a boy
Just because she can

That’s downright scary!!!  As is the chorus:

What I need is a good defense
Cause I’m feelin’ like a criminal
And I need to be redeemed
To the one I’ve sinned against
Because he’s all I ever knew of love

The song’s wicked sexy lyrics have a wicked sexy musical vibe to go with it.  (The controversial, official video is pretty sexy too.)  The opening bass groove sounds like a carnival version of Albert King’s blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

The jazzy romp builds to a lyrical climax, then continues for almost 2 more minutes with an Egyptian motif on organ and some dissonant chords banged out on the piano.  A very cool way to bring it all back down.

“Criminal” won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Last year Apple announced she would donate the royalties she earns from “Criminal” to  While They Wait, a social service agency that helps immigrants and refugees applying for asylum or other legal relief.

Enjoy… until next week.

The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee

Singer Steve Martin Caro has passed. Read an obit.
I spent a couple of days in Miami back in the 70s with a friend, visiting a woman who said this song was written about her. I had my first Cuban sandwich that week, too. I’ve always wondered why it wasn’t the Lefte Banke? EDIT: This Wikipedia entry suggests my friend’s friend wasn’t being truthful. Or was mistaken.

Song of the Week – Bastille Day, Rush

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Today’s SotW was drafted last night after I learned that Neil Peart, of Rush, died earlier this week, on January 7th.  Now I have to confess, Rush is NOT one of my favorite bands.  But I respect what they contributed to the history of progressive rock music and I especially respect Peart’s mastery of the drums and his knack for writing intellectual lyrics.

Today’s SotW is “Bastille Day,” Peart’s tribute to the event that kicked off the French Revolution.

Rush – Bastille Day

Some of the song’s lyrics are as relevant today as they were when Peart wrote them in 1975.

There’s no bread, let them eat cake
There’s no end to what they’ll take
Flaunt the fruits of noble birth
Wash the salt into the earth

Lessons taught but never learned.
All around us anger burns.
Guide the future by the past.
Long ago the mold was cast.

Peart was known for using an elaborate drum kit.  And he used it to its fullest extent.

He died of glioblastoma (brain cancer) at the age of 67, in California.

So, here’s to Neil Peart – drummer, lyricist, novelist and father.  May he rest in peace.

Enjoy… until next week.

Link: Contemporary Music Archive

There is this place in Soho, in New York City, that has more than three million vinyl records for reference by researchers and movie studios and whatever. Really.

They’re being priced out because it’s valuable space and old records aren’t returning the $ per square foot that’s possible. So, the Times wrote about this. Good, interesting story. But here’s the deal. Why is this massive collection housed in NYC, where rents are big. That’s legacy thinking. My advice, send the albums to Pennsylvania somewhere, or the Catskills, and have a smaller public facing NYC exhibition space to draw folks in.

Everything worthwhile doesn’t have to be huge. It just needs enough support to sustain. And since Mr. George built a little bit of his fortune on records, here’s a great one (though not rock):

Wendy James, London’s Brilliant

I wrote about Ellen Foley’s very excellent Spirit of St. Louis, an album of her boyfriend Mick Jones’s songs, some written with Joe Strummer. And most of it played by the Clash as her backing band. Some will disagree about the excellent part. Another odd collection is Wendy James’s debut elpee, Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears, from 1993. James was the singer in a new wavey band called Transvision Vamp that I don’t really know. After that band broke up she somehow ended up recording a solo elpee with all the songs written by Elvis Costello, some with his then wife Cait O’Riordan. Like Spirit of St. Louis, this is odd music that veers from punky riffs, to rock, to artsy new wave, and like Spirit of St. Louis, I find it very captivating.

London’s Brilliant, like many of the songs, appears to be self-referential, a song for James to sing that also describes her place in the rock world at the time the record was made. It is one of those co-written by O’Riordan. And perhaps I should warn you that it totally cops (and admits to copping) the guitar riff of Clash City Rockers.

Melody Maker has an excellent profile of James on the record’s release, that touches on many of the issues. Seems like Costello never met her. She sent him a letter asking him to write one song.

Song of the Week – Only the Strong Survive, Jerry Butler

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‘60s soul man, Jerry Butler, earned the nickname “Ice Man” for his cool, baritone vocals.  He began his recording career with Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions in 1958, but quickly quit that group for a solo career.

By 1968, Butler found himself on Mercury records, working with writers/producers Gamble and Huff, later of Philadelphia International fame.  They helped Butler reach his apex with The Iceman Cometh album.  It contained two of Butler’s best known recordings – “Hey, Western Union Man,” and today’s SotW, “Only the Strong Survive.”

“Only the Strong Survive” reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Black Singles chart in early 1969.  It is another in the long line of songs whose message resonated as a ‘60s civil rights anthem.

The spoken word intro (similar to Clarence Carter’s “Patches”) offers mama’s words of wisdom:

I remember my first love affair
Somehow or another the whole darn thing went wrong
My mama had some great advice
So I thought I’d put it into words of this song
I can still hear her sayin’

But the payoff is in the chorus, where mama’s message goes beyond how to deal with a break up.  It is a more universal life’s lesson.

Only the strong survive
Only the strong survive
You’ve got to be a man, you’ve got to take a stand
So I’m telling you right now only the strong survive
Only the strong survive
Hey, you’ve got to be strong, you’d better hold on

Elvis Presley released his popular version of the song on his 1969 long player, From Elvis In Memphis.  That’s the one that also included the hit “In the Ghetto.”

The Iceman is the perfect companion for a dark winter’s day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – New Year’s Eve, Van Doren

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One of the “best albums you’ve never heard” is Are You Serious? (1977), by Van Duren.  Especially if you are a power pop fan (as I am).  There isn’t a self-respecting list of the greatest power pop albums of all time that doesn’t include Are You Serious?.  But that should be no surprise given that Doren came from the same Memphis scene that birthed Big Star.

The smart, pop of the tracks on Are You Serious? will remind you of Duren’s contemporary, Emitt Rhodes.  And like Rhodes, Duren played most of the instruments on the album — in fact pretty much everything except drums.

So the date on the calendar compels me to choose “New Year’s Eve” as today’s SotW. But YouTube only has a link to the whole album, so here it is!

It’s a love song that recounts a relationship that starts at a teenage New Year’s Eve party.

The rest of the album is equally as infectious and should be auditioned by all SotW readers.

Duren followed up his debut with another fine record – Idiot Optimism.  But due to some shady business involving his recording studio owner and producer, Scientology, and bad luck, Idiot Optimism languished in the vaults until it was finally released in 1999, 20 years after it was finished!

A documentary was released this year called Waiting: The Van Duren Story.  It was made by two Australians — Wade Jackson and Greg Carey – who discovered Are You Serious? and wanted to learn the story about the album’s obscurity and Duren’s abandoned career.  They tracked down Duren and convinced him to cooperate with their project.

I haven’t seen it yet.  It’s not currently screening anywhere, isn’t streaming on Netflix and isn’t for sale on DVD.  But I will watch it as soon as it is available.

Enjoy… until next week.