Song of the Week – Ozark & This Is Not America, Lyle Mays

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Keyboard player, and long-time collaborator with Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays died on February 10th.

Although I never saw the Pat Metheny Group, of which Mays was a key player, I did see Mays, Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker in Providence, RI on August 27, 1979, as members of Joni Mitchell’s touring band on the Shadows and Light tour.

I bought the first Pat Metheny Group album, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, an album that featured songs that were all co-written by Mays and Metheny.  The first SotW is “Ozark” from that 1981 album.

I selected this track because it features Mays unique keyboard style.

In 1985, Mays and Metheny worked with David Bowie to write “This Is Not America” for the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman

That song is based on a Pat Metheny Group instrumental called “Chris” (also included on the soundtrack) for which Bowie wrote lyrics.  The song reached the Top 40 on the Billboard charts.

Mays won 11 Grammys and received 23 nominations in his professional career that ended in 2011, when he pivoted to a career as a software consultant.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Somebody That I Used to Know, Gotye; Don’t You Want Me, Human League; I Never Talk to Strangers, Tom Waits; You Don’t Know Me, Ben Folds; July, Noah Cyrus ft. Leon Bridges

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Happy Valentines!

Back in 2011, Gotye had a surprise, viral hit with “Somebody That I Used to Know.”  In fact, it went on to win a Grammy for Record of the Year.

One of the features of the song that made it so appealing was the conversational nature of the lyrics.

He said:

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

She said:

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

This brought to mind another song that is structured around a dialog between two lovers – “Don’t You Want Me,” by Human League.

He said:

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.

She said:

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you
The five years we have had have been such good at times
I still love you
But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own
I guess it’s just what I must do

The more I thought about this format, the more similarly arranged songs came to mind.  One of my long time favorites is the Tom Waits/Bette Midler duet, “I Never Talk to Strangers.”  This one takes place in a dive bar.

He said:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one
But I feel as though we’ve met before
Perhaps I am mistaken

She said:

But it’s just that I remind you of
Someone you used to care about
Oh, but that was long ago
Now tell me, do you really think I’d fall for that old line
I was not born just yesterday
Besides, I never talk to strangers anyway

Another, more obscure track that uses this ploy is “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben Folds and Regina Spektor.

This one is a little different.  Ben carries the dialog with Regina just making side comments.

He said (she said):

So, what I’m trying to say is
What (What?)
I’m trying to tell you
It’s not gonna come out like I wanna say it cause I know you’ll only change it.
(Say it.)

You don’t know me at all
(You don’t know me)
You don’t know me at all (at all)

This design was built to last.  The most recent song that fits this lyrical device is the late summer 2019 release, “July,” by Noah Cyrus (Miley’s sister) remixed into a duet with Leon Bridges.

She said:

I’ve been holding my breath
I’ve been counting to ten
Over something you said
I’ve been holding back tears
While you’re throwing back beers
I’m alone in bed

He said:

Feels like a lifetime
Just tryna get by
While we’re dying inside
I’ve done a lot of things wrong
Loving you being one
But I can’t move on

There are surely many more songs in this “genre” – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Petty/Nicks) comes to mind.  What can you come up with?

So that’s my opposite Valentine!  It’s the best I could do.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – It’s Her Factory, Gang of Four

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This weekend marks the 12th anniversary of the Song of the Week.  Thank you for all of your encouragement and support over the years.

Andy Gill, guitarist and vocalist for the post-punk band Gang of Four, died on February 1st, exactly one month past his 64th birthday.

In his book ranters & crowd pleasers, rock critic Greil Marcus describes seeing Gill in concert:

“Dressed blandly in jeans and a shirt buttoned to the neck, with piercing eyes and a stoic face, he is a performer of unlikely but absolute charisma: his smallest movements are charged with absurd force.  He holds himself as if he’s seen it all and expects worse.  He communicates above all a profound sense of readiness.”

The music of Gang of Four isn’t for everybody, but I dig it for the same reasons I dig music by Pere Ubu (also not for everyone) – because it is intellectually challenging.  So, today’s SotW is for Gill.  “It’s Her Factory” was originally released as the B-side of the “At Home He’s a Tourist” single.  I first heard it on the Yellow EP (1980) which was a 4 song, vinyl release of outtakes and B-sides.  It was later included as a bonus cut on the 1995 CD edition of Entertainment!

“… Factory” is very typical of Gang of Four.  The guitar is as sharp as shards of broken glass.  The melodica is spikey and dissonant.  The lyrics are confrontational – in this case, a commentary on our patriarchal society.

Items daily press views to suppress
Subject story on the front page suffering from suffrage
Title unsung heroine of Britain position to attain
Housewife heroines addicts to their homes
It’s her factory it’s her duty it’s her factory
Paternalist journalist
He gives them sympathy because they’re not men
Scrubbing floors they’re close to the earth
In a man’s world they’re not men
In a man’s world because they’re not men x4
In a man’s world in a man’s world
A little of a lot keeps them happy
Avoid the answers but keep them snappy
That’s all

Gang of Four never achieved massive commercial success.  Their biggest “hit” was “I Love a Man in a Uniform” (1982).  But true to their name, their approach to the rock music of the late 70s/early 80s was like a coup d’état and had a profound influence on many of today’s indie rock bands.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Deeper Well, David Olney

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Michael Paquette.  Michael and I have known each other for over 40 years.  Our friendship has been based, in large part, over our mutual love of music.  When he was in college at Brandeis University, he had a radio show called Excuse Me While I Play The Blues that incorporated music by some of the great artists that inhabited the Austin music scene he experienced and enjoyed when he lived there in the late seventies.  He still finds the time to go to shows and favors folk and Americana.  That will be clear when you read his post.

David Olney was a Nashville singer-songwriter for nearly five decades.  He passed away on January 18th while on stage in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  He was a giant among the musicians in the Nashville scene.  “As soon as he moved into a room, he had a charisma that I would liken to Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Oh, Olney’s here,” said musician/journalist Peter Cooper. He was admired by the brilliant songwriter Townes Van Zandt.  Even the Rolling Stones were compelled to attend one of his shows. His songs were covered by many renowned artists including Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle, Del McCoury, and Slaid Cleaves.

Olney’s songs always make you feel something — sorrow, nostalgia or just the need to smile.  This song, “Deeper Well,” that was covered by Emmylou Harris on her transcendent 1995 release Wrecking Ball, is a dark and dirge-like composition performed here with Blair Hogan.

The “deeper well” in this song appears as the young man who seeks love in a deep, dark place.  It could also be a metaphor for making a deal with Satan in exchange for the inspiration for his music, much like Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil Blues.”

Well, I did it for kicks and I did it for faith
I did it for lust and I did it for hate
I did it for need and I did it for love
Addiction stayed on tight like a glove
So I ran with the moon and I ran with the night
And the three of us were a terrible sight
Nipple to the bottle, to the gun, to the cell
To the bottom of a hole of a deeper well

On the night he died, Olney was performing on stage with Amy Rigby.  She wrote on her Facebook page that “he stopped, apologized and shut his eyes. He was very still, sitting upright with his guitar on, wearing the coolest hat and a beautiful rust suede jacket…”  But he wasn’t sleeping.  An attempt was made to revive him, but he just drifted off.  Olney was 71.  A gentle and well-loved soul, the world has lost a great one whose music still inspires.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Little Bit O Soul, The Music Explosion; The Little Darlings; The Ramones

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Today’s SotW is the next installment of the Evolution Series.  Let’s start with the most popular version of the garage classic, “A Little Bit O Soul” by the Music Explosion.

The Music Explosion was a band out of Mansfield, Ohio.  In 1967 they left Ohio for New York to work with the Kasenetz-Katz production team that became the leading purveyors of “bubblegum music” with groups like The Ohio Express (“Yummy, Yummy”), 1910 Fruitgum Company (“Simon Says”, “1-2-3 Red Light”, “Indian Giver”) and Crazy Elephant (“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’”).

The Music Explosion’s recording of “A Little Bit O Soul” reached #2 in 1967.  I loved it as an 11-year-old and still love it now.

But most have never heard the original by The Little Darlings, from Coventry England.

It was written for them by Ken Lewis and John Carter in 1965.  These British songwriters also penned Herman’s Hermits’ “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” (another favorite of mine), and they sang back up on The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” as The Ivy League!

The Little Darlings’ version of “Little Bit O Soul” is rougher and dirtier than the Music Explosions’.  It is the type of “nugget” that would later influence the early punk rockers.

So it’s no surprise that The Ramones latched onto it and laid down their own version on 1983’s Subterranean Jungle.

Now when your girl is gone and you’re broke in two
You need a little bit o’ soul to see you through
And when you raise the roof with your rock ‘n’ roll
You’ll get a lot more kicks with a little bit o’ soul

Ain’t that the truth!

Enjoy… until next week.

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.

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.

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.

Song of the Week – Something to Believe, Weyes Blood

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Titanic Rising, the 2009 album by Weyes Blood (Natalie Laura Mering) is receiving huge plaudits in the year-end polls for Best Albums of 2019.  Paste recently placed it at #1!  I like the album, but I don’t love it.  Some of the atmospheric noodling on it just bore me.  But the album does contain one of my favorite songs of the year – “Something to Believe.”

“Something to Believe” starts of sounding like The Carpenters, but hipper.  But the simple piano based ballad develops into so much more.  There’s a haunting slide guitar that perfectly hits the mark.  And the production expands into a fully orchestrated arrangement with Mering’s vocals soaring above it all – Court and Spark era Joni Mitchell like.  This is no doubt partly in credit to Foxygen’s Jonathon Rado, who co-produced the album.

Lyrically, Mering calls for the need for connection to other people.

Give me something I can see
Something bigger and louder than the voices in me
Something to believe

On a side note, the name Weyes Blood was inspired by the Flannery O’Connor novel Wise Blood, so I assume that’s how the band name is supposed to be pronounced.

Enjoy… until next week.