Monday, May 20, 2019

Graduation Day 1990 (Here Comes The Sun)


It was 29 years ago today that I “woke up” (not that I’d slept much at all) around 5 am after what would be my last college all-nighter. It was a pretty wild party held in my soon-to-be ex-college apartment, and the reason for it was fairly obvious—today (Sunday, May 20, 1990) was Graduation Day at the University of Connecticut.

Sleep just wasn’t happening for me; for the dozen or so bodies strewn around the apartment it seemed to come fine and easy, but my body wasn’t having any of it. So fully dressed, I grabbed my car keys and quietly headed out.

It was such a surreal feeling to wander outside into the light morning rain, unsure of where to go for the next few hours, knowing that so much of my life had led to this day and this brand new chapter was about to commence.

So I hopped into my ’79 Oldsmobile and just drove, out through those small, bucolic rural towns that dot eastern Connecticut, hoping to maybe outrun the rain and find a sunrise on this last day of my college life. I eventually drove to the top of a hill on an empty road in one of those little towns and, after driving for a half-hour or so, pulled over and got out of my car. I was heading east and I looked out and there it was—just a faint hint of the sun coming up.

I sat on the hood of my car and watched the faint pink and orange sky, thinking about what came next and admitting to myself I didn’t have a damn clue. I sat there for 10-15 minutes, lost in the stillness of it all, alone and feeling so very far away not only from home, but from everything and everyone I knew.

I thought about what came next, both literally and figuratively. I had a cap and gown to iron, I had friends to meet for breakfast one last time, I had parents to meet and other friends to gather with as we made our way to venerable old Memorial Stadium for the ceremony. I had hours ahead of me waiting for my name to be called with thousands of other graduates. I had lunch with the family and then the slog of moving out of my apartment over the next day or two and heading back home to live, at least for a little while.

And beyond that, I had a career to think about. I had an interview at a newspaper for a free-lance reporting position two days later, and thus would begin what I hoped would be a successful career in journalism. It was all in front of me, just as that tiny glint of sunrise was.

The sheer silence of that moment ended abruptly when a raindrop hit the hood of my car, then another and then within seconds a steady rain was falling and the sunrise up ahead was fading. It was time to go. I hopped back in the driver’s seat, turned around and drove off.

Soon I would be surrounded by people I loved and whose company I enjoyed, so this alone time was welcome. Still, I’d had enough of the quiet and had such little sleep I needed something to keep my brain occupied and my eyes open, so I turned on the car stereo to the rock-n-roll station it was already tuned to.

Amazingly, this song came on. One of my favorite songs delivered by perhaps my all-time favorite band. I nodded along to the music and I headed back, back through that long, grey rain, back to campus, back to reality, away from the sunrise and straight into what—beyond this long-awaited day—would be a great unknown of a future.



Thursday, April 25, 2019

Cat's in the Cradle

According to the redoubtable Cover Me, Harry Chapin was distressed with the original recording of "Cats in the Cradle," feeling it was far too fast. It's a funny story in hindsight, given how popular it became, and how lasting an impact the song has had.

But then you listen to his daughter's version and it seems ol' Harry might have been onto something.


The younger Chapin had serious musical training, and it shows, as she toys with the melody here and there but never strays far from the oh so well known basis. And the recording is emotionally devastating: the original had more than enough pathos, but it's impossible not to listen and think about the fact that she's singing this song about a distant father which was written by her own father who died when she was just 10.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Out of Time

In which the Rolling Stones simultaneously write the great (or at least a great) lost girl group song from the 60s and one of the greatest Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes Bruce Springsteen never wrote or recorded.


Am I wrong? Of course I'm not. That would have fit beautifully on The Promise. The chorus obviously—the repeated word (in this case "baby") are practically as much a Springsteen hallmark as cars and girls—and, of course, it's a basic I-V-IV construction, with an added vi in the chorus, the exact kind of structure Springsteen consciously stripped down to on Darkness and to which he's largely stuck ever since.

And of course it's catchy as all hell and unusually poppy, both for the 1966 Stones and 1978 Springsteen, so of course he would have left in the vault. After all, if he'd written something like this at the time and actually released it, he might have had a hit single, and that just wouldn't do.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well this is just magical.



And now I am amazed I never ever heard this before today. This version, that is.

It's very, very difficult to imagine two voices going more perfectly together. When Cass comes in for the first harmony, that may be what it sounds like to hear music for the first time. No, I do not overstate.

Magical.

(And how cool to see they were doing their own version of Rock the Vote back there in those Nixon days of 1972?)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Outta My Head / Separate Ways

How, in this post-post-postmodern world do you make a good video for your fine song? With a shot for shot remake of the worst video ever, of course.


I have very mixed feelings about this remix culture society we find ourselves in, where memes are so prevalent and truly great works of art are often first introduced to and best known by younger viewers/readers/listeners by the snide (and often very funny) jokes made out of them and at their expense. On the one hand, I love the way the internet has granted so many artists the tools and audiences to enable them to create in a way they likely never would have a few decades earlier. On the other hand, I don't think it comes without a cost.

But this? This is just gold. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Don't Do Me Like That

Oh J Mascis. Is there any song you cannot make your own, no matter how strongly identified the original is with its creator?



It is a well-known truism that cover albums tend to be a sign of artistic stagnation. There are exceptions, of course, but not many.

I don't care: I'd be delighted with a new cover album every month, just J running down whatever song catches his fancy, his laconic drawl accompanied by his lacerating guitar. Do me like that, J. Do me just like that.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Goodbye To You

We've done a lot of writing on this blog about the 1980s, that whirring blur of pastel, excess and rationalization. We talked a lot about the good, not too much about the bad and quite a bit about the cheesy. And you know what? Just as the 1970s weren't all about shag carpeting, bell bottoms, leisure suits and whatever the hell this is, the 1980s were so much more than just a sockless Don Johnson or a feckless Oliver North. Or cocaine.

For God's sake both decades had some music...tons of music, really...that ranks as some of the greatest ever made. The 70s has all of those legendary Stevie Wonder records, the very best of the Who and maybe even the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen's two greatest records, Bob Dylan's second greatest, plus this. And this. And this!!!

Meanwhile, the 80s has not just Prince and Michael Jackson (and BTW also...PRINCE AND MICHAEL JACKSON!!!), but how about Madonna? And U2 and R.E.M? And the Replacements and the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. and Living Colour and, come to think about it, the very very best of the Police? Yeah, the 1980s had it going on with its musics.

Which brings me to this one-hit...er...I guess two-hit wonder that most anyone who existed as a sentient human being over the age of 12 in 1983 became pretty familiar with. This song. The video of which, yes, has all that goofy and grandiose 1980s plastic mayhem and kitsch for which so many of us still remember the decade:



There's so much to love here. Let's start with the song. This is a terrific song that Scandal and Patty Smyth have created. Scott and I have spent much time in this space praising the glory of the well-executed pop song, and all of those elements that go into good pop. The catchiness, first and foremost. The hooks that make you say, "Yes!" Striking just the right balance of being not too heavy yet memorable and lasting enough to remain fresh after multiple listenings. I think those are the key ingredients, right? Catchiness, the right hooks and staying power? Isn't that what separated something like this from something like (ugh!) this?

Anyway, "Goodbye To You" has that pop essence, and it has the chops to leave behind a pop song that while it might sound a little dated 37 years later, it still makes a great listen. That classic 4/4 drum/bass beat that opens it (not unlike plenty of other terrific pop tunes, like "We Got The Beat" or "Dancing in the Dark.") A melody that never waivers and delivers both memorable verses and then one whallop of a chorus. And then, when we're not even expecting it, we get another indelible hook on the bridge ("And my heart...and my heart...and my heart...and my heart can't stand the strain.") "Goodbye To You" never dives too deep, but it also never lets up from start to finish. And I love that.

And then there is Patty Smyth, who kinda bounces into the frame a few seconds in (and seriously, I love how it takes her 15 seconds to show up. For whatever reason) and then just takes ahold of your collar and really doesn't let go. Her voice is not exactly classic female pop. Very little vibrato and no tricks at all, rather she has a touch of gravel and growl as she belts it out with all she's got. She lends just the right amount of emotion and fire where she needs to (the way she spits out the word "YOU!" on each chorus, the sweet, vulnerable retreat she makes at the start of the bridge). But her voice is one of control and steadiness, and she lends an edge to an otherwise very simple (if listenable and engaging) beat.

And in the video, I think it's pretty safe to say you literally can't take your eyes off of her. While her bandmates are decked out in menswear that seems to have been purchased from a catalog called, Man, Didn't the 80s Rock?, Patty is in her own world here. She is a bright red blur, bopping her little Long Island heart out in her red dress and heels, hardly ever cracking a smile but throwing us a gaze that goes right through the camera. The video is at times hilarious, with its sudden stop-action freezes in all sorts of weird times, but again, Patty doesn't care. She trades diva for dervish, and exists to sing the song with all she's got, and that's just what she does, dammit. She's not quite the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. She's more the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl's older sister who you can't take your eyes off of and you don't dare screw with her. Bless her for that.

Just one little morsel of what the 1980s offered us. But such a good one. It really is.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Shallow

I'm not a big Oscar guy. Haven't been for awhile.

I mean, I love movies. Even though I don't see nearly enough of them these days. I have a wheelhouse of knowledge that is far exceeded by others but still puts me in the game when discussions arise on, say, movies that came out between 1960 and 2005 or so. I love great films, I love guilty pleasure films, I love those comedies that are still funny after 15 viewings, I love thrillers that sometimes keep you guessing and sometimes don't, I even love good horror films. And of course, I love this!

And I love music. I mean hell, despite my noticeable absence from this space in recent weeks...okay, in recent months...Scott and I created this little blog to showcase our love of great musics, good musics, so-so musics, silly musics and even, sometimes, stuff we can't stand.

But the Academy Awards show itself, despite often spotlighting not only the best in film but also some damn fine and lasting music too, just doesn't tend to do it for me. I guess awards shows in general don't. Maybe it's the self-congratulatory nature of it all. Maybe it's that for way too long it's been, um, a little less than diverse? Or maybe it's just that the show is so, so long.

So I tend not to watch. But last night, just as I finished watching a DVR'd program, I flipped by to see where in the show the Oscars were. And I got there just in time, literally, to see this:



And I really do have to say, it was one of those moments that left me breathless. And so damn grateful that I saw it happen in real time.

For starters, this is a great freaking song. Emotionally churning and bleeding with the pathos and grandeur that all pop songs long to have yet so few are able to obtain. The muted beginning. Cooper's ragged but perfectly tuned voice. Gaga's vibrato-free performance that runs from soft and almost lilting to overpoweringly glorious. The wordless climax that so flawlessly brings us to one last, gorgeous chorus before a shockingly quick ending. "Shallow" has it all in just around three minutes. That is great pop.

Then there is the performance. Look how humble and quiet Cooper seems as he starts. Check out the stare he gives to Gaga, and the one she returns to him. Unbreakable. When she takes to the piano and begins to devour the song like a praying mantis (and I mean that in a very, very good way), the stage and the world belong to her. But when we next see Cooper again he has this unworldly smile on his face, like he can't believe his good fortune to be watching what he is watching, let alone be a part of this. And when he makes his way over to the piano to sit with her for the finale, watch the look they give each other after a mike-share that is so close they almost become the same person. They are smiling and draw and worn and content, and that final look shows us how much this moment just meant to them.

And then there is the camera work. So many times the direction of these shows is overblown and over-complicated and you just want to smack the director and yell, "Would you please just relax?!"

But not here. From the moment the guitar starts and the camera moves from backstage to  front, it is all one single tracking shot for the next four minutes or so. Think about that. It's all one shot.

The choice to show Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga rising from their front row seats and walking hand in hand to the stage, the audience in full view behind them, is such a beautiful one that it's hard to get my arms fully around it. And just the idea of doing it all with one single camera, uninterrupted, moving tastefully back and forth between two of the biggest stars and talents in the world? I don't know how someone thought to do this or, quite frankly, how it was pulled off with such precision that it seemed effortless. But it was spectacular.

So I'm still not really an "Oscars" guy. But you give me more moments like this? We'll talk.

Friday, February 15, 2019

One Man's Journey Through the Peaks and Valleys of Human Relationship: My Theory on Tunnel of Love

I've made so secret, ever, of my love for Bruce Springsteen's 8th album, 1987's Tunnel of Love.

Many times on this blog, like here and here, I have stated my belief (and Scott largely has stated he agrees with me) that the album is a true masterwork, the most challenging record of his career after Born to Run, (BtR being the desperate act of a man in danger of being dropped by his label). But Tunnel of Love was an almost equally difficult in that it unenviably followed the album that made him a global superstar, Born in the U.S.A. And many wondered what he would ever be able to do to follow it up, let alone top it. But with Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen amazingly did both.

The album is a letter-perfect encapsulation of what it means to be part of an adult relationship (or relationships, if you will), and as my brilliant co-blogger put it, "It was an album written by an adult for adults." The wistful romanticism of the first few albums, the defiant insouciance of the late 1970s, even the bitter political scars of the early 80s, they were all gone now. And what was left was a bare, plaintive examination of the darkest chambers of the hearts and the minds of men and women who were all grown up, yet filled with the traps and perils that came with it. Very few rock-n-roll albums in history have given us a picture of the adult coming to terms with being an adult. Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks did it in 1975. So did Tunnel of Love a dozen years later. Bravo.

And now, after the umpteenth listening I've given to it in the past couple of years, I have a theory. A new theory, if you will, on why Tunnel of Love is the album it is. So please. Indulge.

Here are the 12 songs.

1. Ain't Got You
2. Tougher Than the Rest
3. All That Heaven Will Allow
4. Spare Parts
5. Cautious Man
6. Walk Like a Man
7. Tunnel of Love
8. Two Faces
9. Brilliant Disguise
10. One Step Up
11. When You're Alone
12. Valentine's Day

OK. So we have 12 songs that all have a very similar theme running through them. All are about love, in some form or another. Unrequited love, obsessive love, joyful love, fractured love, lost love.  That is the contextual thread that runs throughout Tunnel of Love, and it's fairly obvious, right? I mean, the L-O-V-E word is right there in the title.

But recently, I saw more, and I heard more. I heard each of these songs as 12 chapters in the same book, and written/recorded in exact order. So in effect Tunnel of Love becomes one person's story, from the opening Bo Diddley-strain of "Ain't Got You" to the weary, winsome waltz of "Valentine's Day." Bruce has effectively written a book here, tracing one person's rather dark journey through the beginning, middle and end of a relationship.

Does that sound too far-fetched?

Let's examine.  Here's how I hear the story play out.

At the center we have a narrator who wants, needs to love and be loved. The narrator is a successful man, maybe absurdly successful, but he is missing something he never had. A true love. And he wants it. This is where our story begins.

Our narrator has everything he could ever want,  but is sad and alone, and therefore his life feels empty (“Ain’t Got You”).

But I'm still the biggest fool, honey, any man ever knew,
'Cause the only thing I ain't go? Baby, I ain't got you.

But then, just as he had hoped,  he falls head over heels in love with a woman, and even though he barely knows her, it feels like what he's always wanted. And he's ready to face all of love's challenges with her (“Tougher Than the Rest”).

Well the road is dark, but it's a thin thin line,
And I want you to know I'll walk it for you anytime.
Maybe your other boyfriends couldn't pass the test,
But if you're rough and ready for love, honey I'm tougher than the rest.

After this, life is sweet when this new love blooms, and (although this is not written, but certainly implied) the plans for marriage arise (“All That Heaven Will Allow”).

Rain, sun and dark skies, now they don't mean a thing,
If you got a girl who loves you and wants to wear your ring.

Not long before he’s to be married, the narrator begins to have traumatic dreams, rooted in this seemingly irreversible step he is about to take. One of these dreams is of a man who runs off and leaves his pregnant bride-to-be at the altar, unable to bear the responsibility of marriage and parenthood ("Spare Parts").

Now Janie walked that baby 'cross the floor night after night,
But she was a young girl and she missed the party lights.
Meanwhile in south Texas in a dirty oil patch,
Bobby heard about his son being born and swore he wasn't ever going back.

The other dream is about a troubled man who stays with his wife, despite so many demons that haunt him, difficulties and all (“Cautious Man”).

Billy was an honest man who wanted to do what was right.
He worked hard to fill their lives with happy days and loving nights.
Alone on his knees in the darkness for steadiness he's pray,
For he know in a restless heart the seed of betrayal lay.

The dreams pass and his wedding day arrives. He is proud and terrified; proud to be getting married but terrified of what's to come. ("Walk Like a Man").

Would they ever look so happy again, the handsome groom and his bride,
As they stepped into that long, black limousine for their mystery ride?

As the marriage begins both the narrator and his wife learn that with the joys come the hardships, and they both realize how hard this can be (“Tunnel of Love”).

When the lights go out it's just the three of us,
You, me and all that stuff we're so scared of.

Before too long apathy and coldness sets in, and distance begins to separate the narrator from his wife (“Two Faces”).

I met a girl and we ran away, I swore I'd make her happy every day.
But how I made her cry.

Apathy and coldness gives way to pure mistrust and resentment as the marriage now takes a darker turn  (“Brilliant Disguise”).

Now you play the loving woman, I play the faithful man,
But just don't look too close into the palm of my hand.
We stood at the altar, the gypsy swore our future was bright,
But come the wee wee hours, maybe, baby the gypsy lied?

And inevitably, this gives way to betrayal and infidelity, as the narrator (and perhaps the wife too) goes exploring for something else ("One Step Up").

There's a girl across the bar, I get the message she's sending.
She ain't looking too married, and me, honey, I'm pretending.

Ultimately the marriage ends and they wish each other well, but it is no doubt final in his eyes. He even rebuffs a chance at reconciliation (“When You’re Alone”).

Now I knew someday your running would be through and you'd think back on me and you,
And your love would be strong.
You'd forget all of the bad and think only of the laughs that we had, and you'd want to come home.
Now it ain't hard feelings or nothing, sugar - that ain't what's got me singing this song.
It's just nobody knows, honey, where love goes, but when it goes, it's gone, gone.

But then one night, Valentine’s Day night, to be exact, he thinks of her again and decides it's time to give it another try. Leaving our story with an uncertain but perhaps hopeful ending (“Valentine’s Day”).

So hold me close and say you're forever mine,
And tell me that you'll be my lonely valentine.

Makes a little sense?

There is, of course, a different ending that could be just as possible, one that tracks much closer to Bruce's life at the time, when he and his wife Julianne Phillips split up thanks to his carrying on with eventual (and still) wife Patti Scialfa. That ending reads, of course, that the narrator doesn't go back to his wife in "Valentine's Day," but instead to the woman he cheated with in "One Step Up." And considering Patti's ominous appearance 2/3 of the way through the latter song...it is indeed possible.

Either way it ends, I still hear the form holding true. One man, one story filled with the hopes, doubts, joy and pain that comes with being an adult in an adult relationship.

All told through one masterpiece of a rock-n-roll album, Tunnel of Love.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Well, you wish upon a star that turns into a plane
And I guess that's right on par
Who's left to blame?
If you were a pill
I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Plenty of times you wake up in February make-up
Like the moon and the morning star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines 
Hey, you pop up in this old place
So sick and so refined
Are you strung out on some face?
Well, I know it ain't mine
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong
Trouble keeping your head up when you're hungry and you're fed up
Like a moon and a lone star you're gone
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines
If you were a pill, I'd take a handful at my will
And I'd knock you back with something sweet as wine
Yesterday was theirs to say, this is their world and their time
Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow's mine
Tonight makes love to all your kind
Tomorrow's makin' valentines

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Million Dollar Quartet

So this past weekend six friends and I made a journey (some may even call it a pilgrimage) to Memphis. It was the first visit there for maybe half of us. Ostensibly we traveled there on annual
weekend trek to see a college basketball game in a new location (we are all University of Connecticut fans and graduates, and each year we try and hit a cool new city and watch a game there). So that was our official reason.

But our real reason was, well, Memphis. This was a city we needed to see. Either for the first time or very eagerly once again.

We needed to see the Lorraine Motel and the Civil Rights Museum, which is breathtakingly and heartbreakingly awesome. In the truest sense of that word.

We needed to see Graceland. Because, well, just because.

We needed to see the bright lights of Beale Street and walk in the tracks of BB and Junior and the Wolf and so many others.

We needed to get some great damn southern cooking.

And we needed to see this place. Which, you know, holds as strong an ownership claim on the title of "The Birthplace of Rock-n-Roll" as any place could or should:



So we did. And just basically kinda lapped up the all-too-brief but so, SO good 50-minute tour that very comprehensively covered the history of Sun Studio.  And culminated in us standing in the actual studio itself. 

You know, the studio. The place where a few people got their start. Like Jackie Brenston and his  Delta Cats with "Rocket 88" in 1951, which to some rock-n-roll authorities is THE first rock-n-roll song in history. And B.B. King. And Rufus Thomas. And the Howlin' Wolf. And a few others people/legends/icons whose names you may recognize.

Which brings me to this photo. Which I stood three feet away from as our tour wrapped up in the middle of that iconic studio.


That right there is the "Million Dollar Quartet," as it came to be known. Playing an impromptu jam session on December 4, 1956. And filling out what has to be on any short list of the Coolest Photos in Music History.

Let's take a quick look, shall we?

There at the left is the baby of the bunch, 21-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis, still quite a few months away from making it huge at Sun Studio with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and, later, "Great Balls of Fire." Both of which would be recorded in this room.

Next to him at right is Carl Perkins, who was all of 24 in this photo and was actually in the studio that day to record a rather iconic "Matchbox." Oh yeah, and who gave Sun its first Number 1 hit with "Blue Suede Shoes" a year earlier.

On the far right and decidedly NOT dressed in black is the oldest of the bunch, a 24-year-old Johnny Cash, who had indeed had some success at that point, including "I Walk The Line," which was recorded (again) in this studio six months earlier.

And oh. Seated at the piano, there is Mr. Elvis Presley. A month shy of his 22nd birthday and already the biggest star Sun Studio (and, yeah, the world) would ever produce.

Four guys. Jamming quite by chance one day. The Million Dollar Quartet.

And just look at that photo! Look at how young they all are!

Look at how attentive and how, believe it or not, humble Jerry Lee looks. As he was the only one who at the time of this photo hadn't hit it huge yet. (Soon enough, for better and for worse, he would develop a confidence he would never, ever lose).

Look at how steady and confident Carl looks. Despite his fellow royalty around him.

Look at how focused Johnny is, and how almost shy he seems. Yet still exuding a cool that very few artists ever could.

And look at Elvis. Man. That is a look of reverence he is giving to Mr. Perkins, and there is also some serious joy in his face. Perhaps the joy of making music with the best of the best of the best? Even though it's only for one magical day?

Could any of them have possibly known of what was to come? Even Elvis, who was at that point a worldwide star? The four men around that piano did not total a collective 100 years of age at the time of that photo, yet the influence they would have on rock-n-roll and music in general and culture and on America itself is literally immeasurable. Could they have known? Is there anything in this picture that indicates they may have known? Elvis' look? Johnny's cool detachment? Carl's knowing pose? Jerry Lee's attentiveness? Any of it? All of it?

Who knows. All we do know is this happened. On December 4, 1956 at Sun Studio on Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. And maybe that's enough.

Because 62 years later and counting, it still lives and breathes. At Sun Studio, and in the all the music it would inspire for decades to come. 


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Make It With You

I know what you're thinking. You, like us, were thinking, "say, is there anything Dusty Springfield couldn't turn into sheer gold?" And the answer, so far, seems to be, "no. No, there surely isn't."

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Stuck On You

Stereogum's been running an amazing series for months now, reviewing every single Billboard number one single since the beginning of the chart. It's been a delightful journey, revisiting old favorites, often learning new things about songs I've known for decades, and to my surprise and pleasure, occasionally discovering new songs from artists I (thought I) already knew well. (How on earth are there #1 hits by the Supremes I'd never even heard of, much less known?)

I'm a fan of the writer, Tom Breihan, who has done an amazing job, although he doesn't have nearly the proper reverence for the Beatles. And when"Stuck by You" came up on my morning playlist today, it reminded me of the relatively slating this little gem received.
There’s no urgency in “Stuck On You,” the first single that Presley released after his time in the military. Instead, the Elvis of “Stuck On You” sounds like an Elvis impersonator, leaning hard on his gasps and hiccups and little baritone voice-drops. You can almost hear finger-gun winking.
Don't get me wrong, this is far from the great song the King ever recorded, nor is it his greatest performance. But where Breihan hears laziness, I hear complete and total command of one's god-like gifts. I think it's confidence but if there's a character flaw to be had, it's in the arrogance of the all-conquering hero who'd come from nothing and through sheer force of will, hard work and gobs of talent—and, of course, excellent luck and timing—had demolished all in his path. So is he trying here the way he did on "That's All Right, Mama"? Of course not; he doesn't have to—only once more in his entire life will he ever have to and when he does it'll be spectacular and justifiably legendardy—and the song doesn't call for it anyway. Instead, he's murmuring sweet nothings to the latest objection of affection, both of them fully aware that he doesn't need to, and probably doesn't mean it, which actually almost makes it a lovely gesture.

But then you get to the "a team of wild horses couldn't tear us apart" line and for one brief moment Presley lets loose, and it's like seeing Wilt Chamberlain playing one-on-one with a talented 7th grader and taking it easy on him, just playing around and having fun...until he suddenly decides to dunk on the kid as though going up against Bill Russell and it's awesome.


Friday, December 21, 2018

I Want You Back

I'm a big fan of the slowed down, acoustic, soulful covers of upbeat pop, rock and hip-hop songs, while acknowledging that it's an approach which had become overdone well past the point of cliché many years ago.

The unbelievably talented Janelle Monae indeed slows down this unassailably ebullient Jackson 5 hit, but rather than simply go the delightful if well-trod twee route, she takes it in a jazz direction without actually adding any swing rhythms—and yet embuing it with an incredible amount of swing. And the results are simply magical: ethereal and yet thoroughly earthy at the same time.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's been fascinating to watch the rise and fall and perhaps rise again of this sorta kinda holiday standard. I don't think I'd ever even heard it until well into this century, nearly this decade. And since I think the first version I ever heard was the version J.D. and Turk from Scrubs put out, the impact was a bit different than it was for many. It was only later that I heard a more traditional version and realized how crazy creepy the song is.

Or is it? I've read several pieces arguing that, taking the era in which it was composed into account, it's actually just the opposite: a female somewhat flaunting conventions in a maybe kinda sorta subtle yet definite way.

There's definitely something to the case. And yet it's hard to shake the (nearly) original predatory feel I had (nearly) originally. Rapey? Transgressive? I haven't decided yet.

But what I have decided is that listening to two of the main voices from Schoolhouse Rock covering the song is incredibly wonderful, as despite her toydoll-like vocal stylings, I can't help but feel that Blossom Dearie did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.