Five Songs That Are Special To Me
Thanks Fiona Craig for nominating me to share one song for 5 days that are special to me.
Day 1 – Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime.” I first heard this Talking Heads song as a kid in the early days of MTV. At the time I was attracted to the sheer weirdness of the song and video. Eventually I listened to the lyrics and learned to play it. Only later did I realize that David Byrne’s dancing is largely choreographed, but knowing how the performance was created made me like it even more. I always liked how thesong is “up” but has an edge to it. Also, the song has meaningful lyrics that aren't oppressively deep.
Day 2 – The Smiths “The Boy With This Thorn In His Side.” I was a latecomer to the Smiths and didn't get into them until I was 25. "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" is just a beautiful song. It made me realize these guys were truly great. In terms of pure singing, I think it's Morrissey's best performance, especially when he stops singing words and begins singing syllables (it would be wrong to call what he does 'scatting.') As for the instrumental part, I love how light and buoyant it is. The way the string part develops throughout the song and swells on the outro is one of my favorite musical decisions Johnny Marr ever made. A friend of mine pointed out that one of the best things about the Smiths was their "weirdly sad shimmer." This song has that trait in loads and it's awesome.
Day 3 – The Beatles “I Am The Walrus. I saw a 20-piece band perform this song in Vegas a few weeks ago; hearing it live was a breath of fresh air after listening to the garbage on the radio while driving to the show. I always liked how the Beatles were surreal and weird but still totally focused. I also love the attitude in John Lennon's vocals on this recording. RIP John Lennon.
Day 4 – The Rolling Stones “Bitch.” Guitar-wise, this is one of the best Rolling Stones songs: Keith Richards' solo and Mick Taylor's riff are perfect. As I got older and paid more attention to singers, I also realized that Mick Jagger is super creative with lyrics. The song title doesn't mean what it usually means; instead, it describes the feeling of being in love. He also extends the animal imagery of "bitch" to describe the inconsistency of a person distracted by love ("Sometimes I'm sexy/move like a stud/kicking the stall all night", "Sometimes I'm so shy/got to be worked on/don't have no bark or bite."). Leave it to the Stones to write a love song like this.
Day 5 – Simon and Garfunkel’s performances of “America” and “The Boxer” on the David Letterman show. Similar to my history with Smiths' music, I didn’t get into Simon and Garfunkel until later. Aside from liking the grey/overcast feeling of Simon and Garfunkel’s music, I really appreciate their musicianship in songs like “America” and “The Boxer.” Everyone knows S&G are good singers and harmonizers, but I didn’t understand just how good they where until hearing them in the video below. What they do as performers in this clip is very difficult; usually when singers harmonize, they tend to take a major or minor scale and pick a single interval (thirds, fifths or octaves) and use it without variation. Simon and Garfunkel, on the other hand, will use all of those intervals and more in one song and get into counterpoint (two contrasting melodies at the same time). Even more impressive with this clip: there’s no band supporting them. If they screw up, the audience is going to hear it, but they end up nailing it effortlessly. To me, Simon and Garfunkel represent an older generation of artists who are more musically skilled than the current generation. After watching this clip, I realized I needed to study music more seriously if I was every going to be satisfied with my own performance, so I began taking music classes to learn more about melody and harmony. I’m still nowhere as good as Simon and Garfunkel, but unlike before, I now have a clear musical goal that I enjoy pursuing.