Nonsense – utter nonsense. It really makes no sense, but that’s of course the point. If it made any, even the slightest amount of sense, it wouldn’t be utter nonsense would it? It would be partial nonsense. And yet sometimes, in just the right context, utter nonsense makes all the damned sense possible. Especially if said nonsense can be found in a song. Plenty of songs use nonsensical lyrics, but somehow the meaning of the song shines through nonetheless. Mind you – it may or may not be the intention of the song writer, but then again I tend to stray away from the intentional fallacy. Let’s take a look at a few of these songs, shall we?
Stand – REM: This has been noted as one of the most influential songs to my life, but really this song is nothing but a bunch of meaningless words strung together. The song basically was a dare among the band to write the dumbest and insane song that they could. And really – if you look at the lyrics – yeah….they’re pretty dumb. Take the line, “If wishes were trees – the trees would be falling.” If you’re not a very analytical person, that line might not make any sense. And yet it tells the listener that their dreams and wishes aren’t being fulfilled….that if they were trees – they would just let those trees fall down and rot. And that’s just one line of the song! The entire song tells you to “Stand in the place where you are,” and then tells you to face North or West. The song tells you to take a good look at your point of view, and adjust it to accommodate where you are, where you’ve been, and where you could be. The song tells you to take a Stand, but don’t be afraid to change that Stand if you need to.
Untitled #5 (Álafoss) – Sigur Ros: I could have chosen anything from the () album, but I chose #8 because it’s my favorite. The lyrics are full on gibberish. They mean NOTHING. They are not in a foreign language as most of Sigur Ros songs are – they are in a made up gibberish tongue the lead vocalist uses to find the melody of the song before any actual words can be applied. If any song (or in this case, album) could be said to be meaningless, it’s this one. And yet – meaning abounds. It’s almost as though one is listening to a classical piece; this album gives us similar ways to interpret itself. It digs into our soul and brings up base feelings. Sometimes we don’t even know these feelings exist. An extended slow bass line can make us feel like we’re coming out of the cold. A high pitched vocal can tell us the state of the world is driving us insane. The only clues in the songs are the title, and even in #5, Álafoss is just where the band records! And yet it’s a symphony full of meaning – different meaning to each person – but meaning nonetheless.
Touch of Grey – Grateful Dead: This song is nothing but a string of non-sequiturs strung together. It’s almost like a computer tried to write a song by taking popular phrases and rhyming them. I mean, how the heck does “the dog has not been fed in years” and “she can’t read at 17” really fit together? They don’t! And that’s the beauty of this song. Each line might fit with the previous – but not really. And it certainly won’t fit with the rest of the lyrics. It almost forms a stream of consciousness – or perhaps describes the madness of the world (the same madness described in Untitled #5). I will say the chorus does serve as a burrito wrapper for this mess of a song: I will get by/I will survive. Somehow – through this madness….I, and later we, will survive. Somehow we’ll make it through this crazy world – even if the dog who hasn’t been fed decides to make a snack of your drummer’s tibia bone (yeah, watch the video).
Stacked Crooked – The New Pornographers: Sometimes Carl Newman (of The New Pornographers) just doesn’t care about what the lyrics say, rather he cares about how the lyrics sound. Stacked Crooked is one of those songs. I spent years trying to find meaning in the lyrics – looking at fan theories stating anything from starting their own Vietnam style war to the quest of trying to find a prostitute. I finally decided the meaning for myself is a quest for power. One the speaker will be doomed to fail. The song starts out with the line, “I counted on my private Altamont.” This is, of course, a reference to the Altamont festival in 1969 – where the Hell’s Angels were hired for security with tragic results. Throughout the song, the speaker seems to know they’re doomed to fail. They lost a deal, they’ve got an Achilles heel, and they know they’re heading for the guillotine. And of course, they’re “stacked crooked in this quest.” Come to think of it, this could have been sung by LBJ. All of a sudden, the Vietneam style war seems to make more sense.
They Might be Giants – Fingertips: if you’re unfamiliar with Fingertips, it’s actually 21 mini songs ranging from 4 to 12 seconds in length. According to TMBG, these mini songs are supposed to simulate a CD on random, skipping from song to song. And while that’s a perfectly plausible answer, there’s an even better theory – and since I said I don’t like to commit the intentional fallacy (even though I did in the last paragraph), I’m going with the theory that makes more sense. The theory is that these 21 songs are telling the life story of someone from conception (Everything is catching on fire) to death (I’m having a heart attack), and finally into the afterlife (I walk along darken corridors). It marks life moments such as the visit of the tooth fairy (I found a new friend, underneath my pillow), Adolescence (Leave me alone, leave me alone), Marrige (something grabbed ahold of my hand), divorce (I don’t understand you), and even second marriages (The day that love came to play). The songs even point out that life begins and ends with other people putting their fingertips all over you. It’s really an amazing song(s) if you look at it through this theory!
Richard Harris – MacArthur Park: This song gets a lot of hate because the over-dramatization of the cake that got left out in the rain (I don’t think that I can take it, cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again! OOOOH NOOOOO!!!!). Ok, yeah….sure. It might be a little upsetting, but that line was certainly a bit hyperbolic. Having said that – a true appreciator of music knows that this was more than just cake. This is the relationship the speaker laments over the course of the song. Sure – what the heck is the rain? We don’t really know – it doesn’t make sense. We can guess that maybe it’s metaphorical for crying (I mean he cried so hard about a stupid cake, three times!), but the lines feel like nonsense. Still – we know something else is going on. Poor guy. Maybe he should have had a better fashion sense. I mean, striped pants? Seriously?
I am the Walrus – The Beatles: As the first lyrics (I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together) we just wonder how many freaking doses of LSD John Lennon dropped before writing this gem. And what the hell is the Walrus and how can you also be an eggman? And does that mean they are also the Walrus as they are the eggman as well as they are? Seriously, this song will give you a headache trying to interpret it! Lennon even said it was just a bunch of randomness put together. You know what else is a bunch of randomness put together? LIFE! Yes. Life is random as this song. Yes, part of I am the Walrus is from a dream, part of it is from Through the Looking Glass, part is from a childhood lymeric , but they were all obviously influences in Lennon’s life. The blending of this randomness represents the blending of Lennon’s (and ultimately everyone’s) life, and what influences him and us. Perhaps if I were to write this song, it would be called “I am the Nerfherder,” as Star Wars influenced me. It would quote Emily Dickenson, AC/DC, and reference that strange dream I had about the coffee shop that I know exists, even though I know it doesn’t really exist. But I digress – It doesn’t matter what the Walrus is. The Walrus isn’t Lennon – but the Walrus, is part of Lennon’s internal lore. Thus the Walrus IS Lennon, and Lennon is the Walrus. Goo goo g’joob!
Before I start, I want to state that this blog is usually not very political. I know and even respect a lot of people who have different political viewpoints than I do, and I want to make sure to keep this blog a safe space for those people. I value diversity in opinions, and even try to understand where people are coming from when they think differently than I do. So, please – if you disagree with me politically, please know that I am doing my best to see your point of view.
With that out of the way – I’m frightened by the prospect of certain people running the country for the next four years. Maybe even terrified. I’ve never felt this way about any politician before. Despite all this fear – I have to live. I can’t just give up – I have to find a way to not only survive, but even thrive in what might be a very dark chapter in our nation’s history. Of course – those of you who know me and read this blog know that one thing that helps me to get by with my day to day is music. So, of course I made a list of songs that I plan on using for that purpose. I’m sure this will be part one of who knows how many. By the way, here’s a handy dandy Spotify link to this list. Subscribe and watch the list of songs grow!
Is it Like Today – World Party: This song kind of changes it’s tone with my mood. Sometimes I see it as a philosophical song, sometimes a negative, sometimes a neutral. Despite the tone, the song really does make us compare our own day and age with the past. It makes us look at history with unforgiving eyes, and serve as a warning to us to not repeat the mistakes of the past. There are those who are claiming Hitler 2.0. I’m not quite there yet – though I do like to say Mussolini 2.0. Regardless, it is important to ask if this new (and any) administration is repeating the mistakes of the past. Be it the mistakes of WWII, Vietnam, The Roman Empire, The Babylonian Empire, the age of exploration, or whatever age you want to look at. It has almost become a cliche that if we don’t know history, we are indeed doomed to repeat it.
Stars and Stripes of Corruption – The Dead Kennedys Sometimes I think this should be the national anthem, regardless of who is in office. Despite the fact that it starts out with an act of social disobedience of a banal manner, it asks some pretty tough questions of anyone who would commit such an act. Sure….it takes a few pot shots at the “Archie Bunkers waving the flag,” but then it makes a point of claiming social responsibility. It says change needs to happen, not just with “the other side,” but with ourselves. Let’s stop lying to eachother. Let’s encourage eachother instead! Yeah – not many people are going to agree with every single line in this song, but I feel like everyone can find a little wisdom in a line or two.
My War – Black Flag: In the introduction, I talked about how many of the people I associate with, even respect, are in political opposition to my personal stances. To quote this song – “you say you’re my friend, but you’re one of them.” It really does cause an internal war with me. Don’t worry – that’s pretty much as far as this analogy goes. I really don’t believe any of my associates want me dead and I certainly don’t want any of them dead. Still – there is a struggle. It isn’t easy to hold my tongue sometimes, even if I know it’s for the best. Granted, I’m sure some of my associates feel the same way about me.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python: This might have the most offensive video ever to be made – but the message is pure: Optimism is never a bad policy. I realize some are pessimists, some are realists – I’m not. I’m an optimist. I need my hope and the moment I loose hope – well – let’s just say it gets really bad. Sure…..the resident of the White House might launch us into nuclear war. Sure, he’s going to take away health care. Sure, he might take away funding for pretty much everything and make us a third world country. But hey! It could be worse! We at least had a few good years! Oh god…..please let this guy step down like….NOW!
Pride In the Name of Love – U2: In all honesty, I have it pretty ok. I’m not a persecuted gender, religion, sex, or ethnicity. Not all are this lucky. The current resident of the White House ran on a campaign of fear against minorities. Maybe it was all talk, maybe it wasn’t. Regardless, as I said before – those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. This is why this, and songs like this are important. They talk about the past struggles of great men like Martin Luther King Jr. They remind us of the sacrifices made by these people. And they remind people like myself, the lucky ones, that we need to remember how lucky we really are. It makes us remember that despite the fact that maybe everything will be fine for a WASP like me, it might not be so fine for someone else.
You Can Call me Al – Paul Simon: This song isn’t for me – rather it’s for those who might need a friend. Those mentioned in the last section. I realize that the whole safety pin on the hoodie thing is in danger of loosing substance, but to me it’s a very serious thing. I’ve been in a place where a friendly smile and a listening ear – even that of a total stranger – would have been more than welcome. I want to be that to others that need it. Maybe no one will really need this, maybe they will. Regardless, I am willing to their bodyguard, their long lost pal. They can call me Betty, and I’ll call them Al.
Under Pressure – Queen with David Bowie: It’s a terror of knowing what this world is about….watching some good friends scream LET ME OUT! This song captures so many emotions. Those of fear, hope, pressure, and even giving up. But it ends with love. It ends with pleading for love. When we’re under pressure, it might be easy to give up – but it’s better to give love one more chance. On a totally unrelated note – damn I miss David Bowie. 🙁
Drunken Lullabies – Flogging Molly: It’s ok to be angry at whatever the president does. It’s not ok to fall into complacency. It’s not ok just to roll over and take it. It’s not ok to sit around, singing drunken lullabies about better times. This song was written during W’s administration – but I feel its time is again coming. And just like the song says – I feel we’re going to, once again, find ourselves in the same old mess. Let’s sober up and do something about this crap storm!
Baby I Can’t Please You – Sam Phillips: This song is dedicated to those who have opposing ideals and decide to be dicks about it. Yeah – strong language, but necessary. It’s dedicated to those who decide it’s better to be “right” than to care about those who are, in your eyes, wrong. It’s dedicated to pundits – both conservative, liberal, or other, who care more about their ideologies than the people they hurt. This song’s true message is simple – stop being a jerk! Just stop it! You’re dealing with people with real emotions.
Hand in My Pocket – Seeway: When Alanis Morissette originally sang this song in the 90s, it felt like an anthem of knowing all is well, even though all is not known. It said despite our lack of direction, we could figure it out somehow. It was, in truth, a very optimistic song. This version keeps that optimism, however it adds an element of anger. The vocals and guitars add an element of rage. So, what about the optimism found in the original? It’s still there – it’s just more about “this too shall pass” and less about an immediate it’s going to be alright type of attitude. Everything’s going to be fine fine fine….but it might not be fine for awhile.
Raised by Wolves – U2: This is a story of a car bombing Bono almost became a victim of. I’m not sure if he would have been in the blast, or just a witness – but regardless, he would have been a victim. One cannot recover from even being a witness of that kind of violence. Do I believe that our country is heading towards this type of violence? Probably not. Though I do fear a fascist administration – and I do fear the retaliation that might ensue.
Ping Pong – Stereolab: Perhaps one of my biggest fears of the current administration is that we end up in another stupid war. A war we spend billions – maybe even trillions on, and gets us nothing. A war that gives us a whole new set of problems, all in the name of whatever buzzword might be popular at the time. I’m usually a moderate type of guy – but damn – I HATE war. I’m a hardcore pacifist, and I don’t want my tax dollars used to fund war. What’s worse is the military industrial complex spouting the lies this song talks about. War is good for the economy. Bull(CENSORED). And besides – the lives of others are worth more than any philosophical dollars some already rich CEO might make. Yeah – sorry, I rant when it comes to war.
Message in a Bottle – Sting and Edin Karamazov (Live from the Labyrinth): You probably know this song – but this version of this song is just amazing. Very slow and subtle. I feel as though this version spades, no, hearts, no..dang it – can’t think of the right word – but whatever word it is, it does it to the original. It really captures the feeling of loneliness the original so desperately wants to describe to the listener. And then a message of hope in the last verse. We aren’t alone people. We have each other. We aren’t alone in being alone.
Russian Lullaby – Havalina Rail Co: One for his boss. Ok, ok, cheap shot. Fppppt.
Escher’s World – Chagall Guevara: This is just here to say we might wake up in an alternative timeline. One that doesn’t make sense. One that disobeys the laws of physics. One that might just be a dream land. Maybe that’s where we’re at. Maybe it’s all a dream……
I Should be Allowed to Think – They Might be Giants: I said one of my biggest fears of the current administration is going to war. Another is a blatant stripping of our rights. I’m very libertarian when it comes to things like free speech, freedom of expression, and the like. Hell, I’m a writer. I work in community access television! I want people to say what they want to say even if I disagree with it. However, considering some of the things pulled already, I fear these rights are in jeopardy. What’s next? Thought crime?
Be Thou My Vision – Pedro The Lion: My final addition to this list is about centering my spirit I guess. I’ve talked alot about my hopes fears, emotions, et cetera. This song is to say – I guess this is to keep my focus on what really matters. We’ve not been blown to oblivion yet. While I don’t have a lot of hope for the current administration – there’s always hope. There’s always faith. There’s always love. I chose this version because a) I love David Bazen’s voice, and b) it gives me the feeling that Bazen sang it not out of praise – but out of surrender despite whatever situation might have been happening.
The holidays are here – ready or not. Some years I get excited – this year, not so much as it’s been a tough year. However, I believe in the holidays, and no matter my mood, I feel as though I need to observe them. The holidays are so much bigger than my own individual mood – so dive into the holidays I shall. There are few things to help me accomplish this – looking at pretty lights always helps, as does looking at the excitement of children in the toy department as they spy their Christmas morning wish. But the biggest thing that helps put me in a holiday mood is to listen to music. Some music is silly, some is sweet, some is profound, some is even sad. Whatever the mood though – it helps set my mood. So on that – here is a list of some of my holiday favorites. I hope they enhance your season as much as they enhance mine:
Christmas – Blues Traveler: These guys get the season right. They start the song out with saying they just don’t “feel it” at this time, and yet they pursue the season anyways. They tell the listener that the holidays are about hope, love, peace on Earth, etcetera. “Noel / or navidad / Season celebration or just the end of the year / Christmas can mean anything /And I mean to keep it’s hope forever near.” They end the song by singing “Hark the herald’s angel sing.” If you don’t understand their religious / philosophical views, the significance of this might get lost on you, but to give you a hint – they’re outspoken atheists and have done entire albums on their viewpoints. So – the ending of the song gives me a huge amount of respect for Blues Traveler as this is putting action to words. This is Blues Traveler showing their feelings are irrelevant as there are more important things to focus on this time of year. Bravo guys, bravo.
Do they Know it’s Christmas – Band Aid: Ok, ok, this might not be the most cheery song ever, but that’s fine. There’s just something about hearing Sting, Bono, Boy George, George Micheal, and every other freaking early 80s British or Irish musician of note singing together. And once more, they were singing together for a cause. They were trying to raise money to feed starving people, as well as to raise awareness of famine. Yeah, sure….the author of the song (Bob Geldof) kind of hates the song (even calling it one of the worse songs ever written). Yeah sure, they had to basically throw a temper tantrum to get Boy George out of bed, across the freaking Atlantic and into the studio. Yeah, sure….Bono really didn’t want to sing that line. Still – when everything was finished, they produced something amazing. Something that’s part of my history. Something that even inspired Quincy Jones and Micheal Jackson to create We are the World (Geldof hates that song as well). This song is my childhood. And despite what Bono thought at the time, I believe “Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you,” is one of the best lyrics ever written. I do wonder one thing though – why wasn’t Elvis Costello involved?
12 Days of Christmas – John Denver and the Muppets: Yes, yes, I’m 42 years old and I still love this song. Why? Well, one of the components of the holiday season is joy. What brings more joy than laughter? This is a very funny song. Actually, the entire album is funny as heck. We need more humor in this world, so if you don’t like it….well adjust your funny bone. And chant with animal…won’t go! Won’t go! WON’T GO! (badum dum). Oh wait, that’s We wish you a merry Christmas. Like I said – the entire album is hysterical. And Awesome. If it doesn’t bring you joy, you need a shot of Christmas cheer.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful – Twisted Sister: I never knew that Christmas music could rock until I heard Twisted Sister’s version of this song. But rock it does! It rocks so hard, I want to sing into a hair dryer, 80s style, whenever I hear this. I want to tear my clothes off and dress like the band. Well, maybe not – I mean, me dressed in women’s clothing might look scary. Then again, I probably wouldn’t look half as scary as Dee Snider. One highlight of this song – in the guitar solo (yes, there’s a guitar solo), they start drifting off into “We’re not gonna take it.” Almost an Antithesis of Iron Butterfly, who, in the long version of Inna-gadda-da-vida, drifted into “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” By the way – if you’re not watching any of the videos – watch this one. You’ll laugh your ass off.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Bad Religion: Just as Twisted Sister makes Christmas Music rock, so does Bad Religion. But while (I feel) Twisted Sister did it for the hell of it – Bad Religion’s Christmas songs feel like they took a page from Blues Traveler. Here’s a punk band, named Bad Religion of all things. They have been known to come out against organized religion, even featuring a Cross with a red circle and Line through it as their logo. Yet they’re singing some of the most sacred songs, and with reverence too. I chose Hark the Herald Angels Sing as my example, but really most of the entire album does this. And it’s beautiful. It demonstrates that while they speak out against organized religion, they’re perfectly ok with the actual teachings of Jesus, ie love, love, love.
All I ever get for Christmas is Blue – Over The Rhine: There’s a sultry, jazzy feel to this song which will just give you shivers unless you’re dead – and oh the feels! Over the Rhine says they like to write “Reality Christmas” music; music that recognizes, despite the holiday season and the joy thereof, we still feel real and often times dark emotions. We miss loved ones, we feel fear, rejection, sorrow, and pain. This song in particular reminds me of so many Christmas mornings where I longed to have someone by my side – my loneliness having to take a back seat to the holiday, but my loneliness still there. I suppose songs such as this are almost an antithesis to that of the Blues Traveler’s “Christmas.” Just as the season asks us to recognize the season is bigger than our own individual feelings – this song, and others in the “Reality Christmas” genre, remind us that we’re still human. That we can still feel sorrow and pain if we need to – even if it is Christmas day.
Underneath the Tree – Kelly Clarkson: Perhaps this song isn’t up the same standard as most of the other songs on this list, but dammit, I like Kelly Clarkson. So sue me. And this song provides a happy ending to All I ever get for Christmas is blue. There’s nothing wrong with a happy ending. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes, it’s plastic, yes, it’s typical pop – but it’s sweet, sweet candy. There’s nothing wrong with eating candy every so often – as long as you don’t make a steady diet of it, you should be fine.
Christmas at Ground Zero – Weird Al Yankovic: I used to listen to this song every Black Friday. It was almost always the first Christmas song I listened to and set the tone for the entire season for me. While this song is indeed very funny, It really does explore peace on earth. It shows us the horror of a nuclear war – and how even Christmas time chants of peace, hope and joy cannot stop idiotic madmen if they’re hell bent on destruction. Perhaps we should all send this to any and all future presidents. Include with it a short letter: please, for heaven’s sake, and for the sake of Peace on Earth, don’t bomb people. Please! Give Peace a chance.
Christmas Dinner, Country Style – Bing Crosby: Perhaps this song is a little outdated. I really don’t know too many people who make a thanksgiving style dinner on Christmas anymore. Who has that kind of time? We’ve got relatives to visit, presents to wrap, presents to unwrap. Besides, who wants to do all those damned dishes? Having said all that, it’s a throwback to a different time – one I saw in my grandparents and their siblings. One that will always be part of me, even if it celebrates a tradition I don’t celebrate. Going back to the concept of Reality Christmas, perhaps remembering our deceased loved ones during the holidays isn’t as bad or sorrowful as we think it might be. Remembering their traditions, their quirks, what made them smile, what made them happy – yeah, we miss them – but remembering the things that gave them joy might be enough to bring us a little joy despite their absence.
Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire – Bob Rivers: Let’s be honest: there are some freaking annoying Christmas songs out there. And while some of you might like the Chipmunks Christmas song, I see it as one of the most annoying songs ever written. This song serves as a sort of therapy for those of us who just can’t listen to that accursed song any freaking more. Sure – it might be a bit to macabre for the season, but hey! It brings me joy to think of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as part of that “Christmas dinner, country style…”
Winter Wonderland – Steve Taylor: Christmas songs done in a mariachi style. Why not? I guess it’s better than José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.”
The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah: I’ll leave you with this, perhaps one of the most beloved choral arrangements of all times. This song, especially while preformed by a mass choir and full orchestra, really does illiterate the point about the season being more than just about our own selves. Look at the video – look at all those faces. Hundreds of people, with who knows what is going on in their lives. If you pay attention, you can even see it in their faces. You can see that something in their lives is not going well – there’s pain and sorrow and worry…and yet there they are….singing Hallelujah with a thousand other people. They may or may not believe the same things as I believe – they may or may not care about the same things – they may or may not even like the same type of music. But there they stand, singing about the coming of the Messiah (whether they believe in the Messiah or not).
There are many, many songs that have altered my life in some way or another – but some of them have a special impact on me. I’ve tried to list them all, but of course, there are too many. Still, there are a few that stand out. And of course, I can make a list of others when the time comes. But for now, I’ve selected a handful of songs to share. Maybe these songs will change your lives as well.
REM – Stand: I’ve written about the significance of this song before, but it is such a significant song to my musical appreciation and development, I had to include this song in the list. The story goes like this: I was riding my bike some Sunday afternoon in the mid 80s. I’m listening to a pop station on my headphones, and they played this song. The excitement I felt was so immeasurable. It was so amazing. I loved this song from the first verse. A week or two later, I heard one of my classmates talking about this song negatively. Other classmates nodding in agreement. It was clear, this was not what my peers deemed to be a cool song. And yet….I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, I loved a song that wasn’t popular with my peers and I was proud of liking this song.
Interestingly enough, my classmates aren’t the only people who don’t like this song. Micheal Stipe wrote the lyrics as a joke – trying to write the most inane lyrics possible. Peter Buck says it’s the stupidest song REM has ever written. I still don’t care. I stand on my opinion on the song stand, and no one can change my mind.
TLC – Waterfalls: I actually didn’t know this song existed until I heard the Weird Al Parody, “Phony Calls.” In fact, it was the first current song that Weird Al parodied in which I didn’t actually know. I listened to the proper song and, well, I won’t say the song sucks – but I certainly knew I didn’t like the song. Not in any way shape or form. I would rather have a root canal than to listen to that song again. Even now, I’ve tried to listen to it and I’m just baffled that other people actually like(d) this song. That’s not to come against anyone’s taste in music – I would be a hypocrite if I said it was a bad song and you should feel bad for liking it, but I still hate this song and I’m more than ok with that. But why is it such a life changing song to me? Like I said, I discovered it through the Weird Al Parody. It was really the first parody of his I didn’t actually recognize – so it served as an enlightening moment. I hadn’t been paying attention to pop radio for a few years by the time I heard the song – but I didn’t quite realize how far removed I was from what was popular until I heard this song. And just like I was ok with liking Stand, I was just as ok with not even knowing Waterfalls.
My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes: If you were to ask me what my favorite song is, my answer would be Sometimes by My Bloody Valentine. I had heard it before the mid 2000s, but I didn’t really absorb it till about that point. It was a very dark and lonely time in my life, but when I heard this song, I fell in love with it. After hearing the song, I was inspired to write something on LiveJournal: I don’t need a job, I don’t need a girlfriend, I’ve got good music! While I did need a job in actuality, and while this song did not in fact cure my loneliness – it reset me. It took me to another place. It made me not focus on the darkness of life – but rather the beauty of the music. This song, even today, is still a song that resets my mood.
New Order – Ceremony: This song is also one that resets my mood, but not in the same way as Sometimes. While Sometimes makes me accept and not care about the world around me, Ceremony is a song that brings me hope and drive. When I hear “I’ll break them down, no Mercy shown, heaven knows it’s got to be this time,” I feel like the song is my own personal cheerleader. After all, the song is about just needing, just being desperate for something to click – despite the fact that every other time before things have failed. To be fair, some may not interpret this song as a song of hope – but I do. This song is always going to be about hope despite my situation, despite all that’s happened….despite the fact that I’ve tried a million times before and fallen on my face. This song is about that one time I tried and instead of falling on my face, I succeeded.
Tears for Fears – Sowing the Seeds of Love: The last two songs were about bringing hope. Sowing the Seeds of love, however, is all about optimism. It’s not a boost to my mood, it’s more of a slow and steady attitude that I keep. But it’s not just my attitude – this song isn’t just about me. This song is about everyone. This song is about society, and our collective hopes and dreams – this song is about being excellent to each other even when those who have power over society are less than excellent to us. This song is all about love – and as Lennon put it, all you need is love. There’s more to this song than simple lyrics mind you – the trumpet at the end, the orchestration throughout the song, the different sections we encounter through the song – I won’t call it a journey as I personally hate that metaphor – but the song does bring you on a casual afternoon drive on a sunny day with your sweetheart.
Donald Byrd – You and the Music: Some would say a song about music is something we should avoid. While I say it is a subject one should approach with caution, a song about music is a song about passion. After all – music is a way to express passion – so why not go meta? That is exactly what happens with Mr Byrd’s You and the Music. The song really sums up how I feel about music in general. Sometimes a song is fun, and it just makes me want to dance. Sometimes a song inspires my passions, and it makes me want romance. Sometimes the song captures me and won’t let me go – it puts me in a trance. Honestly – this song does all three to me. This song really describes my passion, my desire, and my very need for music. Any song that can put these things into words deserves a spot on this list!
Joan Jett – Bad Reputation: Sometimes you just want a song about rebellion. A bunch of loud guitars, a I don’t give a ….. attitude, and just plain old rock and freaking roll. This provides just that. It isn’t against anything in particular, and that’s what makes this song great. This is a song that expresses pure emotion – the emotion might not be filtered through our logical senses, it might not know why it’s happening, but then again, emotions aren’t about logic anyways. Deal with it! Cry if you want to cry, yell if you want to yell, laugh if you want to laugh. And yes – it’s all about a bad reputation the speaker of the song supposedly has, but maybe that’s an undeserved bad reputation to begin with! I suppose this song accomplishes the same thing as Mr Byrd’s You and the Music, only limited to a specific genre. Some would view this as a lesser song – but considering rock and roll tends to be my favorite genre, I refuse to take sides on the issue.
Joanna Newsom – Good Intentions Paving Company: I discovered this song after I broke up with a girl. I had never actually been the person who stops a relationship, so a wave of new emotions and feelings came over me. As I listened to this song, it’s sometimes conflicting journey, I realized this song was about those feelings I was experiencing. It made me feel normal. It made me feel human. I realized I wasn’t a monster. Most of all, I realized this is how every girl who broke up with me felt. I wanted to give them all a great big hug and tell them how much I understood.
This song earned a permanent place in my musical rotation. A little more than a year passed and I found someone else. As this song came up, on random shuffle, I realized this song isn’t about breaking up, but it’s actually about the process of falling for a new person – the mistakes you’ll make in the process, the uncertainty, and the general craziness of it all. I found myself making these mistakes, and realizing that it was ok – because the girl I fell for wasn’t running.
So….now I have two conflicting interpretations of what is this song about? Is it about breaking up? Is it about falling in love? Maybe it’s about both. Or maybe it’s just a song that is exactly what you need it to be.
Belle and Sebastian – I’m a Cuckoo: Sometimes a relationship isn’t just about two people – it’s about an entire group. And When one leaves that group, it’s essentially breaking up with them. Sometimes these groups can be informal groups, sometimes they’re formal like that of a job or a church. I left a church I had been at for probably fifteen years. I realized I just couldn’t fake it anymore – I just didn’t fit. I felt bad, there were a lot of people that I loved and cherished there, but I knew it was what I had to do. At about that time, I bought Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and found the song “I’m a cuckoo. The song is a reminiscence of someone the speaker of the song obviously cares about, but had to separate themselves from. It’s both apologizing to the person – but it also recognizes the problems of the relationship and why it was just best they both move on without each other. I’ve already said that a song will capture your emotions of the time, so I feel like I’m repeating myself with this song. But I’m a Cuckoo really did say exactly what I wanted, what I needed to say to the group I left behind.
On and On – Stephen Bishop; What a fool believes- The Doobie Brothers; Say a little prayer – Dionne Warwick: I’m lumping these three songs together, and there’s probably more that deserve to be in this section. These were songs that I heard when I was really young, and somehow set a spark for me. It’s hard to even put a finger about what they said to me at age four or five, but they said something. It wasn’t their lyrics either – it was the melodies, the music, the sounds, and the overall feeling I got while hearing them. Even now, I’m brought back to this primal feeling when I hear any of these songs. My girlfriend had an interesting theory – these songs were my lullabies. It makes sense. A lot of the songs mentioned in this article are all about knowing things were going to be alright. There were certainly times, even in my young life, I needed to know this. And isn’t that what a lullaby does? Doesn’t it tell the listener that everything is going to be alright? That the monsters under your bed aren’t going to attack you in the middle of the night. Perhaps all of the songs on this list are a lullaby. Sure, I’ve grown past the beliefs of monsters under the bed (though I am still a little afraid of the dark). But sometimes I just need to know everything is going to be alright. Most of these songs in this article can be linked to a time that where everything worked out fine, despite the monsters under my bed – despite the monsters in the world.
This year’s best of music list is going to be a little different. Instead of a numbered list, I’m doing things by category. Why not? My tastes are eclectic so rating my favorites of the year against each other would be like comparing avocados and orangutans. Ok, that’s not how the phrase goes, but when have I ever done anything the way it’s supposed to be done! But I digress. Anyways, here’s a list of music I really enjoyed this year (and one album I really didn’t).
Best free album of the year: Star Wars – Wilco: This album starts out with an experimental track called “EKG.” You’re treated to a guitar that sounds like it was tuned wrong and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s a little too slow. But it works. The album is blessed, or plagued (depending on your opinion) with Wilco’s melding of classic guitar rock and Lo fi, followed by a little space pop followed by psychedelia followed by …well, you get the picture. I can honestly say this is my favorite Wilco album since A Ghost is Born. Seriously – go download it. Now!
Best hipster song: Bored in the USA – Father John Misty: OK, so that’s a bit of a mean thing to say – but it’s true. This is a hipster song if there ever was a hipster song. But hipster or not, the witty lyrics paired with an almost Elton John-esque feel. The use of a laugh track halfway through the song makes the protagonist sound like his life is the butt of some cosmic joke – as though his life is only there for the amusement of some unseen audience. But back to this being a hipster song. This is a hipster song because this was written about the fears the Millennials are currently looking at. The same fears Generation X had 20 years ago. The same fears the Baby Boomers had 40 years ago. The same fears the next generation will most likely face in 20 years. So maybe this isn’t a hipster song. Heck, what’s a hipster again?
Best album I forgot existed: Girls In Peacetime want to Dance – Belle And Sebastian: While I was reviewing the music I bought in 2015 for this article, I realized there was a brand spanking new Belle And Sebastian album I bought and totally forgot about. Belle and Sebastian might be the favorite band of mine on this list, so this was a big deal – almost a late Christmas gift. As I opened this gift, I was pleasantly surprised. The album starts out with one of the most, if not the most, personal song Stuart Murdoch has ever written. The song, “Nobody’s Empire” speaks of struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how it affected every aspect of his life. Going past the state they’re currently in though, this album differs from past Belle and Sebastian albums, in the fact that they rely heavily on keyboards – giving sections of the album an almost disco feel. Despite the disco, this album really feels like a Belle and Sebastian album. Perhaps that is why it’s such a great album – they kept their essence, and yet infused it with something new.
Best album from a rock and Roll legend: Alone in the Universe – Jeff Lyne’s ELO: John Lennon once stated that Electric Light Orchestra is the spiritual successor of the Beatles. So, what better way to judge an ELO album than by asking “what would the Beatles sound like if they made an album now?” Honestly, I think the Beatles would sound a lot like the music on Alone in the Universe. The opening tract, “When I was a Boy,” feels like the song “Yesterday” evolved (and by the way, it might be the best song that Jeff Lynne has ever written). That’s not to say Jeff Lynne and ELO can’t do anything that isn’t Beatles-esque mind you. The haunting title track sounds nothing like a Beatles song, yet it is easily one of my favorite tracks. There’s also “Fault Line,” a fun rockabilly song which will stick in your head for days and days. It was 14 long years since we’ve had a new ELO album, and Alone in the Universe proves the wait was well worth it.
Worse album from a rock and roll legend: No Pier Pressure – Brian Wilson: I have a ton of respect for Brian Wilson. There are times I’ll listen to his music and wonder if maybe we’re twins separated at birth (even though he’s 30 years older than I am). So I was, of course, really excited when he released a new album. Sure, all his albums can’t be Smile, but this one just bored me. To be fair, it felt like Brian Wilson is trying to capture the days of his youth. I can respect that. The very album name makes a reference to this -maybe I just don’t get it. I will say though, I do love the song “On the Island” featuring She & Him.
Best album of covers: The Cover Up – The Protomen: While we wait for The Protomen to finally give us Act III, they have given us a lot of really good covers. Starting with “Because the Night” (Patti Smith Group) as a duet. While this version isn’t as sultry as the original, I do feel like it actually trumps the 10,000 Maniacs’ version. The album also features a Version of Celine Dion’s “I Drove all Night,” which totally changed my opinion of the song from meh to whoa! The Gambler even belted out an amazing version of Total Eclipse of the Heart – albeit her voice is an octave or two lower than Bonnie Tyler’s original. It’s hard to not talk about every song on this album (Danger Zone, Mr. Roboto, I Still Believe, Princes of the Universe). Having said this, the ending track, Mike + the Mechanics’ Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) might be the strongest song on the album. The Protomen version is a bit more updated, and a bit darker with the addition of missing persons reports voice over at the end of the song. A perfect ending to the song, and a perfect ending to the album.
Best artist discovered in 2015: The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – How did I NOT really know this band before this year? Yes, sure, I knew “The Impression That I Get,” – everyone knows that song. But I didn’t know the Bosstones. I did not know “Royal Oil,” I did not know “The Rascal King,” I didn’t know the heavily Ska inspired “Where’d You Go?”. I did not know their Brilliant cover of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City.” My sins have been forgiven, as I’m now fully into the Bosstones, but I still weep for my wasted years of not listening to this amazing band. Fun fact – their manager dances around the stage when they play live shows. How cool is that?
Best album discovered in 2015: A Prarie Home Invasion – Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon: Ok, if you’re not offended sometime during this album, you’re probably a psychopath, but that goes without saying if Jello Biafra is involved. Add Mojo Nixon, and you’ve got yourself a cocktail of anarchy! This album purposely jabs at the “rednecks” of America (circa 1994). The music is mostly public domain gospel tunes with new lyrics. A high point of the album is a cover of Fred Kirby’s “Atomic Power.” While the original was totally serious about the benefits of “God Given” Atomic Power, the unchanged lyrics in the context of Biafra and Nixon is a good, tongue in cheek jab at nuclear power plants. And then there’s “Will the Fetus be Aborted” to the tune of “Will the circle be unbroken.” Yeah – even I’m a little offended by that song.
Best artist to finally wake up and let Spotify stream their freaking music: AC/DC: Yes, Finally! I can scream along to “Thunderstruck” while sitting at my desk. OK, ok, that might not be a good thing – but seriously – I was happy when they announced this. Now, if Only we could convince Joana Newsom to do the same thing. Hmmmm…..Imagine a mash up of AC/DC and Joana Newsom. You’d have a harp playing girl singing about a Highway to Hell. I’d certainly pay to listen to to that! But I digress.
Best Song that everyone knows and loves of the year: Hello – Adele I won’t write too much about this, because like I said – everyone knows it. But geez, how can anyone not like this song? Wow. Just wow. She’s got a pretty voice.
Honorable Mentions: There were several songs, artists, and albums I wanted to include on this list – but I can only give so much! But Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists, Kathryn Calder, Sleater-Kinney, Chicane, The Alabama Shakes, and Enya all produced some amazing music this year. So, go check those out too!
Most people I share my music with are pretty impressed with my wide range in musical tastes. You’ll find me listening to Mogwai one moment, Brahms the next, an 80s pop classic the next, some psychedelic deep cut the next, and then maybe a song that everyone loves (but no one wants to admit to loving). Picking a favorite genre is like picking a favorite appendage. Do I like post punk and my right pinky? Do I like classic rock and my big toe? What about 1960s hippie music and my right thumb? Or maybe new wave and my – you get the point? But truth be told – while picking a favorite genre is indeed like picking a favorite appendage, I do have a favorite genre….and that is my – that is good old rock and roll!
What do I mean by rock and roll? Do I mean Rock out with your….uhhh, Def Leppard? Thoughtful, politically motivated and passionate U2? Soulful and R & B inspired bands like The Rolling Stones? Journey, Jack White, The Eagles, Roxette’s first album? The answer is simple…..YES! Yes, I mean it all! Every single one of those! I like the stuff that makes me sing into a hair dryer, 80s style. I like the stuff that get’s my booty moving, I love the stuff that’s incredibly complicated musically, and, I’ll admit —- I kind of even like Stryper. The question I ask is simply – does it rock? If yes, it does indeed rock, then I consider it rock.
Why do I like it though? Why can I jam to Bad Religion’s 21st Century Digital Boy? Why can I scream the lyrics of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck? And why do I make fun of Lars Ulrich? Well – the answer to the first two questions is because – it rocks! It just does. It sounds good loud, (and it might get loud). The answer to the second is that Lars Ulrich is a pansy! I mean a sell out! I mean a member of a band that used to be good! I mean a …..I’m digressing, but shame on you Metallica. Break up already!
Don’t get me wrong by the way – I’m not at all trying to define rock and roll for everyone – I’m just trying to define it for me – and to me, rock and roll is true to the musician – even if that means the musician is a shallow fogwad that only cares about getting stoned and laid. Warrant’s cherry pie is a dumb song – but it rocks nonetheless! KISS’s I want to rock and roll all night might be dumb and banal lyrics – but they’re true to themselves in that message. And let’s face it – who wouldn’t want to rock and roll all night and party every day? Ok….ok. Maybe I would need a break now and then to sleep and read and freaking get some peace and quiet….but the song is hyperbole anyways!
By the way, every artist is allowed a little stupidity or banality. U2, who is one of my favorite bands and is known for their politically charged and passionate lyrics wrote a song for the soundtrack of Batman freaking Forever. No, Hold me, Kiss me, Thrill Me Kill Me wasn’t the angry call to justice as say, Sunday Bloody, Sunday – but it was fun and even if they sold out by making a song for one of the most hated superhero movies of all time, I still feel like they put themselves in the song – and therefore the song still rocks (and at least Bono didn’t wear Robin’s bat nipple costume – ugg).
This of course doesn’t mean that a rock song can’t suck. Steve Miller’s lyrics really do suck at times (Big ol’ Jet Airliner anyone)? And do we really need to mention STIX’s Come Sail Away? ALIENS? Really? Some would say “We Built this City” by Starship is one of the worse rock and roll songs ever recorded. I disagree – but those people are certainly entitled to their opinions. Personally, I think “Sweet Home Alabama” is kind of dumb. But just as I’m not here to define rock and roll for the masses, I’m also not here to say my taste in songs is the only correct one. I’m just saying some rock songs suck, and just because they’re from the heart and all that – this doesn’t mean that they get a pass.
Back to the definition of Rock – I kind of left out something important. It’s why the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage” rocks, and “Intergalactic” does not.
I love both songs. I really do – but the former rocks because, to me, if it’s going to rock, the dominant instruments have to be an electric guitar, bass, and drums. There’s just no getting past that. I love a lot of the new wave songs of the late 70s and the 80s – but they don’t rock! Nothing they can do will ever make them rock, because they’re so steeped in keyboards and not steeped enough in electric guitar. I’m looking at the song “Stepping out” by the brilliant Joe Jackson. Seriously, this is one of my favorite songs – but it doesn’t rock. Going back in time, the 1960s had a lot of guitar based songs, sure, but Dylan did not rock (well, maybe when he went electric), Simon and Garfunkel did not Rock, Crosby, Stills, and Nash did not rock. The Beatles – well they rocked sometime. The Stones? Ok, the Rolling stones rocked a lot more than most of their counterparts. And again, I’m not here to define what rock is to the masses – hell – the 60s and the 50s was when Rock was born. But while a lot of the songs were considered in the rock and roll genres, they did not, to me, rock.
Joan Jett loves rock and roll. This is a fact. But I think I love rock and roll more than she does. Ok, maybe that’s unfair – I am just a lowly blogger with a passion for writing about music and a lust for the talent I do not possess. Joan Jett has been rocking us with her bad Reputation since before I learned to talk. Rock and roll is one of my passions – but Rock and Roll is Joan Jett’s life. But I still love rock and roll more than a normal person should. I always have. I even loved it when my version of Rock and Roll was a Petra tape in seventh grade! I thought I was so badass when I was listening to my headphones and my aunt Arlene asked me what I was listening to – I said TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL!” (by Stryper). I still remember her reaction – she was kind of shocked and taken a back. She just kind of said “well then….” Heh, yeah….I thought I was so hardcore (though I was still more hardcore than Lars Ulrich is now, but I digress).
Morrissey is an old man, shaking his cane, and yelling GET OFF MY LAWN. I mean, that’s like his dinner after all. OK, ok, the dinner part was an undeserved jab. I respect his dietary choices, though he doesn’t respect the rights of others to do the same, but that’s an entirely different story altogether. Morrissey recently said something downright ignorant and hurtful to independent musicians. Coming against all the musicians one finds on Kickstarter and gofundme, Morrissey stated: Crowdfunding Is Desperate and Insulting. This simply is not true!
Firstly, music is a dream of many a people. Music is a very fickle business to get into, but if that’s your dream, then you should use all tools at your disposal to make this happen. Chase your dreams! Morrissey has been in the business for a long time, and has reached a point in his career where he can release a symphony of white noise and it would still sell a zillion copies because he’s freaking Morrissey. Good for him, but not all musicians have reached that point. Sure, I can see that someone of his caliber and popularity might feel a little desperate if they have to resort to crowdfunding to publish their music, but again – not everyone is Morrissey. Not everyone has the privilege and luxuries afforded by Morrissey.
But the issue goes deeper than simple privileges afforded by big name musicians. Crowdfunding provides the musicians with the ability to not have to deal with a record company. The day of releasing an album through a big label, and then having it distributed to all the record stores is over. Artists no longer need that, and that’s a good thing. Record companies are notorious for taking more than their fair share of revenues. When all is said and done, the average musician (including Morrissey himself mind you) has to tour to make any money at all. Record companies provide a lot of perks – expensive studios, advertising, distribution, and the like. They also have a lot of staff that needs to be paid, overhead, stockholders, etcetera. If a band can sidestep the middle man, and just rent a studio themselves and distribute their music online, that’s a bigger cut for the musicians. That means they might not need to spend 200 nights a year on the road, just to feed their families.
Stepping away from the monetary hassle, there’s also a certain amount of freedom a musician gets when they’re not tied to a record company. It’s common for musicians to have to sign a contract saying they must make X amount of records. This has led to things like Andrew Eldritch’s SSV-NSMABAAOTWMODAACOTIATW. Sometimes bands just peter out before their contract lets them. You get bitter feuds in bands, you get crappy albums, and you get unlistenable music that doesn’t sell well. It’s a stable gig, sure, but it also sucks when one wants out of that gig. Crowdfunding means record labels don’t have that power over a musician. It also means the artist has the freedom to write whatever they feel inspired to write. They’re not pressured by their label to keep it clean, keep it radio friendly, or even to keep it in a certain style. Crowdfunding throws the shackles into the recycling bin where every other piece of scrap metal belongs!
There’s another aspect that Morrissey doesn’t get, and that’s how crowdfunding creates a bridge between the musicians and the fans. As much as I wish I could be the former, I’m the latter. I’m a fan of the music. As a fan, the most hurtful thing Morrissey said was “What next? Do you want us to brush your teeth?” This statement makes me want to kick Morrissey in his nether regions and delete all the songs out of my library. He does not get that crowdfunding makes those of us who feel so connected to the music even more so connected! We can actually be a part of the process of making sure our favorite artists can publish their music. No, we didn’t write it, and no, we don’t own their music. But it fills us with joy to help. A band I’ve loved for a long time, Flemming and John, are making music RIGHT NOW because of crowdfunding…and I helped! My 43 bucks is getting me a copy on vinyl, but more importantly it’s helping put out the first Flemming and John album since 1999. No amount of swag can match that feeling – the feeling that I’m part of the album.
Finally, crowdfunding allows fans to show our gratitude to the artists. I remember walking around downtown several years back, listening to Over the Rhine’s Ohio album. I loved it. It was part of who I was. I wanted to do more for OTR. I knew buying the album and going to their shows was good enough, but I felt like I wanted to do more. They were sharing their soul with me (and the rest of the world). This in turn fed my soul. How is 15 bucks for an album and 25 or so for a concert even beginning to repay that debt? Sure, a few bucks more in a kickstarter isn’t repaying that debt either – but it helps. Again, it gets the music out there. It helps them fulfill their dreams. That’s at least a start.
Crowdfunding really isn’t a new concept. There was an album Willie Nelson put out in the 80s or 90 to pay off his tax burdens. He fully disclosed that he was in trouble and he needed the help of the public. A fifteen dollar CD would make sure that Willie didn’t go to the slammer after messing up on his taxes. Maybe Morrissey is just too far removed to realize the benefits of crowdfunding. Maybe he’s just an old dog who can’t learn a new trick. Maybe he’s just a jerk, and that’s why he and Johnny Marr will never get the Smiths back together. Maybe I’m being unfair with that last part. If I am, burn me at the stake, just make sure I smell the flames as they rise and my Walkman starts to melt. Now I know how Joan of Arc felt!
Gene Simmons seems to have a constant case of foot in mouth. He’s told depressed people that they should kill themselves, he’s claimed that piracy killed Rock and roll, and he said that being in a band with certain people was like having cancer. The man should have his freaking tongue cut out. And what a long tongue that freak has. Seriously, I know this has been said before, but jeez Gene! Did you have extensions or something? But I digress. Gene has said enough idiotic crap to fill a couple phone books, and yet he and his band mates hit a stream of wisdom when they wrote “God Gave Rock and Roll to you II.” It’s quite a simple song mind you – it’s a song about achieving one’s dreams by working hard, by the sweat of the brow, by…..oh wait, this is just another example of Gene Simmons (and the rest of KISS) spewing out crap!
Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and company stole a happy go lucky song about the beauty of rock and roll, about the gift that is the music, about the love and peace and happiness it brings humanity and spit all over it. KISS took the song into a back room, had their way with it, and called it their own. In the end, they took a few lyrics, a minor point in the original, and made it into a whore of a song. To be fair, KISS did change the name of the song – instead of “God Gave Rock ‘n’ roll to You,” they called it “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II.” The “II” at the end changes everything, doesn’t it? OR DO THEY MAKE IT WORSE?!?!?! Yes, they do – they do make it worse because by adding II it implies that the KISS version of the song is a spiritual successor, a sequel if you will, to the original song.
Now, to be fair – the song has a great message. I’m sitting here writing this very article on a Saturday night because I knew I had to write something. I didn’t know what I was going to write, just that I had to write. I had to work hard to share my “rock and roll,” with the world. No, I don’t have money or a fancy car, and dang it I am really tired of just waiting for a fallen star. These words you’re reading – they ARE my loud guitar! They are my passion and the sweat of my brow. The song has inspired me more than any KISS song ever could, however it feels kind of cheap that they wrote a song about working hard to accomplish their dreams, when they really just phoned in the song to begin with. They didn’t just write another song – they took an existing song and made it to fit their purpose. They song is a solid cube, and they pried it into a round, circular hole. Why Gene, why?
Oh, but it gets worse! So much worse! They didn’t just write (or re-write) the song because they wanted to convey a message. They wrote God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll for You II for a freaking movie! They wrote it for Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey! Now, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen that movie to really judge it, but dang it – the song about working hard to accomplish your dreams and bringing Rock and Roll (or what have you) to the masses was not written for that reason – it was written because some movie producer wrote KISS a big enough check! That is the very definition of selling out! This is the band that a few years prior, gave up their gimmick (ie their famous makeup) because they wanted to be taken more seriously. Geez guys, you want to be taken seriously, here’s a hint: you don’t BS your way through a song like this for the highest bidder!
The sad thing about it: I still like this song. I still feel inspired to write when I hear the song. It really is a good song, despite the fact that the band that “wrote” it are a bunch of lazy sell outs. I remember a Jonathan Richman concert a few years back where he essentially said fame is going to happen if it’s going to happen. While that was pretty much is what happened with Richman, we can’t all be mentored by Lou Reed! Most of us have to work hard at what we do. The thesis of the song isn’t what’s in question, as the thesis is sound. It’s just that I almost feel like we’re being mocked or perhaps trolled, by KISS. Hey, work hard, your dreams will come true! Meanwhile, I’m going to go do a line of cocaine off a few hookers with the money I made by telling you that shit!
I’m expecting too much from a band like KISS. While they have a few good songs, most of their stuff is boring, pedantic, and kind of shallow. Their music got worse as the makeup came off. In fact, the only good song they had post make up was God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll to You II. Maybe that’s a harsh opinion, and I apologize to my readers if you think otherwise. My point though, I shouldn’t expect much in the way of deep meanings from this specific band. Maybe I should just love my friends, love my neighbor, love my life, and love my labor. Maybe I should just forget that the KISS version would not have come to us save for a check from the highest bidder. Maybe I should even forgive the laziness of the song, and just view it as an interpretation of the original. And maybe everyone reading this should also enjoy the song! Just make sure to download it from a source that won’t pay Gene Simmons one red cent – it’s fun to make Gene Simmons mad!
The 80s and 90s were a golden age of music…we had New Wave, alternative, pre-alternative, punk, and a million other amazing genres. Even the theme songs from sitcoms knew where it was at. We had such classics as Family Ties (what would we do baby, without us?), The Facts of Life (You take the Good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have), Perfect Strangers, Who’s the Boss, Silver Spoons, Full House, Friends, The Wonder Years…I could literally fill this entire article up with examples of memorable, and quite frankly, amazing sitcom theme songs from 1980 through the year 1999. I can’t even fill a quarter of this article with good theme songs from 2000 through 2015. What the heck happened?
Maybe I should back up and ask a different question: what makes a good sitcom theme? Let’s look at the following: The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and The Flinstones – all theme songs I would bet most Americans know. Yes, yes, I realize those are all from a time-frame outside of the periods I’m talking about, but I’m viewing these three as a control – as a canon in which to judge all other sitcom theme songs. As I stated before, most Americans (and I’m guessing many people in many other cultures) could recite or sing the lyrics to all three of these by heart. This is one measure of a good theme song – it’s memorability. They are catchy and they are something one might catch oneself singing, or at least humming in the shower. A second criteria – these songs tell what the show is about. For example, The Brady Bunch tells us about the merging of the two families into one; Gilligan’s Island tells the tale of how the castaways got to the deserted island they’re stranded on. The Flinstones theme tells of the prehistoric family, and even invites the audience to watch their zany adventures as they live their lives.
The third, and most important thing in a sitcom theme is that it is something that becomes part of the culture. The theme song becomes something more than just a song which tells us a show is about to start – it becomes something we find ourselves singing when we’re drunk or in a silly mood or what have you. Granted, cultural relevancy is closely related to the fact that the theme song must be memorable. A song won’t become part of the culture if the song is not memorable, though that does not mean they are one and the same. A song must have culture relevancy. When I was a teen, I remember hearing a preacher trying to shame us because we could sing the theme song to the Flinstones easily but very few in that crowd could recite certain Bible Verses. That preacher did not understand, that while said Bible Verses are not necessarily part of the culture, the theme to the Flinstones is very much a part of the culture. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the theme from the Flintstones over a thousand times. Aside from maybe John 3:16, I’m not sure I can name one Bible Verse that I’ve heard recited as often. One does not walk down the street to hear Romans 3:23 being whistled by some random passerby-er, or Psalms 119 being played from a nearby television. They aren’t really part of the culture; they are part of certain subsets of the culture, but not the American culture at large. However, the theme from the Flinstones, the theme from the Brady Bunch, and the theme from Gilligan’s Island are indeed part of the American culture at large. That’s why we were able to recite them. That’s why youth groups sing Amazing grace to the tune of Gilligan’s Island, that’s why I heard someone singing the Brady Bunch on the bus just the other day (note: this might sound like anecdotal evidence – however in this case I think we can forgive the lack of scientific data). Granted, cultural relevancy is closely related to the first point I made, ie the fact that the theme song must be memorable. A song won’t become part of the culture if the song is not memorable, though that does not mean they are one and the same.
To be fair, there are a few of theme songs that really don’t fit all these criteria, but are great nonetheless. Most of them, however, are instrumentals and do fit points one and three. The Theme from the Office is a classic example. However, even those are becoming few and fare between. I used the Office as an example, because it is the only sitcom in the semi-modern era I could think of. The others I thought of were Seinfeld (1989 – 1998), The Simpsons (while current, it began in 1989), and Night Court (1984 – 1992). To be fair, I did think of another which is indeed modern era: The Crazy Ones. The theme for the Crazy Ones made me very happy, and is very memorable to me – however, most people really didn’t like The Crazy Ones. Despite staring a beloved cast (we miss you Robin), the show, and by extension, the theme didn’t really become part of the culture.
Going back to shows that meet all three criteria, I can only name two that fit the current criteria: Family Guy, which I don’t count because it started in the 90s, and The Big Bang Theory – which is a stretch for point number two. If we add in shows that have ended, but are still in the current era, I guess we can add Srubs. Sure, there are sitcoms that failed which might have tried (Selfie). There’s The Goldbergs, which hasn’t quite ascended into “part of the American culture at large,” (yet?). There’s probably a few cable shows that I’m missing (maybe on Disney or Nickelodeon), but again they might be part of a sub-culture, but not part of the culture in general. If I heard someone whistling the theme to say, ICarly (is that still on?), I wouldn’t recognize it. It’s time to face facts – the powerhouse of sitcom songs from the 80s and 90s seems to be a thing of the past.
But why has this happened? What happened to the TV theme song? To be honest, I don’t know that the why even matters. What matters is we somehow storm the Bastille, or rather Hollywood, and demand they give us our freaking sitcom songs back! Now! No, no, no, we don’t want a clone of Charles in Charge or Silver Spoons or Who’s the Boss – those wouldn’t be culturally relevant. We want something fresh. You can even give us a song that wasn’t originally written for the show – I’ve mentioned the shows Friends, Scrubs, and the Wonder Years; those weren’t original songs – but they were culturally relevant, they were memorable, and they explained the general premise of the show. So please, production companies – for the sake of the culture! Of all mankind! Bring us a renaissance of sitcom theme songs! Just think about this, it’s free advertising. Every time I hear the theme from Friends, it makes me want to watch friends. Sure, the show is in syndication, but one day I won’t be able to pull it up on TBS or Nick at Night, and one of these days it won’t be on Netflix. That is the day I shell out a couple hundred bucks for the entire damned series. That is the day you get my money, all because I heard a stupid song.
I leave you with this tribute to 80s sitcom theme songs…
The Older I get, the less interested in new artists I am. I never thought I would ever say that, but it’s become my reality the last few years. That’s not to say that I can’t get into new music, but I’m less interested than I used to be. Having said that, a strange thing has happened: as I get older – I’ve started discovering or revisiting music of the past. Bands that I never thought I would have any interest in now find themselves regularly playing on my iPod.
I thought about doing a list of the best songs from 2014, and while there were a lot of good songs (most of my favorite artists put out new albums), I’d rather write about the music that’s ten, twenty, thirty years old. Some of the songs are songs I’ve just forgotten about or didn’t pay any attention to – some of the songs are songs I didn’t know existed until this year. But there’s a lot of them! Way too many to not write about.
So, without further ado, here’s twenty songs I discovered (or rediscovered) in 2014.
1. Teen angst (what the world needs now) – Cracker – 1992: This song was discovered as a direct result of my 20 year High School Reunion. My friend Dave made a playlist to mark the occasion, and this song was on it. I knew it already – in fact the same Dave and I used to sing it in his car as it blared on the radio. I remember one time this almost caused us to slam right into a semi-truck, but that’s a story for a different time. Ultimately I had forgotten this song altogether till I heard it on the playlist – and now, now I can’t get enough of it. What the World needs now is more songs like this….and a new Frank Sinatra.
2. Halo – The Cure – 2004?: Unless you’re a hardcore Cure fan, you’ve probably not heard this song. It’s a B side / Rarity, but why it was not released as a full on hit, I’ll never know! My girlfriend played it to me one day and it was love at first sound. Since then I’ve declared it to be “our song,” though I should probably ask her about it. To be fair – the fact that my girlfriend did introduce it to me probably ups my value of the song by like 900 percent, but still, I’d like to think that everyone who listens to this song will fall for it just as I fell for it.
3. Photograph – Def Leppard – 1983: If you played Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll know they included like a thousand songs on the different radio stations. Many of these songs on this very list, including this song, were introduced to me by this game. This song in particular turned me onto Def Leppard as a whole. Did I mention that the station on GTA V that this song plays was hosted by Kenny Loggins? Yeah – Kenny Loggins basically made me love Def Leppard.
4. Waveforms – Djanogo Django – 2012: This is another song from GTA V, though not from the Loggins station. The song itself is rather a simple song, almost a love song to music itself. However, the emotion this song projects is amazingly complex. This song describes in both lyric and music how much music means to an audiophile like myself. The very title, waveforms, suggests that music is alive. And sometimes, sometimes I think music is indeed alive…
5. Bohemian Rhapsody – The Flaming Lips – 2005: Ok, to be fair – I’m very familiar with the song Bohemian Rhapsody as I’m sure most of you are. But I was not aware that The Flaming Lips did a cover of this song. I feel almost gypped to be honest. It was a bonus track on At War With The Mystics, which I bought – bought evidently my copy, my early copy of this fantastic album, did not include this song. But I digress. Back to the song, this might be one of the best covers of Bohemian Rhapsody ever produced – and I tend to be a connoisseur of covers (look for an upcoming article all about covers of Bohemian Rhapsody by the way).
6. Valley Girl – Frank Zappa with Moon Unit Zappa – 1982: Like, Ohmygod, how did I like, not know this song existed? Seriously – I grew up in the 80s. I remember all sorts of movies and television shows with the typical Valley Girl. I didn’t know if I was supposed to like these girls or hate them. I didn’t know if they were supposed to be pretty, or pretty repulsive. I think this song answers any questions I had. Thanks Frank (and daughter). I wish I knew you better. You were truly ahead of your time.
7. Truckin’ – The Greatful Dead – 1970: There’s a joke I’ve always said: What does a deadhead say when their drugs wear off? This music sucks! To be fair, I’m not too familiar with the Dead’s massive catalog, and honestly, what I’ve heard doesn’t suck (that much), but this song in particular made me take a new look at the band itself. I heard it on satellite one day and was quite surprised. To be fair, it’s a typical 1970s traveling band song, but I have a soft spot for 1970s traveling band songs – so there’s that I guess. Besides, it’s an interesting look at the Dead’s life of constant touring.
8. Love is the Protest – Jars of Clay – 2008: I’ll be honest, I kind of lost interest in Jars of Clay sometime in the late 90s. Still, I do love their first couple albums and one day curiosity got to me. So I decided to see what they’ve been up to. I was shocked, floored, and other clichés when I heard this song. The message really symbolize a few thoughts I’ve had in my own head recently. It questions what one who is dedicated to love thy neighbor should do in times when changes must be made. This is not a political article, nor is it a religious article, but I encourage all of you to listen to this song’s message. Maybe what the world needs now is not more of the first song in this list – maybe we need more songs like this…
9. One Piece at a Time – Johnny Cash – 1976: Spotify played this for me one day while I was in the grocery store. I have no idea how I didn’t know this song before then, but the important thing is I know it now. The song itself is pretty darned humorous, the man himself was the great Johnny Cash. It makes me sad – I saw Mr Cash once. He played at a Billy Graham rally. I didn’t really understand the big deal, as I was just a 17 year old kid at the time. Now…now I look back and wish I could relive that moment again. I saw the great Mr. Cash play live…wow!
10. California Girls – The Magnetic Fields – 2008: Somehow I skipped the Magnetic Fields’ “Distortion” album. In my “quest” to rectify this situation, I discovered this song specifically. It’s full of every bit of wit, humor, and cynicism that makes the Magnetic Fields one of the best bands (as far as lyrics at least) of the last twenty years. No offense to any actual California Girls I happen to know.
11. The Fox (live from the Freight and Salvage) – Nickel Creek – 2000/2006: This song is a bluegrass standard, but as I don’t really know too much Bluegrass, I didn’t really know that. It’s a humorous and fun song. So why did I include this specific version? Well, for one, there’s a part of it where Nickel Creek forgets they’re doing this song, and starts playing Subterranean Homesick Blues. I’m still trying to piece how the two songs interact.
12. One Tin Soldier – The Original Caste – 1969: My earliest memory of this song is singing it around a campfire at summer camp. I didn’t know the lyrics, and thought it was odd hearing the adults singing “Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven you can justify it in the end…” Of course I didn’t realize they weren’t really saying this – but rather the opposite! I re-discovered the song via the 1960s satellite radio station. I won’t say it’s ever going to be one of my favorites, but as an adult it’s interesting to compare it’s real meaning to the meaning I brought from it as a kid.
13. Phil Keaggy – Good Vibrations – 2002 This song is, of course, a cover, but not a garden variety cover. Of the three versions of the song I’ve heard, (this one, the Brian Wilson Smile version, and the Beach Boys version), I have to say this is a solid number 2 (the smile version is my favorite). That means that this version, in my honest opinion, is better than the version we’ve all heard time and time again on the radio. How many covers can say that? 14. White Stag – 2nd Chapter of Acts – 1980: This song is the last song on a concept album about C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” I remember my parents playing it back in the early 80s, and this song seemed to be out of place – almost as it was a separate tale from the world of Narnia. I recently decided I needed to read the books again, and realized, oh…this song is all about the return of the four children to our world! Regardless, I was right – this song does stick out. While I love the album, this song seems to be my favorite of the bunch. The emotion, the adventure, and even the feeling that all good things must end. Even musically, this song feels a bit more orchestrated, and on a different level than some of the songs on the album. That isn’t to say, the album sucked. I mean, it featured guitars from Phil Keaggy for gosh’s sake…but this song was a real high point. I like it when an album is ended on a high point.
15. Doctorin’ the Tardis (The Timelords) – 1988: The first time I heard this song was the homecoming dance my freshman year of High School. The DJ played some pretty trippy (ie not mainstream) stuff and we were all like… what? Oh well, let’s dance. I kind of forgot about the song until several months ago, then I went on a major search to find the song – and find the song I did – and dance to the song I do again, on a regular basis. To be fair, the lyrics aren’t anything special. Mostly someone saying “Dr. Who, and the Tardis” several times, interlaced with clips of Daleks saying they are the superior beings…but the best songs are always more than the sum of their parts.
16. Abolish Government / Silent Majority – TSOL – 1997: Again, I was introduced to this song because of Grand Theft Auto V. At first it sounds as though it’s just a typical speed metal, neo-punk song. Nothing special. Then the tempo shifts…the drums beat….and you hear them shout “America, land of the free. Free to the power of the people in uniform!” At that point I just needed to know what exactly this song had to say. To be honest, it doesn’t say much; typical punk anti-government anarchism. But I still love the song.
17 Lost for Words – Pink Floyd – 1994: The Division Bell is often seen as a vanity project by two former members of Pink Floyd who chose to use the name’s moniker (Kind of like when Roland Orzabal did a couple Tears for Fears albums without Curt Smith). So of course, I ignored the project as a whole. Then I heard Lost for Words. The first thing that really drew me to it was the astounding resemblance to U2’s Moment of Surrender. Still, the more I listened, I heard a song about persecution, about a lack of empathy, about a cold world that just cannot relate to the speaker of the song. This is classic Pink Floyd! This very same attitude is what made Another brick in the wall such an amazing piece of art! Say what you will about Division Bell, but Lost for Words is maybe one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever recorded.
18. I’d rather be With You – Bootsy Collins – 1976: I’ll admit – I’ve never been fond of funk. While the music is, well, funky, the lyrics have often felt lacking. This song, might not be the most poetic song, but it kind of made me understand what funk did with the lyrics. Funk is not necessarily the lyrics, but rather about the feeling the entire song brings to one’s self. This song makes me want to dance and maybe write poetry to my girlfriend. Bootsy himself said the funk is making something out of nothing. I think I’m beginning to understand… 19. You and the Music – Donald Byrd – 1975: Probably what drew me into this song the most is the string section. I know I’ve heard it a thousand times before, yet I can’t find any record of it anywhere else but this song. Like the Bootsy Collins song I just talked about, the lyrics aren’t the most important thing, but rather a component of the song. And again, the song is more than the sum of it’s parts. I was sad to find out that Mr. Byrd died a few weeks after I heard this song. I can’t judge his trumpeting ability, but anyone who could write this song has my eternal respect.
20. 10538 Overture – Electric Light Orchestra – 1971: ELO is one of those bands that, if I hadn’t been paying attention, could have totally been absent from my musical knowledge base. I remember listening to the Traveling Wilburys and asking, who the hell is Jeff Lynne? Even though I knew the songs Mr. Blue Sky and Don’t bring me down and I was even familiar with the soundtrack from Xanadu …yeah, I knew their music – I just didn’t know them. Eventually I found out who they were, but I still didn’t know 10538 Overture until I heard it in the movie “American Hustle.” The song starts out with an amazingly jubilant guitar part, and then you hear the story of a friend falling from glory. The song leads you on a journey, and you wonder – what’s going to happen to this friend? Should I help them? Should I distance myself from them? Should I thank God that I’m not them? Or should I just go about my life, living for me? I can see why they used the song in the movie, as both are describing morally ambiguous situations where there really isn’t a best answer. The wrong thing might be more beneficial to the listener, the right thing might bring the listener down into the mud with everyone else. The song isn’t a call to do what’s right – the song is a call to make a decision, for better or for worse.