Top 5 Songs I Didn’t Know Were By Carole King/ Gerry Goffin (by Claire)

Here’s a conversation I keep having:

Me: So I’m reading Carole King’s memoir (A Natural Woman: A Memoir) and LOVING IT.

Friend: Oh weird. She’s okay.

Me: I’m not even a big Carole King fan, but REALLY, you should really read it! Also I’m only half way done, but I’m pretty sure Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote every song ever.

Friend: Hmm.

Me: You’re not going to read it are you.

Friend:….nah. How’s Australia?

My music book club dreams have been thwarted (it’s okay, I got everyone to read Just Kids a few months ago. Wait, you haven’t read Just Kids? Oh come on guys.*) But my Goffin/King obsession continues. Here are my top 5 (of so many! So many songs! Go read the Wikipedia page of just the hits. It’s ridiculous) surprising Goffin/King songs, complete with wacky musical trivia and early 60’s songwriting stories.

“Locomotion,” by Little Eva

Eva Boyd was a babysitter for Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s daughters, Louise and Sherry. Urban legend has it that they heard her singing around the house decided to turn her into a star, but urban legend is wrong: Boyd was already singing backup on Goffin/King songs when she started working for them, and they were well aware of her musical gifts. Goffin gave her the stage name “Little Eva.” Apparently she came up with the signature Locomotion dance on the spot when she was on tour promoting the song.

“He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss),” by The Crystals

Disturbing fact that’s not in the book: Creepy ode to domestic violence “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” is a Goffin/King song that they wrote after learning that Eva was being beaten by her boyfriend. When they asked her why she stayed with him, she said it was because his abuse was motivated by love, a response that inspired the song made popular by The Crystals.

“(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin

Here was the assignment: Write a hit for Aretha Franklin (who at this point was already on her way to becoming a musical legend). Call it “Natural Woman.” Goffin and King got this assignment as they left work one day. They started to work their brainstorming magic in the car on the ride home, and by the end of the night they wrote and composed what would go on to be a classic.

Goffin wrote the lyrics to this, and to their first smash songwriting hit “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Both songs seem to have such a clear, female voice; even King notes that everyone always assumes she wrote the lyrics to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” because how could a man layout the emotional concerns of a teen girl who’s about to lose her virginity? It’s a mark of masterful writing.

“One Fine Day,” by The Chiffons

If I were very strict honesty-wise and allowed repetition in my So Hot Right Now lists, this song would probably be on the last six. Goffin/King songs actually were a part of all sorts of 60s girl group magic. They wrote  “Chains” and “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby) for  The Cookies, who would go on to become the Raelettes, Ray Charles’ back-up band. “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” was a hit for The Crystals, and The Shirelles’ version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” was the first hit by a girl group to reach #1 on the charts in the United States.

“I’m Into Something Good,” by Herman’s Hermits

Goffin/King originally wrote this song for Earl-Jean “Jeanie” McCrea from The Cookies, but it ended up being a huge hit for Herman’s Hermits instead.

So in King’s memoir, she doesn’t mention this story, but it comes up in Girls Like Us: Gerry Goffin had a love child with Jeanie McCrea, and Goffin/King continued to write songs for her and work with her quite a bit professionally. Is this a real story? I can’t find it anywhere else—King doesn’t talk about it, Goffin doesn’t talk about it, it’s not attached to any online information about them or McCrea. Do you know anything about this? Leave a comment if you do.

*Patti Smith is writing a sequel to Just Kids!

** If you want to join my one-woman musical book club, I’m taking some inspiration from Noura Hemady’s Top 5 Songs About Rock and Roll and reading Love Goes to the Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever next. Leave your music-book-club suggestions in the comments!

Guest Post: Top 5 Songs About Rock and Roll (by Noura Hemady)

Dear Reader: Below you find a list of songs about Rock and Roll, or going to a rock club, and a short summary of why I like this song.  I decided Rock and Roll and rock clubs were one in the same because I needed 5 non-lame songs to write about relating to Rock and Roll (be happy I didn’t decide to wax poetic on Billy Joel) and because going to a “club” and going to listen to rock music are basically one in the same for me (which is probably true for most readers of this blog, probably not true for most people in general).  So, without further delay my selection of 5 songs that are sort of about Rock music:


“Rock and Roll” by the Velvet Underground

I tend to slip in and out of obsession with the Velvet Underground on a quarterly basis. I go clean every few months, and then, like a proper addict, relapse in a fit of nostalgia for the unremembered 60s. This summer, I can unequivocally blame Will Hermes’ book Love Goes to the Building on Fire for my rapid descent into my O.M.G you guys let’s listen to the Velvet Underground all the time neurosis. And if you haven’t read the book, I suggest you pick it up immediately, but be warned you’ll have to valiantly stave off a sense of New York bohemia just-chilling-with-Patti-Smith-lust that can be very distracting while you’re reviewing expense reports from Palestine.

Commence “Rock and Roll”: the guitar intro has just enough distortion to sound like a car with a booming radio rushing past on a bustling street.

Welcome Jenny, the girl whose life was saved by rock and roll. We all know what it’s like to suffer through the doldrums of Top 40 radio, waiting for that epiphanic moment when that song comes on and you’re consumed by joy, and also relief that there is good music in the world. As Lou Reed tells us, “it took no computations to dance to a rock and roll station.” Dancing to music that you love is an effortless affair: the body overtakes the mind and just moves.

Don’t we all kind of know what it’s like to be Jenny, plucked from our workaday existence and made exceptional by our love of song? Don’t we all kind of wish we were Jenny, grooving to the Velvet Underground on a crackling radio in our unheated loft somewhere in the village? Hey, isn’t that Robert Maplethorpe smoking on the street corner out there?

 “Niteclub” by Old 97s

My longstanding love affair with Old 97s has been well documented on this website. They aren’t “rock and roll” in the same sense as the Velvet Underground: they earned their hangovers in bars wreathed with buffalo skulls and gazelle taxidermy somewhere in the steppe northwest of El Paso (as opposed to a filthy dive bar somewhere on the Lowest East Side). Fine, maybe I made that up based on every cliché I’ve ever met. But, the premise of “Niteclub” is as rock and roll as it gets – a vagabond musician with a tortured, romantic relationship with his favorite club.

The initial tumult of the parlor piano gives way to the lilting gait of guitar and drums. And then, Rhett Miller (O, Rhett! How we love the way you swing your hips on stage): from thousands of miles away, he yearns for the dank comfort of this club (Rock or country? We’ll never know) that stole so many hours of his youth, not to mention his one true love. It’s an easy song to sing, to mold your voice to every one of Rhett’s vocal inflections. He sings a cautionary tale of letting affection for a place, one that has housed your triumphs and tragedies, hold you hostage from the outside world.

“Rock and Roll Nightclub” by Mac Demarco

I don’t have a deep relationship with this song. I first heard it last week in the middle of a post-lunch comma at work and fell madly in love then played it for the next 3 hours of work.

Mac Demarco has that deep voice usually reserved for 70s soul men. On those men, it’s a smooth declaration of their virility. On Mac Demarco, it’s a mildly unsettling, seemingly deliberate strohbass. In other words, he sounds like that serious creeper in the corner of the dance floor trying to decide which drunk girl to cherry pick from her friends and subject to his unwashed armpit stench. Vocal tone aside, “Rock and Roll Nightclub” is a gentle song. It’s not paired with the usually pulsing grooves radiating sexual machismo (see, Iggy Pop, “Nightclubbing”), but rather the reverb fuzz of a plucked guitar, a musical analogy for the gradual haze of intoxication.

“Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop

There’s a masterful, deliberate escalation of tension introducing Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing.” Each beat on the drum sounds like a footstep heavy with booze, treading towards the nightclub in blurred anticipation of the pleasures within. Matched with the sinister tone of the pianos, you can be sure something wonderfully debaucherous will come from this trip to the nightclub.

Or maybe I’m just projecting the club scene from Trainspotting on my listening of this song.

“Rock DJ” by Robbie Williams

Who remembers Robbie Williams? Not me, up until 30 minutes ago while I was scouring my iTunes looking for songs appropriate for my given theme. I clicked this song and suddenly, there I was, circa 2000 pasting pictures of No Doubt and Stone Temple Pilots I’d plucked from the Internet onto my bedroom wall, anxious for my first year at Art High School and desperately trying to fit the part.

It’s hard to transcend your reputation as late 90s British pop monster. I first heard Robbie Williams on the “Now That’s What I Call Music 2!” record, which I will go on the record to proclaim is a brilliant compilation—dare I say best in the series—commemorating music at the end of the millennium. His song “Millennium” is the second song on the album, sandwiched between New Radicals’ “You Get What you Give” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”

Where “Nightclubbing” is sinister, “Rock DJ” is bouncing off the walls just-get-me-to-a-dance-floor fun. There’s almost a sense of innocence to it—no one’s getting sloppy drunk and crying on the floor, no one’s going to nod off in a corner into a drug and drink haze. “Rock DJ” is an explosion of bass, synth, and Robbie’s smooth falsetto. You’re just going to put on something shiny and dance with your friends. The song samples both Barry White and A Tribe Called Quest, and quotes Snoop Dogg: how can this not lead to something fun? Obviously, there’s going to be a disco ball.

Happy Birthday, Claire!

Because you’re so awesome, and have a super soft spot for terrible songs, I’ve spent the past few days looking for the worst song ever written. To my surprise, it’s not Rebecca Black or Nickelback that tops the charts. It’s the 1985 stalwart, “Party All the Time” by Eddie Murphy. Enjoy, and happy birthday! (My secondary gift is that this will be stuck in your head all the way to Australia!)

Top 5 Dream Covers (by Claire)

I’ve been thinking about dream covers ever since this post, in which I requested that Joshua get a band together and start doing filthy funk interpretations of saccharine James Taylor jams. I stand by the fact that “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” could be downright dirty, if given the appropriate timing and musical accoutrements.

Until that cover gets made (oh please? someone? I can’t really sing, but I’ll play the hell out of a triangle if it means making this cover happen), here are five more dream covers. Leave yours in the comments!

“Birdhouse in Your Soul,” by They Might be Giants, covered by Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris

Only the honeyed voices of Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss will do when it comes to a reimagining of “Flood.” Picture the quiet loveliness of Emmylou’s voice on “Road Movie to Berlin” or Krauss crooning “Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love.” And what sweet magic would they lend to quirky classics like “Whistling in the Dark” and “Particle Man”? Ralph Stanley could sit in on “They Might Be Giants,” and I want Lucinda Williams in the studio getting rowdy on “Twisting.” “Birdhouse in Your Soul” would be stripped down to just short of a capella, their voices paired with a lone fiddle, and a banjo making brief, rapidly plucked cameos.

“Radio,” by Lana Del Rey, covered by Andrew Luttrell and Rosie Thomas

Lana Del Rey got caught in a mean spirited game of SEO one upmanship several months ago. Music bloggers battled it out to see who could make her sound the most like a harbinger of the apocalypse. This SNL skit really sums up my feelings on this.

Del Rey is no Carol King, but she makes decent, sometimes interesting pop music and I don’t think she’s a sign of the end times for humanity or modern music (and if you think that, you haven’t been paying attention to pop music. You have so many other things to be horrified about)  “Radio” is one of those sometimes interesting songs. The lyrics and tune are kind of fun, and the whole song could be more interesting if it was divided into a duet and outfitted with different singers.

The duet concept? A couple is tested by the newfound musical fame of one partner. They banter and flirt, but the whole dialogue is edged in genuine worry that all this radio fame will have an impact on the relationship.

A: Now my life is sweet like cinnamon/ Like a fucking dream I’m living in/Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio/How do you like me now?

B: Pick me up and take me like a vitamin/ Cause my body’s sweet like sugar venom oh yeah

A: Baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio

B: How do you like me now?

The singers: Andrew Luttrell, who has the guitar chops and straightforward, slightly gruff delivery one half of this duet requires.  His musical sparring partner is Rosie Thomas, who sounds like honey and rosewater and is adept at revealing layered, complicated forms of sadness through her voice.

“She’s Got You,” by Patsy Cline, covered by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill and Patsy Cline share an aptness for keeping slow, slightly mournful numbers entertaining. They also don’t require much in the way of backup: A stripped down Lauryn Hill track is riveting, and Patsy Cline’s voice fills and carries each song. When I think about Hill covering this song, I can hear her cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” or her song “Selah.” I know this would be equally haunting and beautiful. Much like my “Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris Take on They Might Be Giants” scheme, I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of Patsy Cline covers by Lauryn Hill (Although I would be a happy girl if I found a whole album of just about anything by Lauryn Hill.)

“Marionette,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers, covered by Warren Haynes

I became so obsessed with this cover idea about six or seven years ago that I briefly considered pitching it in a letter to Warren Haynes. I had Let’s Kill Saturday Night on heavy repeat around the time I saw Warren Haynes do a solo show in Philadelphia. It was one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Warren was charming, the acoustics were insane, and his versions of well known songs made you feel like you hadn’t known those songs very well after all. I rarely walk out of a show starry eyed and thoroughly pleased, ready to pledge allegiance and endless fan-ship to the artist. This was one of those shows.

I heard “Marionette” for probably the 100th time a few days later and could hear how Warren Haynes voice would sound on it. He would amplify the sadness and anger. He would lend some gravel voiced magic to it. “Marionette” is already great, and his version could be sublime.

“You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket,” by The White Stripes, covered by Mavis Staples

More Mavis Staples, guys. The world needs more Mavis Staples. Her album with Jeff Tweedy was great. Her 2011 version of “The Weight” with Wilco and Nick Lowe  haunts my dreams. “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket” would sound amazing with her voice, and could be such a different song without Jack White’s high pitched musical stylings. Ideal situation: Jack White produces the cover, maybe even plays guitar on the track. They strike up a friendship and make an album together. And we get a great cover, another great album, and most importantly, more Mavis Staples.


Top 5 Songs We Wish Would Get Covered (by Joshua)

We here at Charm City Jukebox are totally and completely obsessed with covers. It’s actually kind of unnatural how much we think about them. The subject on our mind as of late are hypothetical covers – songs we wish could be done by another band, and what it would sound like and how fucking awesome they would sound. Sometimes it’s of a need to correct the mistakes done on the original version (think the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help From My Friends), but mostly it’s because we think the new artists would do just an insane version of the song. And they would, believe you me.

“All the Girls Love Alice” by Elton John, as performed by Sly & the Family Stone

This song is already so funky, but man, how funk-tastic could it get with Sly Stone at the helm? Of course, we’re talking late 60’s/early 70’s Family Stone, not today’s living-in-a-van-down-by-the-river homeless Sly Stone. (That’s right. Sly Stone is broke and homeless, living in a van, down by the river.) This is the kind of funk we all wish we could aspire to, but never quite make it. It would be a deep, deep funk sound, slowed down a bit, but with a ridiculous bass line and a horn section, with all the breaks cut with the horns. As amazing as Sly & the Family Stone were, they were never the most amazing songwriters. Can you imagine the marriage of Elton John’s writing and Sly Stone’s funk? I can. We would listen to nothing else; they would be revered as Mozart or Miles Davis, but, you know, actually listened to by most people.

“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, as performed by Cake

We all know Cake has ridiculous talent and penchant for covers. They’ve covered it all, from Willie Nelson to Barry White to the most famous cover they’ve done, “I Will Survive.” They like to cover songs where someone is pissed off, and this fits the bill. It would have an insane backbeat, which is crazy, because the original backbeat is hotter than hell. But this would take it to the next level. The vocals would be, of course, even-toned. It would have that same build-up, though, and crescendo into a huge guitar/trumpet solo. It would be an instant fan favorite. Get on it, Cake.

“Chain of Fools”  by Aretha Franklin, as performed by Johnny Cash

This would have to be non-vintage Cash, but the subdued, near-death version recording America IV. It would have those same qualities of the amazing covers of “Personal Jesus” and “Hurt:” it would be slow and haunting, but it would also be different in one respect – this song would have a sense of humor. It wouldn’t be outright funny, but it would sung with slick, sly smile that only Cash could pull off. You can see him smiling to himself as he sings this into a studio mic, totally alone but filling the room with his voice.

“Fuck You” by Cee-Lo Green, as performed by The Band

Oh man, this would be so fun! There’d be the big horn section of “Ophelia” and it’d be just as fast, but with that stripped down backbeat, four-on-the-floor groove the late, great Levon Helm just loved. He would sing lead, too, but everyone would be involved for the big swelling four-part harmonies in the chorus. And somehow, even if they sang “Forget you” instead of “Fuck you,” it’d still be ok. It would be an instant American Classic, played everywhere.

“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists, as performed by Meat Loaf

This is tough, but doable. I think Meat Loaf deserves a thrust back into the mainstream; hough, covering a song that sounds like a 19th century sea shanty admittedly may not be the way to achieve that. Still, I’d love to hear what he could do with this….I’m seeing big, big guitars (when is there ever not big guitars in a Meat Loaf classic jam?) and a bruising, pounding vocal performance. Think “Bat Out of Hell,” but about pirates instead of motorcycles. It would be huge and epic in proportion, even more so than the original. They’d be a full orchestra. It would be nearly 20 minutes in length. Colin Meloy would shit his pants.

Songs about Places (by Joshua)

I’m not a person who likes certain music because of the memories it evokes – I tend to listen to the music of a song first, decide whether I like it or not, then listen to the lyrics. If I happen to then associate the song with a memory or it becomes associated with something I’ve done, fine, but unless I’m listening to the song while creating the memory my music taste just doesn’t work like that. This, of course, makes this subject rather tough for me – I have to take it more metaphorically than simply picking a song about a place. It’s more like a song about a place I may have never been to, or have always been in, or a place that isn’t an actual place but an idea of a place that wishes it was a place but hasn’t quite made it out of the starting gate…Ok, I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, but I think an English and Philosophy double major somewhere just got a boner.

“The Old Apartment” by Barenaked Ladies

Have you ever moved from a place you desperately loved, or in which you felt superbly loved? Have you ever been evicted? Or maybe it was just a place you needed to call home so badly it hurt, because nowhere else felt like home and it was your only place of refuge ever. Or maybe it was a place you hated and were so glad to leave you wished you never had to go back. And then you did, and wrote a song about any one of these things. That’s what this song is about. If you do follow in their footsteps, it’s probably best just to knock.

“The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire

I grew up in a city suburb, which I always just thought was the suburbs. Anything further than 2 miles or so from the city line just seemed like the boonies to me. Then I dated this girl who grew up in what I thought was the boonies, and she called it the suburbs. First, she was wrong. It was the boonies. Second, this song is about any place you can call the suburbs – it’s about boredom. Boredom and that desperate need to leave, which you think will solve the boredom. Rob Gordon/Zimmerman in High Fidelity explains it just as well: “You can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway.” The people in this song are desperate to escape but have no idea what that may lead to.

“All at Sea” by Jamie Cullum

The literal image here is to be in a small rowboat, floating further and further away from shore, leaving behind your friends and your worries, your hopes and  your disappointments, your melodies and dissonances. Cullum has captured perfectly that idea that sometimes you want the boredom, the exaltations – you want to escape the things that bring you down as much as the things that give you the most joy. Sometimes you need it to stay sane. Or maybe you don’t, but I do. Well, lucky you, if you don’t, but don’t fucking lord it over me, ok?

“Big Time in the Jungle” by Old Crow Medicine Show

I’ve never been to Vietnam, or been in the military, and I was born 30 years too late to sign up for the war there, but I think OCMS has the general gist of it. Or maybe they don’t. I don’t know. But it’s a great song, and bonus, it’s totally fun to play hanging around a campfire. Just don’t play it if there’s a disheveled looking dude wearing a bandana and an old Army jacket hanging out by himself far to the side of the fire. He might get angry.

“Tallahassee” by The Mountain Goats

This, like The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, is a whole album about a place. This album, though, tells a story of a terrible marriage. Our intro to the album is this song, as the couple arrives to their new house in Tallahassee. It’s a bad omen, this song – it’s slow and plodding, with a terrible sense of foreboding. When you arrive to your first house as a newlywed couple, it should be a joyous occasion, but it absolutely isn’t. When they see the house, they have to ask themselves, “What did I come down here for?” They remind themselves, “You,” but we know it’s putting off the inevitable – this place is wrong for them. Maybe it’s dramatic irony, or maybe it’s their own self-deception. Maybe it’s both.

Top 5 Songs for a Foggy Day (by Claire)

I’ve really enjoyed this past week of foggy weather.

Now it’s sunny, coat-less and warm during the day, but the truth is I like the city when it’s cloaked in fog. I liked walking around and watching the fog hang in the street lights, I like the way it makes all the tall views in the city look like Impressionist drawings of what, just the other day, was clear and crisp.

I take these epic, head-clearing walks almost daily, up and down several hills, in wide squiggley ovals through the city. When it’s foggy, the soundtrack to my walk changes drastically. I like the idea of seasonal songs, and it’s one of many things I miss about having seasons. Fog songs are about as close as I get.

“Spooky,” by Dusty Springfield

We don’t get sticky summer nights, when the air is dense and your blood quickens. When the fog rolls in, it’s the closest San Francisco gets to a sensual, seasonal moment—the thick low fog, the feelings it stirs, it’s all strange and a little wild, spooky. Dusty gets it. The first line “In the cool of the evening/When everyone is feeling kind of groovy” is right on.

“Swingset Chain,” by Loquat

I’ve been trying to reclaim this song. Do you ever do that? There are some songs so stanched in memories, often unpleasant ones, and I would like them back without the baggage. In the first dregs of a long, dark winter a few years ago, I listened to this song constantly. It reminds me of crisp, hard November coldness and teary Metro rides. It reminds me of a box of Trader Joes crackers I used to come home and eat while drinking white wine and watching bad movies, like a triage for winter blues that seemed to facilitate them more than abate them. But I want to listen to it again without cracker crumbs in my lap or a sigh lodged in my throat. It’s dreamy and catchy; it’s even by a San Francisco band. When I walk around in the fog, “Swingset Chain” feels fresh and that winter feels far away.

“Fluffy Lucy,” by Cracker

A few weeks ago, Joshua and I were trying to list our top 5 lustworthy musicians. I wasn’t great at this list–I’ve never been much for crushes on musicians (boy bands were sold to my generation so hard in our puberty years that it turned me off, rather than on) and most of the men I listen to rabidly fall into a playlist labeled “Sad Old Guys.” I have a lot to say about Richard Thompson, but I don’t really want to take him home.

That said, David Lowery is also kind of sad, and comparatively kind of old, certainly a guy, but I think he’s silly cute and always have. A little crush is nice on an almost dreary day. But even if you lack a Lowery crush, this song is one of many slower Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven songs that work well when walking through the fog (See: “That Gum You Like is Back in Style“). “Fluffy Lucy” is a great example of one of these: soulful, slow, a little suggestive. The soft strum of the guitar, the light drumming and sparse piano moments, it’s all the kind of pace that works perfectly when slowly ascending steep hills. I hope it hits the chorus when you get to the top, where the outlines of the city have gone smudgey, like a child just finger painted San Francisco onto the skyline.

“The Crane Wife, Pt. 3,” by The Decemberists

Joshua listed this as one of his Top 5 Snowed in Songs, which I think is definitely in the same genre family as Foggy Day songs. It’s lovely and sparse, full of rich imagery and music that makes me feel wildly hopeful and excited. I think it has something to do with the way the sounds build, and how the music seems to burst on the chorus. The Decemberists make a lot of good foggy day music; I like walking up a hill listening to this, and walking down the hill listening to “Red Right Ankle.”

“Sweet Thing,” by Van Morrison

Van Morrison created a song that sounds and feels like falling in love. Bright, happy, rich and strange, dizzying overall. Sometimes in the deep fog, the trees  seem bathed in an otherworldly light. Flowers pop, bark glows, the outlines of leaves and branches seem to hover and sway. It reminds me of when I first visited the city, when I wandered through coffee shops and book stores, when I sat in the park half-crazed on espresso and couldn’t stop smiling. It was like falling in love—it had to be. You can’t move across the country for anything less. Bounding up hills, wandering the city, watching the same views become even more beautiful, it makes me fall in love with San Francisco all over again. It still seems strange and wonderful. It’s still exactly where I want to be.

Master Class: Covers and Cultures (by E.c. Fish)

The oft-told tale of post-WWII American popular music– and baby, that is rock and roll, among others– is a tale of cultural cross pollination, of white musicians adopting African American forms for a mass (that is, white) audience and creating a new kind of music that conquered the world. Depending on your point of view, it can also be seen as a story of outright theft, of riffs, songs, styles, publishing rights, and record sales as conquered colonies of the majority’s cultural empire. It is also the context for the cultural give and take of the second batch of covers in this master class. Notebooks ready, here we go…

“Karma Chameleon,” by Beat Farmers

For “Covers and Culture,” a cover of Culture Club by The Beat Farmers, an ’80s cowpunk outfit. The self conscious irony and DIY ethos of the postpunk era made it a new golden age of covers– Velvets songs, Monkees songs, old cereal commercial jingles, whatever the hell else you wanted to throw in there– mostly because writing songs was something a lot of these bands couldn’t do themselves. While this wasn’t necessarily true of the Farmers, this is a stellar example of the phenomenon, with the band using the original’s already copped from country harmonica line and drummer Country Dick Montana’s natural status as the anti-Boy George to turn the song into a sort of semiotic jamboree that flatly insists on the ridiculousness of both the original and the whole cultural enterprise.

“Dedicated To The One I Love,” by The Mamas and the Papas

A gorgeous record, and a near perfect example of an old school cover. Back in the age of vinyl long long ago, the record business was geared to the sale of 45s like the one you see in this video. LPs (or, for our younger readers, those big round things in the cardboard jackets with the nice graphics down in your parents’ basement) were tacked together from singles, b-sides, and cover versions. Covers were thus common, accepted, and thick on the ground, an A and R tradition that continued clear into the ’60’s and records like this one. It’s also an example of another cover tradition: a bunch of white people taking a song by a bunch of black people, buying it on the cheap, and throwing class privilege in the form of money and studio technology at it. The resulting record is quite beautiful, meticulously crafted, and very, very white. Also an example of a cover too few people know is a cover. School yourselves, people.

“Sail On, Sailor,” by Ray Charles and The Beach Boys

This is arguably not so much a cover as a live take with a guest vocalist, but with this particular guest vocalist that becomes a distinction without a difference: Ray Charles is going to change the Beach Boys much more than the Beach Boys are going to change Ray Charles. This is a nice reversal of the racial politics of “Dedicated”. As a slim and sane appearing Brian Wilson tells us in the intro, it was Ray’s voice that he heard when he originally wrote this song, making this both a performance closer to the original intent of the song than the recorded version and a solid homage to Ray and the African-American roots of rock and roll. Much nicer than the more common practice of taking a song by a black man (for example, Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”), changing the lyrics (to something about, oh, I don’t know, water sports), and claiming the result as original work, thus screwing said black man out of his publishing rights and royalties. Sad but true: Before Brian Wilson was God, he was Pat Boone.

“Norwegian Wood,” by Cornershop

Unless you’re a Punjabi speaker, this comes dangerously close to the cover as novelty record, but it actually represents another turn of the cultural screw twisted by Ray Charles above. Cornershop takes George Harrison’s imperialist hipster rip on Indian music (grafted rather superfluously  onto a Lennon song) as an excuse to wrap the whole thing up and ship it to the subcontinent. Plus, as my favorite seven year old music critic aptly pointed out, the sitar is much prettier on this one.

“Tears Began To Fall,” by The Persuasions*

More cultural reclamation. Frank Zappa was heavily influenced by doo-wop, and the Persuasions take that influences right back to the originating genre. One doesn’t even miss Flo and Eddie until after the two minute mark, when, like most middling doo-wop, this gets a little repetitious before (gulp) adding some instruments. Doo-wop fail.

(*Most videos of this song were recently taken off of YouTube. If you find a good video link, send it to and we’ll post it here. Thanks!)

Can’t get enough covers know-how from Professor E.c. Fish? Come back next week for the final Master Class, and check out last week’s lesson

Top 5 Songs About Places (by Claire)

Do you keep running lists of songs? It’s a theme here…well, always, but especially with me this week since a recovered running list was the inspiration for my So Hot Right Now post. I’ve been keeping a running list of songs about places—first it was cities, then states, then it was Talking Heads and dirty old towns and a hodgepodge of all of the above. This was my long winded way of not starting this with a cheesy line about music taking you places, and being about places (because we know it does, and we know sometimes it is).

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” by the Talking Heads

It’s hard not to fall in love with this song. Granted David Byrne could make me fall in love with most things, but “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is on an even higher level of infectious charm. The consistency of the guitar and bass, juxtaposed with the jaunty stylings of the keyboard, is playful and comforting. It’s the musical equivalent of being small and running through a sprinkler, knowing you could run too fast in the slippery mud because some watchful adult was on the sidelines, ready to make everything better if you fell on your face. At times in my life when I very much required an elusive figure to pat my head and tell me everything would be just fine, David Byrne became my makeshift parent through sheer overplaying of this song. If you’re feeling all at sea, or if you want to reimagine a life where David Byrne is your musical guardian angel, I recommend drinking black coffee late at night and listening to this on repeat. Say hi to David Byrne from me.

“Minneapolis,” by That Dog

I love straight forward story songs. You can’t listen to them all day—it’s a little hard to daydream to “Punk Rock Girl” or “Tom’s Diner,” and once you hear about Anna and Ollie roasting a Tofu Pup, you want to stick around for the end of “Oh Anna” by The Microphones (and if you do, you’ll find it’s not really one of these songs at all, only for a minute at the beginning.)

“Minneapolis” is a brief story about a girl who has a crush on a guy she sees at the Jabberjaw. She finds out he lives in Minneapolis. They strike up a friendship/maybe romance, which is cut short when she has to go on tour. The chorus is “Minneapolis,” repeated a few times over. Every time I listen to it, I want to go to this mythical place where cool boys at shows and the rockstar girls who love them live. They should use this song as tourist bait in ads aimed at the easily influenced. I’ve been to Minneapolis probably 20 times and none of my memories of the city matter. That Dog has performed a musical magic trick, and now I’m convinced that the city is full of little clubs and power pop and flannel. Is it?

“Dirty Old Town,” by David Byrne

“Dirty Old Town” sounds so splashy and upbeat that if you don’t listen to the lyrics and get your ear caught on the line “Remember the days of rent control/Grandpa remembers rock and roll” (and you can, easily, it’s a great line), you could confuse this for a starry-eyed daydream about urban living. Really, the song is much darker—it’s a lyrics vs. music game that Byrne plays throughout Rei Momo, and one that a lifetime love of funny woeful folk types (oh hello Loudon Wainwright) has primed me to enjoy. You come to the dirty old town because it’s a “…World of Opportunities, a Land of Possibilities” and soon enough you’re building it up, it’s tearing you down. You could turn this up loud and roll the windows down, you could drive fast with this in the background, you could dance and be in love. You would walk away from those experiences thinking the Dirty Old Town is where you want to be. Sit down and listen to this in a quiet room. Remember that it’s not.


“Malibu,” by Hole

Courtney Love jokes write themselves (actually, she writes them herself, go read her tweets), but remember Hole? How awesome was Hole? And if your first reaction is Kurt Cobain conspiracy theory nonsense, or a turned up nose and a jab at her antics, go listen to the first couple Hole albums and get back to me. People can be deeply messed up and enormously talented (See: Amy Winehouse). I wonder what the emotional algorithm is that makes us accept that in certain musicians and not others. If you made a list for each and compared, I bet gender would pop up as the main difference.

Malibu is another story song, this time about Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehab center in Malibu, shortly before he committed suicide. It’s a dreamy, crashing song—angry and pretty, brimming with a complicated tangle of hurt that makes sense, given the context and Love’s relationship with Cobain. Simple, lovely images pop here: “Oceans of angels/oceans of stars,” “And the sun goes down/ I watch you slip away/And the sun goes down/I walk into the waves.”

“Phoenix,” by Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann hits the road, abandoning Phoenix and a lover who loves her like a dollar bill, rolls her up and trades her in. A few months ago we did a post on songs for the different stages of a breakup, based on the stages of grief. I think the creating physical distance part of a breakup might be the mysterious sixth stage, so crucial but usually impossible, especially as we get older and there aren’t colleges to go to or new post graduation cities to run to. I dated someone in college for two years and had the good fortune to already live 45 minutes away. I haven’t seen him since, and in those early days of soft sad hearts and too much wine, the distance was a great balm, one that made the moving on process faster, cleaner. I did have to drive back to my town after we broke up in his, and the image of Mann driving with Kleenex was spot on. “Driving with Kleenex” might be the right name for that stage. For another take on this, listen to “Jackson” by Lucinda Williams.