Top 5 Albums Letdowns (by Joshua)

Have you ever been a superfan? Have you ever been hopelessly devoted to a band or a show or a book series, so much so that you debate its merits in every from you can? Have you ever been so obsessed that you read every bit of news about the thing-in-question (TIQ) the instant it comes out? Do you rush to defend every mistake the TIQ makes, rush to show off every triumph as proof of its greatness? It becomes all too personal – at some point your support of the TIQ becomes so ingrained into your personality that any slight someone makes of it you take as a direct insult. And you wait on baited breath  for the next instance of this TIQ to present itself to the world.

This is what it’s like to be hopelessly devoted to a band, as I have been many a time in my life with a few bands. And when, after sometimes years of waiting, the band releases its next album, I would rush to the store to buy the CD (I might not be all that young) and excitedly pop it into my Discman (really not helping that youth point) and play it over and over again.

But sometimes, I would go through all the waiting and consternation and impatience and finally get an album that was as if the band laid a turd in the jewel case (I’m a child of the 90′s, we get it). It felt like a betrayal, like the band personally came over to my house and spit in my face and punched my mom in the tits. This feeling is wildly irrational, obviously – the band is making music they want to make (presumably) and as much as I think it might be, their music is not for me. But that’s the core issue of being a superfan – you can’t rationalize that idea, that their art isn’t for you, it’s for them.

MaroonMaroon by Barenaked Ladies (previous album: Stunt)

I came into my fandom of Barenaked Ladies in the oddest of places: in a communal, barrack-style showers in a Jewish sleepaway camp in Western Maryland. (That may be one of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever written.) At this camp, Camp Airy, we all took showers at the same time, and it was 20 or 30 pre-pubescent kids in a long row of shower heads and a floor with a few drains, all while a 16 year old counselor sat in a lawn chair and watched to make sure of…something, I guess? That we didn’t fall? I don’t know. Anyway, I remember very vividly once a counselor was listening to Rock Spectacle - specifically, he was listening to “If I Had $1,000,000″ and all the hilarious hidden stuff after that track. I asked for only one thing that Hanukah – a copy of Rock Spectacle. I got Stunt, and I’ve been grateful for it ever since. It’s a wonderful album for a fresh-aged teenager: It’s delightfully sad, with a great sense of timing and wordplay. Maroon, however, seems like a pop afterthought. It seems like an album that was contractually obligated and therefore hamfisted by the record label producers. I hate the term “sell-out” because I don’t think that fame equates to a lack of artistic integrity, but it might apply in this album. It sounds like a shameless attempt to pander to a wider audience, and that’s just a shame.
showroom of compassionShowroom of Compassion by Cake (previous album: Pressure Chief)

I literally cannot get enough Cake – I constantly crave for more from this band. Perhaps this is because they have an album problem; namely, they cannot, in my opinion, put together a good album with a cohesive sound that’s engaging top to bottom. That being said, I think Pressure Chief came as close as possible to doing that as they are capable of. It’s tight, it’s poppy without being glib, and it’s heavy in moments only. Showroom of Compassion utterly fails at this. The album is wildly uneven, and is a tough sell from the jump: “Federal Funding” is a monotone, droning, mid-tempo’d disaster of a lead-off track. The album does have its moments, sure, like every Cake album, but they are few and far between. What’s worse is that from what I can glean, the band is moving closer and closer to breaking up, which means this is possibly their last album. That’s a pretty shitty way to leave out, Cake.

in through the out door

In Through The Out Door by Led Zeppelin (previous album: Physical Graffiti)

Ok, so this might be cheating a bit, as this album came out before my parents had even the chance of meeting, let alone getting pregnant with the gloriousness that is me. But my fandom of Led Zeppelin took a very linear route. As a teenager, I was all about the numbered Zeppelin albums, perhaps due to the fact that I thought that’s all the music they ever made. When someone finally smacked across the head and played me Houses of the Holy, I nearly shat my pants in reverence. This was the band at their pinnacle, taking everything they had learned from IV and applying it perfectly. Their next album, Physical Graffiti  was legendary. It had one of their most famous songs on it, “Kashmir,” as well as being the model for all rock double albums to come. Physical Graffiti  is Led Zeppelin’s White Album; it’s taking their pop roots to their logical artistic extremes. In Through the Out Door, however, is a soupy deuce. With songs as bad as “South Bound Saurez” and “Carouselambra” (perhaps the worst song they’ve ever written), it’s hard to justify the existence of this album. And fucking “Hot Dog?” When did Zeppelin become a goddamn honky tonk band?

Absolute Zero

Absolute Zero by Little Green Cars (debut album)

This might be a little tough to justify my (initial) disappointment for this album. I’ve talked about my love for their song “The John Wayne” in my end of the year post, but I feel I glossed over exactly what made this album so disappointing to me on first listen. I had been listening to “The John Wayne” practically on repeat for months at that point, and Spotify graciously let me know they now had their album. I got this notification, however, while I was drunk, so I decided to listen to it the next day at work, which proved ruinous. I didn’t get enough sleep and was totally hungover, and the lead track of the album, “Harper Lee,” begins softly, with an acoustic guitar and lilting harmonies. It was not what I wanted! I wanted the driving electric guitars of “The John Wayne,” along with the oppressive heat from the oven, to beat the hangover out of me. That is not what I got, at all, and while giving the album a few more songs, eventually turned it off for something more abrasive. Had I just taken the time and been in the right mood, I might’ve come to the conclusion I reached recently, that the album is (mostly) wonderful. But for months I pointed to this band as a great example of a single that overshadowed their album.


Everyday by Dave Matthews Band (previous album: Before These Crowded Streets)

This album inspired this post. I may not have been a superfan of any band like I once was of Dave Matthews Band. Shameful, I know, but being a white suburban 90′s child, it was almost unavoidable. I was utterly convinced of their infallible greatness, and that faith was grounded on the artistic achievement that was Before These Crowded Streets. Despite my current opinion of the band, I still think that album is a perfect “next move” album for the band; that is to say, it’s a solid move in an albeit similar but relatively new musical direction, and is a showcase of a band at its absolute peak of songwriting and lyricism. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (four years is a long time when it’s, by that point, 1/4 of your life) for more of this artistic perfection.

Then the news started coming out that they were having problems in the studio. The material they were recording was dark and not at all radio friendly. They then fired their long time producer, which is sort of like a football team firing their coach in the middle of the season: It’s a fucking emergency. But it looked up, at least to me – they hired Glen Ballard, the producer who co-wrote and produced one of the best albums of the 90′s, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. This was a good sign, I thought, the guy who did “You Oughta Know” should be able to handle a deep, dark album.

What came out, however, was a pop mess. Matthews mostly switched to electric guitar (despite that he still was a difficult asshole about it and played a baritone guitar), and the switch negated half of what the appeal was of his guitar playing. His odd runs and bizarre chord shapes sounded fresh and vibrant on acoustic, but on electric they sounded both muddled and generic. And the lyrics were hopeless banal, with none of the depth that was present in nearly every song of Before These Crowded Streets.

The worst part of this is that I really tried hard to like the album. I told myself it was actually ok, the electric guitar did work sort-of alright, the lyrics were never the strong part of the band anyway, the move of focus away from the rest of the band and soley onto Matthews wasn’t egotism but was actually supported by the rest of the band…That’s how I thought, as a superfan, that I somehow knew the specifics of the dynamics of the band interpersonal relationship. But even all that rationalization couldn’t help the knot in the pit of my stomach that told me my favorite band had just released a really bad album.

The worst part of all of this is that not long after Everyday was released, someone leaked the apparently entire album the band had recorded with their now ex-producer, Steve Lillywhite. And it was nothing like Everyday. It was the natural extension of Before These Crowded Streets, meaning it was dark and brilliant. It confirmed, finally, everything I wasn’t willing to let myself believe about Everyday: It was a musical mistake, and my musical gods were fallible. It shook my fandom to its core, and it never recovered. Everyday isn’t the only reason why I don’t listen to Dave Matthews Band anymore, but it’s perhaps the biggest.

Joshua’s So Hot Right Now, December 2012


I think this may be the first month (set of months?) where I haven’t repeated a song from the previous month’s So Hot Right Now. This is kind of a big deal for me – as I’ve said before, I can listen to songs many, many times before even getting close to getting sick of them. But with the amount of new music listening to Spotify radio stations have introduced me to, I’ve been getting that insatiable need for new music Claire speaks of. There are definitely artists and bands on here I know and like, but playing songs I’ve not heard before or listened to in a long time. I’d literally forgotten how awesome “Jackson” was. Completely flew out of my head, and yes, it’s proof of my ever-growing insanity.

It’s a shame Spotify doesn’t have the version of “Gold Watch and Chain” as performed by Meryl Streep and Garrison Keillor from the movie A Prairie Home Companion. It’s easily my favorite version of that song, though Emmylou Harris does a fantastic job with it. The verse that begins with “The white rose” is so pretty and heartbreaking, but very nearly ruined by the man’s voice. Why, Emmylou, why? Great people always want the ball when the game is on the line (two things: Yes, I did just paraphrase The Replacements, and I really wish Ray Rice would say that instead of standing behind Cam Cameron, but that’s another conversation) and she laterelled it, Ed Reed style, and it was fumbled.

There are three really amazing covers on this list, two with some serious funk to them (“Toxic,” as done by Mark Ronson [yes, the Britney Spears song] and “Seven Nation Army,” as done by Alice Russell) and a third with an edge to it that even Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival in 1965 might say, “Oh, that’s a bit much.” I’m referring to the penultimate song on this month’s list, “Maggie’s Farm,” as performed by Rage Against the Machine. I spent my morning at work today seriously rocking out to this cover. It’s off RATM’s cover album Renegades, which is pretty terrible. The track is perfect for RATM to cover – it’s already righteously angry so all they had to do was add some heavily distorted guitars and a banging riff and sit back.

Top 5 Happy Songs (by Joshua)

I work a lot. I’ve mentioned how I do the bulk of my music listening per day at work – in large part because I’m at work 7 days a week. I’m willing to be for most people that would be a total bummer. And while I’ll admit sometimes it can really suck (working every weekend means I often miss out on some of the coolest stuff), I love it. I love getting there and being alone for a few hours and cranking up the music so loud it shakes the walls. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of loudness – if the music’s good, it’s gotta be turned up. And what better time to drop some rump-rattlin’ beats then when you’re happy? It gets you up, it makes you dance. When I need a good pick-me-up, these are the songs I invariably go to.

“St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins

This song makes me miss playing jazz so much. When I played in a small combo, it was always the song we closed with – it’s super recognizable and has a great drum beat. This, of course, led us doing our favorite move: giving the drummer a solo and walking off stage for a smoke while he plays. And while the awesome drum beat lends itself to a great solo spot, it’s Rollins’ solo that shines here. His second solo after the drum break is one of my all-time favorite sax solos, and it’s no small coincidence that the melody is hands down my favorite jazz head.

“Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” by The Rebirth Brass Band

Recently, frequent guest poster Miriam Doyle gave me her copy of the soundtrack to the first season of the wonderful show Treme, and I think I’m eternally grateful. It quickly became the soundtrack I put on at work when I was ecstatic, and I think I forced a great deal of my friends to listen to it as well. The track above totally embodies the sound of New Orleans – and if I remember correctly, the placement of the song in the show is at a funeral. I want that for my funeral. No lounging around, no moping, no crying. Just get the coroner to coax my face into a smile, prop my body upright on a float, and parade down St. Paul St. with a giant band funkin’ it up.

“The Most Beautiful Girl [In The Room]” by Flight of the Conchords

I love Flight of the Conchords so much, I own the album this song appears on in vinyl format. It’s hilarious and remains hilarious even without the show’s visuals to back it up (a claim that cannot be made of a good deal of their second album, and, relatedly, Tenacious D’s “Sasquatch”). It makes me laugh every time I put it on, and I think every time my little brother comes home from college, we end up playing it together. So funny.

“Sheep Go To Heaven” by Cake

This list would be completely incomplete without an appearance by Cake. I always listen to them when I’m in a good mood (or a bad mood, or a blah mood…perhaps I listen to too much Cake. Is that possible?), and this song always gets my goat (ha hah!). It’s got a simply infectious beat and lyrics that make zero sense, making it as silly and fun as a song can be.

Sidenote: An ex-girlfriend of mine always pointed to this song as the reason she didn’t like Cake because “the lyrics are dumb.” Hell yeah they’re dumb! It’s not supposed to be a deep song, or even a good song! (It is a good song.) It’s just supposed to be fun, and, it conveniently fills us in on the afterlives of livestock, which sorely needed addressing.

“Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady

I just got to see these guys in concert, and what a fucking show. They opened with this song and the club went insane. I’ve never seen so many people all yelling “Get hammered!” in unison before. And how can one not go nuts over this song! It’s fast, heavy on the guitar, and talks about getting wasted all summer. I know that’s all I want to do all summer – and if I had a water tower to climb on top of, you bet your ass I’d do it. It also contains one of my favorite rock lyrics: “Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer – I think he might have been our only decent teacher.” I know growing  up in a city is awesome, but this song kinda makes me want to have spent a high school summer in a small Midwestern town.

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.

Top 5 Album Closers

Claire: We’re closing out our month long amble down record collection lane with album closers. Joshua and I had a long discussion about this post after I admitted that post by post, it’s come to my attention that I skip out on the end of most albums. Even some of my favorite albums contain mysterious final tracks that I’ve never reached. Why? Boredom sometimes, but more often it feels like the rhythm and narrative of the album got lost in the last few tracks, and after the penultimate and pre-penultimate, I can’t sit through another assault on my mini musical experience. Leave your favorite album closers, and closer criteria, in the comments! Maybe this post and your suggestions can end my stint as an album closer novice.

“The Big Country,” by the Talking Heads on Talking Heads 77

The Big Country is the epitomy of a proper album send-off. After a musical smorgasbord, this track winds you down, but not too much, not too fast. Perfectly paced, and still in pace with the album as a whole, with a solid last track length. If I’ve learned anything from our month of album posts, it’s that you never really want to leave a Talking Heads album. Once it’s on, once it gets going, it’s hard to give it up, hard to let it end. The Big Country is so satisfying it’s downright quenching.  And when Talking Heads 77 is done, you’ll probably replay the album (I know, you can’t help it) but if for some reason you couldn’t listen through again—if there was a tornado or some kind of martian landing— you could walk away and be okay. Until you remember Stop Making Sense, and then wipe out your schedule and cozy up to David Byrne, cause you’re a goner.

 “Jackson,” by Lucinda Williams on Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

Around the time I turned 16, my family spent a week in St. Cloud Minnesota, the town where I was born. We stayed with my parents’ friend Julie’s house, where we shucked corn in the backyard, ate mole off of plates perched on our laps, and flailed our open, stinging palms through the air, swatting mosquitos. It’s strange to say three cities later,  but everyone seemed so much more alive in Minnasota. My dad was on the radio, bonfires sprung up and filled with my parents’ college friends, and my sister and I ran free. I tasted my first beer that week (and developed a lifelong hatred of Leinenkugels), got my ears pierced, and spent the morning of my 16th birthday walking right down the center of an endless, empty road. I picked up this album at a record store called The Electric Fetus and listened to it relentlessly.

There’s a great line in Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, about listening to “I Will Always Love You” over and over again, and crying because she had never experienced that kind of love. During that week in St. Cloud, I felt ready to grow up and be tumultous, adventurous, and achingly heartbroken, as soon as I could, and “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” was my window into a life I didn’t have yet, but could reach out and almost touch.

“Save Me,” by Aimee Mann on Bachelor No. 2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo

I was in the throes of a bad breakup, and bingeing on sad girl music (…like Fergie) and a newly reacquired cigarette habit, when I got introduced to Bachelor No. 2. I remember that summer as being rainy and constantly dark, though looking back it was so sunny that I came home daily with a pink, scabby sunburn. And I also remember this album being a pitch-perfect ode to heartbreak, so personalized Mann may as well have laced my name through the choruses. But it’s not, not really. It’s heartbreak and growing up and being so strange inside that new love, someday, feels unlikely. I think this is where I ended up five years after I had exhausted Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, when I really was heartbroken and a little more grown up, and it was a lot less delicious than I had imagined.

“One Man Guy,” by Loudon Wainwright on BBC Sessions

Loudon Wainwright III is the world’s saddest man. If there were a “Sad, old guy singing sad songs” version of the Hunger Games, he would win in a heartbeat. He would get a walloping score from the Gamemakers, based on a freestyle ode to his lost loves and distant children. He would pull out a guitar and beat Leonard Cohen death, then melt everyone into a depressive heap with his pretty, lowkey songs, rife with death and loss and major life mistakes. (Oh my glob I want to cast the Sad Old Guy Hunger Games. What are we thinking, guys? Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, wild card from District Experimental, Brian Eno…) (I’m reading the Hunger Games and they’re actually haunting my dreams. And this post, apparently.)

“One Man Guy” is an apt ending to a live-ish album: Loudon in concert is a carnival of kooky facial expressions, quips, and goofy smiles, all working together to cleverly mask some of the wrenching sadness in his songs. This song is an exploration of his lodged-in-his-bones-loneliness, and a quick peek behind his live performance mask.

“Murder of One,” by the Counting Crows on August and Everything After

Murder of One is a great big “things are going to change” song. It’s also solid internal montage music: If you need to imagine that things will change, for the better, in a quick, several scene cuts kind of way (instead of in the usual slow, up and down, un-soundtracked way that life works) this is your song. A nice, almost upbeat ending to a brooding, emotional rollercoaster of an album.

Honorable Mentions

“Rock Me to Sleep,” by Jill Sobule on Pink Pearl: Pink Pearl is the worst kind of album: Heartbreakingly sad, and equally catchy. It’s a lovely hummable type of torture, full of failed heroes and cruel lovers and Mary Kay Latourneau. “Rock Me to Sleep” is a pitch-perfect send off—a song about unbearable loneliness masquerading as a lullabye.

“Stumbling Through the Dark,” by The Jayhawks on Rainy Day Music: Another con—the opening sounds lighthearted and playful, but listen to the lyrics for a second and it’s another lovely ramble on sadness and confusion.

“Montana,” by Frank Zappa on Over-Nite SensationWeird and fun, like this whole album. Makes me miss the “I might be moving to Montana soon/ To raise me up a crop of dental floss” pin I made in high school. It had a green field on it with tiny boxes of dental floss growing out of the ground.

Joshua’s List:

“Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon, on Excitable Boy

The first line is so good: “I went home with a waitress…the way I always do.” It begins with a count-off. It’s loud, crass, and mean. It’s the perfect way to end Excitable Boy. Oh, and the music is pretty damn cool too. I love big guitars, both as a wall of sound and actual physically big guitars. And I can only assume this song has both.

“Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Cake, on Fashion Nugget

I may have mentioned this song before, but as Cake is one of my favorite bands they’re going to get a lot of mentions. And they actually don’t have very many good album closers, at least none I’d be willing to put on this list. Except for this song, of course. It’s a great cover of a Willie Nelson song, and it fits in perfectly with the whole jilted lover theme they have running through the album. Plus, it’s a nice slow way to end the album, which is my favorite way to end an album. And it’s a ¾ waltz! Who doesn’t like a waltz?

“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, on O.C.M.S

Let me preface this song with telling you that I am not a big fan of this band. The album this is on is not very good and the only other standout on the album is a song called “Big Time in the Jungle.” But this is quite possibly the best campfire sing-along song of all time. When I was at St. Mary’s College, it seemed like every single person knew the lyrics to this song and everyone who played guitar knew the key changes. So yeah, it wraps up a bad album, but it does it in one of the happiest ways ever.

“Sons & Daughters” by The Decemberists, on The Crane Wife

I’ve seen The Decemberists three times now, and twice they’ve ended their encores with this song. It’s big, it’s happy, and it’s a sing-along! (Ok, so sing-alongs are a running theme this week.) Every time I hear this song it puts a big smile on my face. It’s the perfect way to end The Crane Wife, which I feel is ostensibly a “winter” album, with the spring peeking out of its hidey hole and giving us hope after a long, dark winter.

“All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

So yeah, I love this album. It’s on three of the four lists we have about albums. But goddamn, this is an amazingly fun song. It’s singy, it’s danceable, it’s balling. Also, props to the many mentions of watermelon. I totally want some after listening to this song.

Honorable Mentions:

“The Hazards of Love 4: The Drowned” by The Decemberists, on The Hazards of Love: Only bumped because of previous mentions and a Decemberists song already on the main list. Otherwise, one of my favorite album closers.

“Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang” by John Lee Hooker, on Live at Café Au-Go-Go: His signature song, and one of the best versions available.

“I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder, on Talking Book: Gets a big positive for closing out the movie version of High Fidelity. But it’s also a crazy good song. Also, the outro is really, really, really funky.

Top 5 Breakup Songs

Joshua: We are so obsessed with breakup songs, we couldn’t leave it at just describing the stages we go through. Here are our all-time, top five favorite breakup songs…plus a few more we just had to mention.


Etta James, “I’d Rather Go Blind”

Etta James has completed the Love and Stuff Month triathalon: She’s on my Top 5 Love Songs (Sunday Kind of Love), Top 5 Songs for the Grown and Sexy (I Just Want to Make Love to You), and Top 5 Breakup Songs (I’d Rather Go Blind). I’ve never been able to shake the image from the chorus here—”I’d rather be blind, boy, than to see you walk away from me.” An achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful song, one that conveys raw, almost to the point of numbness, pain.

Imogen Heap, “Hide and Seek”

For the blank-faced times, the too many drinks alone time, the finding a song to cry to times. Sort of a theme for  “Speak for Yourself” (the album this song is from), so if you’re looking for a prolonged spell of crying jags and blind rage, queue up “Headlock” and “Have You Got it In You?”

A Fine Frenzy, “Ashes and Wine”

A Fine Frenzy does a couple things we all have to do after a breakup. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Feels nothing. Feels end-of-the-world-depressed. Feels suicidal in a “Yeah, that’ll show you way.” Then feels bad about all that and insists that this will be amicable, damnit.
  • Imagines her ex kissing someone else. Feels alternately ill, guilty about feeling ill because she has no claim on him anymore, sad about the realization that her claim is gone
  • Wonders relentlessly if somehow they’re going to muddle through this breakup and get back together. Asks that pleading question, albeit in a much more poetic way, “Are we going to get back together? Ever?”

Beck, “Lost Cause”

You’ve given up. You didn’t want to, this isn’t some big confident show of how over it you are, no. But you’re done trying. And it’s all sad and terrible but maybe a little hopeful, because it can be over now. Not over for real, not yet, but there’s a promise that it will be some day. And that’s something.

Joni Mitchell, “Down to You”

An oddly comforting song that, when you’re in the throes of your breakup, reminds you that this too shall pass. This is my all time favorite Joni Mitchell song. I remember driving around listening to this, about a month after a breakup, and those first lines clicked with me immediately: “Everything comes and goes/Marked by lovers and styles of clothes/Things that you held high and told yourself were true/Lost and changing as the days come down to you.” Also the part where she suddenly shrieks “Love is gone” with a chorus is hilarious. I know it’s not supposed to be, but it’s a much needed laugh. Between Joni Mitchell’s zen-like wisdom and so-serious-it’s-funny-choral-moment, this song feels like a huge relief.

Honorary Mentions:

Billie Holiday, “I’ll Be Seeing You”: Nobody does wistful like Billie Holiday.

Martha Wainwright, “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole”: It’s nice to hear a pretty song turn so filthy. Martha Wainwright is angry, is not interested in hiding it, is about to spend a full minute repeating “You bloody motherfucking asshole.”

Lauryn Hill, “Ex Factor”: If you’ve ever been through a breakup without “There for me there for me, said you’d be there for me/Cry for me cry for me, you said you’d die for me” running through your head at some point, you apparently missed out on the very crucial experience of listening to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” on repeat for two years. Fix that.

Joshua’s List:

“Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Cake

A wonderful cover of the creator of nasty breakup songs, Willie Nelson. He can’t possibly begin to forgive his ex. She done him wrong. And he ain’t got no one to tell it to but his guitar and the tech recording his song. I hope whoever Nelson wrote the song for (and John McCrea sang the song for) actually heard the song. But it’s almost better if she didn’t, right?

“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

I’m not sure if this is actually a breakup song or not, I’ve just always used it as one. Maybe it’s the accordion. Maybe it’s the wide open D-chord transitioning to the horrible E-minor. Maybe it’s Buckley’s naturally wilting, wistful voice. You can’t help but wish…no, know, that she should’ve come back to him. He knows exactly what he’s done wrong. He’s a fucking idiot. Can’t he make a mistake? Unfortunately, he knows the answer, and it’s not good.

“Accidentally Like A Martyr” by Warren Zevon

This was a serious candidate for the breakup sex entry for me for a while. The chorus describes exactly that: “Mad love, shadow love, random love, and abandoned love.” Can you think of a better description for sex you shouldn’t be having? But it’s much better describing that period after you finally break off all contact with your ex and then force yourself to remember over and over again all the times you had passionate, uninhibited sex with her/him. It’s torturous, and Warren Zevon knows exactly what you’re going through.

“No Children” by The Mountain Goats

This song isn’t actually written from the perspective of a couple already broken up; rather, a couple that should be ending but can’t bring themselves to kill it. Or each other. Or themselves. I love the line: “And I hope when you think of me years down the line, you can’t find one good thing to say.” I’ve oft felt like this: I know I’ve never done anything to truly hurt someone, especially someone I’ve loved, but there’s a certain romantic charm in being hated in perpetuity by someone who once loved you. Maybe that’s insanity, but I have a feeling I inspire that kind of long-standing revulsion with my exes, and it’s rather comforting.

“So Very Hard To Go” by Tower of Power

After that, I had to end this entry on a positive note. And what better a song than this to express positivity of a breakup? The singer is, unfortunately, deeply in love with the person he’s singing it to, but he’s realized that it’s better for her in the long run if they weren’t together anymore. He can’t bear the thought of his girl being unhappy, especially if it’s because of him. He must make the ultimate sacrifice to step aside, but, in the end, he’s ok with it. It’s hard now, and it’ll get better, but goddamn, if this shit doesn’t suck. I one day hope to be that mature to realize when I should do what he’s doing…Cuz I’ve never done it before.

Honorable Mentions:

“Break Your Heart” by Barenaked Ladies: Ok, this is only on here because I’ve never been on this side of a breakup. Move along.

“Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes: A shuffle written about dying love. A straight up amazing classic.

“For No One” by The Beatles: Uh…damn, Paul. Damn. This is some fucked up shizz right here. And I’ve been there.

Top 5 Breakup Stages, as Songs

JOSHUA: It has been said that when we lose someone, we go through five distinct stages of grief: Bargaining, Denial, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. We like to this this extends to breakups as well. You know it to be true. First, you bargain with each other to try to save the relationship (we’ll simplify this process and just call it what we know it to be: breakup sex). Then, you deny that it’s over or you think you can get your partner back. After that horrific part is over, you focus all your anger in the world at your ex: Everything in your whole life is wrong because of that asshole. Then you sink into a deep, dark hole of depression and wish the world was over so you could get away from your feelings. Finally the scotch runs out and you step outside into the sunlight one morning and realize you’re over and done with it. Sometimes this takes days, sometimes years, but eventually you do actually run out of scotch you get over him or her. And for each part of this ordeal, we’re here with songs to describe and illuminate.

 JOSHUA’s List:

Bargaining: “In The Car” by Barenaked Ladies

Ambivalence, repressed anger, hope for the future tinged by the regret of the failure are all what this song is about. And break up sex is filled with every one of these and more. We don’t like that we’re doing this but we’re sure as hell gonna do it anyway. The worst part is that break up sex tends to be pretty awesome. Unfortunately, in this song, it’s pretty terrible.

Denial: “She’ll Come Back To Me” by Cake

What better way to put yourself in denial than a good, old-fashioned country song? Cake delivers with this. The sentiment is right on the money – the speaker is seeing his girl leave him for another dude as he sings, but has convinced himself that she ain’t going nowhere. It’s deluded, it’s idiotic, it’s classic denial.

Anger: “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette

I don’t think there is a better song out there to listen to when you’re pissed off about a break up, namely because it puts everything in perspective: You’re not as angry as Morissette is. Period. Unless your ex killed your puppy, I seriously doubt you have the ability to be as irate as she is in this song. Not only is the music hard and spiteful, but Morissette’s vocals are dripping with rage. She practically spits out every word, especially the line about scratching her nails down someone else’s back. Shit, I didn’t do anything bad to her and I felt those nails.

Depression: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” by Frank Sinatra

You’ll hit this point eventually. It’s the point where it’s 3:48 am and you’ve polished off most of a bottle of scotch and you’re unable to think about anything else. Sinatra knows that point very well, and this song is both a reflection of being at that point and the perfect musical expression of living through that point. His voice is tough to stomach because it’s just so, so dark and depressing. Be careful using this song, however. If it’s 3:48 in the am and you’ve polished off most of a bottle of scotch and you’re unable to think about anything else, don’t listen to this song. You’ll die of sadness overload.

Acceptance: “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse

This is the kind of acceptance only Amy Winehouse can do: She’s happy for the time they had and she knows she’s the one who fucked up. She’s dealing with it but it’s tough. But the song looks at the end of relationship very logically and pragmatically and that’s the kind of lack of emotion you want to really get over your ex. You’re never gonna really move on if you’re always listening to Frank Sinatra, let’s be sure; this song actually helps. And it has a badass drum sample from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which I can only hope is a meta-reference to acceptance: She’s so over it that she’s ready to be in a great relationship where there ain’t no river wide enough to keep her from getting to him.

CLAIRE’s List:

Bargaining / Breakup Sex: Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”

Right away, Liz Phair gives a pitch-perfect description of that awful feeling of waking up with a start, probably mid-hangover and post-mistake-making (the likes of which you may only remember in bit and pieces over coffee and hash browns). She captures that in between moment of still being in the relationship, at least enough that you’re still falling into bed together, but wanting to move on…except that want for someone new hasn’t trumped the original want for your ex, yet. A really well written whirl wind of emotions—shock, regret, that feeling that this is all things will ever be, forever. I love Phair’s near-monotone voice here, and how it only sounds angry when she sings “I can feel it in my bones, I’m going to spend another year alone,” and later “…my whole life alone.”

Denial: Warren Zevon, “Reconsider Me”

This is a weird one for me, because I think “Reconsider Me” is also a beautiful love song (and one of my favorite songs, ever). But it’s all pretty heartwrenching–Zevon’s wide eyed optimism is hard to hear; that line “And I’ll never make you sad again, cause I swear, that I’ve changed since then” always makes me tear up. There are people who I wish would sing me this song and mean it. And those are the same people who I probably wouldn’t forgive; because if you really listen to this song, something went seriously wrong. This is not just a “Sorry we bickered!” song.  This is a “Sorry I made a total mess of your life!” song. If you put this on the jukebox and dedicated it to someone you wronged, I’m not sure she would come back to you. But I think she might think a little better of you. I would.  (For all you Zevon fans—in my mind, “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is a sequel to this song. Someone did not get reconsidered.)

Anger: Lucinda Williams, “Joy”

Empowered, feisty, catchy. Lucinda Williams is mad as hell, and she’s not going to take it anymore.

Depression: The Weepies, “World Spins Madly On”

Like Liz Phair, The Weepies get it right from the first line. That image of waking up and having that jolting memory of exactly what’s going on, and how unbearably terrible it is, is so painful that I think we all block it out. Even hearing the beginning of this song gives me a small shudder of awful nostalgia. This song also outlines the experience of being so unbelievably depressed and heartsick, but still having to go on with day to day life. A spot on ode to post-breakup depression.

Acceptance: Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”***

Alright Dylan haters, I know this is a list-killer for you, but hear me out. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”  is an incredibly well written, elegantly composed “screw you” to all exs, awful or otherwise. It reflects on the dismantled fantasy of the relationship. It pairs acceptance that it’s over with a bit of passive aggressive snark. And it acknowledges that even acceptance comes with a twinge of wishing it had all worked out. Also a very quotable song when you’re feeling smug.

***So, why is there a picture of Dylan and not a video? Because I refuse to link to any of the horrible versions of this song on YouTube. But if you need to hear a cover of this song, or if you’re looking for a sign of the apocalypse, go listen to Ke$ha’s cover. Yeah. It’s a thing.

Top 5 Love Songs

Claire: Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and the Charm City Jukebox is here (as always) to fulfill all of your musical needs. This month we’re covering music to fall in love to and with, as well as breakups, makeups, hookups, the movie “Up”…..the list goes on. Welcome to Week One: Top 5 Love Songs. Joshua and I have pulled together a few of our favorite musical snapshots of love, old and new. Sit back, enjoy, and leave your top love songs in the comments (Hey, we need some new songs sometimes too, right?)


Taj Mahal, “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes”: 

Sweet and simple, the kind of  “I just want to be with you and make you happy” music that you listen to as your falling in love, and that means a bit more as you keep going. Was anyone else kinda pissed when Jenna Bush used this as her wedding song? I feel like she tarnished it’s weddingy-goodness for the rest of us.

Cake, “I Want to Love You Madly”

Joshua and I have an unofficial rule that several weeks without a Cake mention on this blog just won’t stand. So here’s an upbeat Cake number for all of your romancing needs. A good song to play as you get ready for a date with that special someone, a good roll down the windows and blast it track for when you’re feeling in love and really psyched about it, a good snapshot of head over heels love.

Etta James, “Sunday Kind of Love”: 

If there was a record of Etta James singing the phone book, I would lie around in a dreamy haze and spin it on repeat. Of Etta’s many love song classics, “Sunday Kind of Love” is my favorite: Her voice has that rosey falling-in-love tone, like she’s fallen in love with the idea of that love she’s “dreaming and scheming” about all week. I think it’s what everyone is looking for: Someone so solid and real that he/she chases the Sunday gloom away, someone so warm and wonderful that they’re worth falling over the top in love with.

Otis Redding, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”

A song for when you’ve been through life together. And not friends and dinners, falling into bed and getting a little older, arguing and trying. Real, messy, pull-you-apart, push-you-together life. And not just once, but again and once more, and more after that. You earn this song.

Dan Wilson, “Easy Silence”

Originally made popular by the Dixie Chicks, which is, I must admit, a better version. But I have a soft spot for the Dan Wilson version because it’s part of a falling-in-love soundtrack for me from my senior year of college, when I started dating my boyfriend. I love Dan Wilson’s voice (Wilson is from Semisonic who, much like Shawn Colvin last week, is a 90′s throwback who deserves some dusting off. Semisonic is awesome. Go listen to “Singing to Me in My Sleep.” Or “Secret Smile.”), and I love the idea of love as an oasis from the craziness of life. That chorus always gets me, when he sings “And the way you keep the world at bay for me.”

Honorable Mentions:

Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”: I’ve listened to this song a million times, but my favorite was driving with the top down along Big Sur to Monterey. We blasted this song, the sun beating down on our slowly burning faces, and I was insanely in love: with my boyfriend, with California, with the whole world. If you ever do that drive, I promise you, all those heart-stopping views are nothing without the Beach Boys.

Richard and Linda Thompson, “Dimming of the Day”: In the world of this song, Richard and Linda Thompson are meant for each other. Their voices blend together perfectly, and how often do you hear a married couple celebrate how much they still need and love each other daily? In the world of..well, the world, Richard and Linda Thompson went through a hilarious we-might-kill-each-other style divorce, that played out as they were touring with this album.

Citizen Cope, “Sideways”: A “Life isn’t easy, neither is love, but we’re in it for the long haul” song. Cope’s vocals are haunting, and the spare, vocals-focused arrangement has a quiet loveliness.

JOSHUA’s List:

Barenaked Ladies – Light Up My Room

I love this song so much for so many reasons: The simplicity of the guitar riff, the wonderfully endearing lyrics, and the overall feeling of happiness it just exudes on so many levels. It’s a wonderful snapshot of a couple who are utterly and completely in love with each other. They’re at the point where they can’t fathom being without one another. Not because it hurts to be away from each other; rather, they simply cannot process what it would mean to not be in love with each other. It’s a level of happiness that rare to find in relationships. Or anywhere.

Amy Winehouse – Valerie

Amy Winehouse’s sultry voice leaves nothing to the imagination in this song. The love the speaker has for the subject of the song is lustful and downright dirty. She knows this relationship she has with Valerie is wrong but she wants it – and Valerie – that much more, and specifically because it is that kind hot-nasty we all want but don’t often let ourselves have.  She’s given in to abject desire and she’s fine with that.

Otis Redding – Cigarettes and Coffee

An altogether more chaste song than the last…but, like the horn line, is persistently boiling and bubbling under the surface. He begs the subject of the song (unnamed, of course, like he’s singing to every member of the audience or everyone who ever listens to the song) to spend the rest of their lives together, for the simple reason they make each other happy. The seedy part is that this seems to take to place over late night discussions…nothing chaste happens after 3 am. Especially not with Otis Redding’s voice begging you to just take that one more step…with him.

Taj Mahal – Corinna

An easy, easy song. He barely has to reach for the imagery here. He knows he loves this woman and he doesn’t know why anyone wouldn’t. She’s the best woman in the universe and he’s the lucky SOB who happened to get her. He has no idea why she would fall for him but he can’t let her slip through his fingers and this song is one step in that direction – I’d like to hope he wrote this for an actual person and then sang it to her. If someone wrote this song for you, wouldn’t you be a puddle in their arms? Or maybe a puddle in other places?

Paul Simon – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

This is my all-time favorite love song because, like “Light Up My Room,” it’s a snapshot. But unlike Barenaked Ladies’ decidedly Polaroid snap, this is a high-quality digital SLR shot in 1080p. The shot is of two people utterly in love and blissfully unaware of their surroundings. They’re in love to the point the rest of the world has completely fallen away. And Paul Simon’s lyrical phrasing and lilting chorus only heightens this feeling of easy, no-worries love. The best line:  “She said, ‘Honey, take me dancing’ but they ending up sleeping in a doorway by the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway, wearing diamonds in the soles of their shoes.” I’m not sure if there is a better way to stop lovers in their tracks and catch them at their most intimate and then put it down in song. I don’t think I’ve even experienced the kind of carefree love the subjects of this song have. Maybe someday I will. One can only hope, right?

Honorable Mentions:

John Legend – Ordinary People: This song got bumped from my main list because those songs were “pure” love songs, or songs that elicit happy feelings about love. This song is much more real. These people love each other but they got shit going on. Deal with it.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps: Certainly off the beaten path of regular love songs, “Maps” is beautiful and gut-wrenching at the same time, courtesy of Karen O’s superb vocals. They don’t love you like she loves you.

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned): Another tragic love song by the Decemberists. I’ll spare you the recap of the story of the concept album it’s on, but safe to say these lovers have gone through hell to be together. Now that they are, they face even more hell to stay together. Instead, they decide to marry by the banks of a river, then to let the river consecrate their marriage. You read that right. They drown themselves to be together forever. It sounds awful here, but listen to the whole album and this song will have you in tears.