What I Listened to in 2012: Part 1 (by Claire)

Etta James: My main 2012 musical obsession

One can’t subsist on a diet of new music alone. Okay, you could, but I don’t recommend it—imagine how many songs and albums you would miss if you firmly planted your playlists in the current year with no exceptions.  I love year end wrap up lists about music that came out this year—but what about the scads of other music you listened to?

Here’s page one from my musical scrapbook of 2012: These are the Top 5 songs I listened to in the beginning of the year, the ones that shaped my monthly soundtracks and that I couldn’t stop playing if I tried. For the full lists for each month, click the months/song titles below.

January: “I’ll Try Anything Once” by Julian Casablancas

I became really exhausted by insincerity and apathy this year. How embarrassing for me, right? What a gee shucks, fresh off the turnip truck sentiment (…why is it always turnips?). But there it is: I like sincere people who care about things. I want to be more like that, not less. And (oh, the cringe worthy vulnerability here guys, I can hardly bear it) I think I got really in touch with that sentiment when I heard this song.

The Strokes, whose tour bus I once trailed after a show with fellow moonstruck girlfriends (all of us far too innocent and curfew abiding to go full out Pamela De Barres, we simply followed the bus as long as we could and then went home), were my late high school rock icons. They were loud and oddly sexy; I screamed and jumped through their show, finally understanding the squaking, convulsing crushes my middle school friends used to have for every boy band du jour. Almost a decade later, I heard this fragile, bare bones song—so soft and spare, with nothing but Julian Casablanca’s voice and a keyboard. The lyrics are mostly straightforward, sagacious (to a confused, slightly lost 20something) life advice: “10 decisions shape your life, you’ll be aware of 5 about” and “There is a time when we all fail/Some people take it pretty well/Some take it all out on themselves.”

I listened to this 100 times, at least. I liked the weariness, and how different it sounded from The Strokes I knew years ago. I too was feeling weary and changed. I was growing tired of writing borderline mean jokes that don’t mean much. I was tired of pretend opinions and sound bites. I started wondering who I actually want to be and if I’m becoming that. It was earnest and it was deeply uncool; but, most of all, it was a relief, the kind that warrants a million cheesy similes (my favorite is “like a breath of fresh air”).

It’s a year later, and I’m still wondering.

February: “My Dearest Darling” by Etta James

In Songbook, Nick Hornby says writing about how and where you heard a song is for the birds (my words, his bird-free sentiment), that if you really love a song it doesn’t matter how and where you heard it. I say Nick Hornby is a fool (*gasp*): when a love is new, you tell it’s story, and I fell in love with Etta James last winter. It took two distinct listens to become hooked on this song. The first time: at a smoky bar the size of my closet under the train tracks in Tokyo, where I sat spellbound under a chandelier. The second time: at a shoe store in San Francisco, delirious with the flu, buying very expensive high heels for a business trip I was too sick to go on. Both instances had wildly different levels of glamour and health, but shared one thing: They became moments frozen in my memory because I heard that song and had to hear it again, as soon as possible, as much as I could.

March: “Spooky” by Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield makes the word groovy sound seductive. That feat deserves it’s own accolades. “Spooky” is a luscious ridiculously sexy song that is very 60s without being dated, very slow and jazzy without veering into smooth jazz or lounge lizard territory. It’s an odd defiant miracle of a song, refusing to be any of the things it’s supposed to be, sort of like the spooky little boy Dusty is singing to.  I love the full stops and snaps, the echo-ey moment at the end, and most of all Dusty Springfield’s light, soulful voice.

In honor of year end wrap up season, one of my favorite TV moments of 2012 was Jane Krakowski playing Dusty Springfield in the live 30 Rock last season.

*Featured in “Top 5 Songs for a Foggy Day

April: “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crowe Medicine Show

I missed this song when it had a moment a few years ago.  When I heard it this year, the timing was perfect: San Francisco was experiencing a handful of rare, summery days and all I wanted to do was lie around in the park with friends, drink wine, and listen to something cheerful with a fiddle.

I love those songs that get so tied into the weather that it’s impossible to untangle them. It’s brisk and drizzly outside as I write this; Christmas is around the corner and I head back East tomorrow. But as I listen to this song on repeat, I want to throw the windows open, slip into a sundress, invite everyone I adore over for dinner. I have an unquenchable craving for the green capped, seven dollar Vino Verde I swill from April through August.

Honorary Mention: “Day Dreaming” by Aretha Franklin

Love, travel, day dreaming, and Aretha Franklin? All my favorite things, all at once. “Day Dreaming” perfectly represents the swooning, butterflies in your stomach part of love. The theme of sitting around, daydreaming about someone you love who will sweep you off to some exciting elsewhere is charming and matched well by the dreamy flute and electric piano. Why don’t people ever use lines like this in their wedding vows: “I want to be what he wants, when he wants it, whenever he needs it/When he’s lonesome and feelin’ love starved, I’ll be there to feed him/ Lovin’ him a little bit more each day.” How great would wedding ceremonies be if everyone swapped Corinthians for some Aretha Franklin lyrics?

Fun fact: Rumor has it this song is about Dennis Edwards, from The Temptations.

*Featured in “Songs for When You Need to Get Away

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.

So Hot Right Now: April 2012

Claire’s List:

1. “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show

2. “In the Basement,” by Etta James

3. “Payback,” by James Brown

4. “Pusherman,” by Curtis Mayfield

5. “Sugar On My Tongue,” by the Talking Heads

6. “Love Lost,” by Temper Trap

7. “Thought I Knew You,” by Matthew Sweet

8. “Bad Reputation,” by Freedy Johnston

9. “Happy Birthday to Me,” by Cracker

10. “Timebomb,” by the Old 97s

11. “Girlfriend,” by Matthew Sweet

12. “Anna Ng,” by They Might Be Giants

13. “That’s Just What You Are,” by Aimee Mann

14. “Red Right Ankle,” by The Decemberists

15. “Big Country,” by the Talking Heads

Joshua’s List:

1. “Welcome to the Working Week” by Elvis Costello

2. “Sympathy For The Devil (Neptunes Redux)” by The Rolling Stones and The Neptunes

3. “Rising Sun” by The Bridge

4. “She’ll Come Back to Me”  by Cake

5. “Holocaust of Giants” by Rasputina

6. “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble

7. “People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad

8. “Summer Breeze” by The Isley Brothers

9. “A Cautionary Song” by The Decemberists

10. “Frontin'” by Jamie Cullum

11. “Dear Maggie” by Kelly Bell Band

12. “The Infanta” by The Decemberists

13. “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire

14. “Ain’t No Thang” by Katzenjammer

15. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder

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.

So Hot Right Now—February 2012, 1st Draft

Joshua: You may be asking yourself, So Hot Right Now? Is that exactly what it sounds like? Yes, it is. We all tend to have these songs that are stuck, like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, in our brains for what seems like a month. I just happen to make them into a playlist with a catchy name (which I totally stole from from an ex). The spin I came up with was to create the list with the limitation that it must be able to fit within a standard length of a burned cd, making it essentially a So Hot Right Now mixtape. I also arrange the songs with some fleeting adherence to the rules of making a mixtape, which are many and more, according to Rob Gordon, so they aren’t exactly perfect. And in that vein, I also tend to revise the lists halfway through the month with what plays and doesn’t play. So without any further ado, here are our first So Hot Right Now lists of the New Year!

Claire’s List:

1. Etta James “My Dearest Darling”

2. Camper Van Beethoven “That Gum You Like is Back in Style”

3. The Smiths “Nowhere Fast”

4.  The Fratellis, “Whistle for the Choir”

5. A Fine Frenzy, “What I Wouldn’t Do”

6. Kate Nash, cover of’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”

7. Best Coast, “Sun Was High (So Was I)”

8. They Might Be Giants, “Letterbox”

9. The Dead Milkmen, “Punk Rock Girl”

10. Taj Mahal, “Corinna”

11. Lucinda Williams, “Firecracker”

12. The Jayhawks, “Angelyne”

13. Liz Phair “Glory”

14. The Velvet Underground “There She Goes Again”

15. Richard and Linda Thompson “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”

Joshua’s List:

1. Warren Zevon – Lawyers, Guns, and Money

2. Soft Cell – Tainted Love / Where Did Our Love Go

3. Barenaked Ladies – Light Up My Room

4. Paul Simon – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

5. Amy Winehouse – Valerie

6. The Band – Up on Cripple Creek (live)

7. The Decemberists – Red Right Ankle

8. Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel

9. The Decemberists – On The Bus Mall

10. Talking Heads – And She Was

11. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)

12. Rasputina – Incident at a Medical Clinic

13. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps

14. The Toadies – Possum Kingdom

15. John Legend – Ordinary People

Top 5 Hometown Songs (claire & joshua)

Hometown songs: What reminds you of home? And what do you listen to when you get there?

Claire’s List

Birdhouse in Your Soul, by They Might be Giants

The first apartment was home to a family of spirited termites, who made quick work of our kitchen and forced the super to rip out the kitchen tiles and replace them with something incongruously spiffy. I picked raspberries with my mom in the summer from the bushes behind the building, and after daycare I watched Gilligans Island and My Two Dads repeats while I built block castles in front of the TV. My parents were young and tired and seemed impossibly glamorous, with their revolving door of friends, piles of records, and the occasional champagne bottle iced in my old sand bucket.  I lived in that apartment until I was six years old. This song (this album really, but we’re not on that list yet, are we?) was part of the soundtrack of those early Baltimore, little kid years. 

You Ain’t Going Nowhere, by the Byrds

Long before the Wire, America’s cultural touchstone for Baltimore, there was Homicide. In one episode, a character mentioned how you never get out of Baltimore, really. No matter where you end up, you come back. My father thought this was hilarious. (Note: He will deny this entire story. Look forward to his rebuttal “Claire’s false memories about conversations she wasn’t in and TV shows she wasn’t allowed to watch as a child.”) When I asked him why, he said “Because it’s true.”  The chorus of this song has always reminded me of that. You laugh at being here. Or you laugh at the well intentioned folks across the country whose eyes go wide when they learn where you’re from. (And how could I ever explain hot crabs caked in Old Bay, Ronnie slinging drinks that you wouldn’t dare call cocktails as regulars heckle the O’s, the Orthodox families meandering down the middle of the road on Friday nights, the cold so bitter and the heat so thick and honey suckle scented? Sure it’s like the Wire, buddy. TV is 100% real. Didn’t you know that?)

Baltimore, by the 5 Chinese Brothers

I was six years old (or some other short, shy sort of age) and the 5 Chinese Brothers were playing at a record shop. My parents and a gaggle of my father’s high school friends sat up front, but when the music started, I ran away to an aisle in the back of the shop and started to dance. I was wearing a twirly, swirly number, and I spun and snapped, my skirt swishing as they sang about fathers, and Baltimore, and girls who swayed to old girl group songs. I was a painfully quiet kid. The world outside my tight circle of stuffed animals and dolls was mostly terrifying. But that night I danced and danced and fell in love with “Singer Songwriter Beggarman Thief” and would over and over again, through every stage of life, a little more each time. This song I loved first. Still do. 

Dance Tonight, by Lucy Pearl

No one remembers Lucy Pearl. But you should. An early 90s hip hop one-album-super group, composed of members of Tony! Toni! Tone!, A Tribe Called Quest, and En Vogue, Lucy Pearl should’ve gotten bigger than their minor hit on the “Save the Last Dance” soundtrack. I loved homecoming dances. At our school, they were nonsense parties, based around sports teams no one paid any attention to (I went to an arts school without a football team. Our pep rallies involved blowing bubbles in a field…and that’s about it). The chaperoning was minimal, the dancing was deeply inappropriate, and the whole thing was one big fun, Top 40 fueled, sweaty mess. The fun really started in the hours before, when I would slip into my dress and flat iron my hair (a rarity, back then) and let my mom do her meticulous makeup handiwork. Lucy Pearl, so upbeat but mellow, a little funky and pop-py in the best way, was the perfect soundtrack for those pre-homecoming rituals.

Uncle John’s Band, by the Grateful Dead

Fellow children of Deadheads, if you didn’t endlessly listen to this song, and like it from the get go (unlike the Dicks Picks and dawdling cassette boot legs, which were alternately brilliant and incoherent), then your parents probably only went to 10 shows or some other lunacy. Stop calling yourself the children of Deadheads. To the rest of you, I’ll see you at the meetings.

Joshua’s List

Light Up My Room, by the Barenaked Ladies

When I was 17 or so, I broke up with a girl who cheated on me. I was devastated. Yet somehow, I was able to meet a new girlfriend within weeks of ending that relationship. I was taken with her and decided I wanted to put my new guitar playing “skills” to work wooing this lady. I decided to learn how to play this song, which is uniquely beautiful. It’s not a love song, per se, but it does paint a breathtaking picture of familiar love, of two people who live with each other and love each other dearly. If you’ve not listened to it, and you like love songs, try it.

Dear Maggie, by the Kelly Bell Band

Maybe this is in bad taste, but this song relates to the same girl from the previous song. A few months into dating (which is, of course, an eternity in high school), I took a road trip with a church choir to play bass for them. On this trip, I was intensely homesick and this was compounded by this girl who was totally up on my shnutz. I’ve never cheated on someone but this was the most tempted I’ve ever been. I stood my ground and refused her advances. The whole time I couldn’t shake this song. Its lyrics seemed to float in reference in my mind between my girlfriend and this temptress. At the same time, the first line in the chorus, “Dear Maggie, can you help me please?” seemed like a reverent supplication to a higher power, asking what I should do. The song is tough to listen to now but it’s still one of my favorites.

Li’l Darlin’, by Count Basie
I was 13 years old when I first played this song. I can remember my middle school jazz band conductor screaming at us to get the staccato notes in the main melody right every time I turn it on. The single notes are particularly tough for a band to get super tight. Every band member has to not only hit them at the precise moment, but they have to be the exact length down to the millisecond and have to fade from loud to soft to loud all with in the span of less than a second. These are the kind of things that it’s tough for adult bands to do and we teenagers were being asked of perfection. And it worked. We won many a band competition based on the strength of this ballad. This song is the reason I say that I’m a sucker for ballads.

When It Rains, by Brad Mehldau
I love to make mix tapes. And Rob Gordon was right, there is a formula one must follow when making one. However, there isn’t a consensus on what one should end the tapes with. Some believe you need to make it end on extremely high note with an up-tempo song that leaves the listener wanting more. I’m of the belief it’s better to build up to that song with a few songs before it, then end with a denouement that leaves a feeling of total satisfaction, usually a ballad or a slower song. This is the song I set as a gold standard for that. It starts and ends slow and has an absolutely stunning solo by Mehldau in the middle section then fades back to slow. But what makes this song hit home so hard is that I have always wanted to make music like this. Before I broke my wrists, I was a pretty decent jazz bassist. I spent nearly 10 years of my life playing jazz and this is the perfect example of music I wanted to be a part of and now I’ll never be.

Mushroom (live, off of eleven/fifteen), by Laughing Colors

I know I said I like to end with a ballad, but I had to save this song for the last. It’s the song. There is no other song that reminds me of home more than this version of this song. And the version is so specific, too. When I was in high school I was in love with this band. I would see them play at the Recher all the time in the best triple bill of all time: Laughing Colors, Kelly Bell Band, then the Almighty Senators. Those of you not from Baltimore may not understand this, but those are the Holy Trinity of Baltimore local bands. And this was the pinnacle of that achievement for me. I only had this live version of the song because I was poor and could only afford to buy this album for a long time. And what it album it was. The best part is that this song isn’t even that good in the scheme of good songs. I just am wildly attached to it. And I really don’t care if you don’t like it or judge me for liking it.

Honorable Mentions:

The Bridge – Rising Sun: A band from Baltimore I got into before they were (slightly) famous. This is their best song. Claire knows what I’m talking about.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Wagon Wheel : This was excluded from the main list because it wasn’t a hometown song, but a song that reminds me of all the people from St. Mary’s. I suppose if I ever moved from Maryland it would be hometown-ish. Everyone I knew at St. Mary’s knew this song, and half of those people could play it.

Pink Martini – Sympathique: Claire and I both took French language classes for many, many years. This song, also introduced to me by the girl half this post was written about, reminds me of a simpler time, struggling through the ridiculous conjugations the French language has. Also, the song is totally French. The lyrics to the chorus, in English, are: “I don’t want to work, I don’t want to eat, I just want to forget, and then I smoke.” Classic.