Get the Band Back Together: A Mixtape for Joshua

Last week Joshua and I wrote posts about our Top 5 songs at 16, and both posts highlighted our early, local show going. Joshua kept it high brow (or at least non-embarassing) with Laughing Colors and Kelly Bell Band shows, I lowered that brow considerably with Voodoo Blue shows, and we both talked about our mid-teens love for The Bridge. But there was one shared show-going experience that we left out: Going to Joshua’s shows.

I saw Joshua play a lot in high school and in college—at art school coffeehouses,  in sweaty ballrooms at synagogues, at open mic nights. I saw him play at big parties and small parties, and one summer I saw him play once a week at these boozy balcony gigs. And he was good; not “Hey! Look at my friend with a guitar!” good, but genuinely good.

There’s a chapter in Nick Hornby’s “Songbook” where he talks about how much he respects Rod Stewart’s early work (a surprising point that I was prepared for based on this blog by Joshua). Nick Hornby says that Elvis Costello has some ideas for bringing Rod Stewart back to the masses, and Hornby himself has some ideas, and the chapter ends with a music geek daydream of reviving Rod Stewart’s career. I guess what I’m saying, Joshua, is that in this scenario you’re Rod Stewart, and Elvis Costello and I routinely talk about your musical future while eating sundaes and playing Trivial Pursuit (…in my dreams.) So here are some songs to listen to, to cover, and to think about as you get the band back together. And if that chapter on Rod Stewart taught me anything, it’s to stay away from straw hats. That’s my only piece of production advice (Elvis Costello will, of course, cover the rest.)

“Stop Talking,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers

I’ve always thought that you would really like the 5 Chinese Brothers, if I could just get it together and give you their albums. And since I haven’t, and am sure that I will forget the next time I see you, they’re at the top of this list. Singer Songwriter Beggerman Thief (the album this song is from) is one of my all time favorite albums and features some themes I think you could get down with—Baltimore love that borders on dislike, distressing father/son relationships, and breakup songs. Really, really good breakup songs that are so quotable they’ll spin through your head indefinitely. “I only wish you loved me/ Half as much as you’re enjoying this” is one of my favorite quotable moments, and it’s in this song (also see “I Always Knew” and “Don’t Regret”).

“Sledge Hammer,” by Peter Gabriel

One of the funnest, rowdiest covers I ever saw was when The Bridge covered “Sledge Hammer” at the Recher, probably 10 years ago. This is a song that was made to be covered at shows. It perks up a too mellow crowd, turns non-dancers into dancers, and gives the energy in the room a swift kick in the right direction. It’s classic Peter Gabriel mind control—though never a big fan, he has a few songs that are powerful tone-changers, that will swing the mood pendulum of your audience where ever you need to swing it. (Also if you found out that Peter Gabriel has scary mind control powers, would you really be surprised? Top 5 Maybe Mind Controllers: Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Sting, Peter Frampton*, that girl who sings “Call Me Maybe”**)

“Rosie,” by The Bridge

You know how neither of us listen to The Bridge any more (other than in throwback, nostalgic ways)? This song made me wonder if we should change that. Also, though I haven’t heard you sing since some long ago karaoke night (did you sing, or did you just make Ashley and I sing “Ebony and Ivory”? Memories.), I think your voice would sound awesome on this.

“Let’s Straighten It Out,” by O.V. Wright

This is, in fact, already a cover, but a very good one, and I found it lodged halfway through “Songbook,” a book that solidifies Nick Hornby’s status as the unwilling godfather of the Charm City Jukebox. I like it because it’s not a break up song, or a love song—it’s a song that sounds and feels sexy, but in reality is about working on difficult issues in a long term relationship. It’s slow too, but not too slow, so if at some point you need to cool down your “Sledge Hammer” fueled audience, this would be an unexpected place to take them. Trust me, after listening to those songs back to back, it does the trick.

“You’ve Got a Friend,” by James Taylor

I’ll be honest: I think James Taylor has all the corny charms of frequent-pun-users and shiny, eager kids who try to convert you outside of college Student Centers (Taylor, to his credit, is not a pun abuser or Christ peddler, but on the scale of minor annoyances, they’re all on the same level)

One of the weirdest reading experience I ever had was with “Girls Like Us,” which tracks the careers of Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. It’s a great book, and there’s nothing particularly odd about it, except for the characterization of James Taylor, who comes across as a troubled drug addict rock star sex god. It’s not a new character; anyone who has ever seen a movie about musicians or read a book or fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole knows that’s pretty par for the course. But James Taylor? Really? It was like finding out Randy Newman got his start in porn.

While “Girls Like Us” made me take a new look at James Taylor the man, the Isley Brothers made me take a new look at James Taylor the musician. They turned “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” into soulful bedroom soundtrack fodder, and made me wonder if other Taylor songs could be re-imagined into something raunchy and delightful.

“You’ve Got a Friend” is a sugary song about the joys of friendship that, if delivered with a raised eyebrow and some solid funk, could be downright raunchy. Imagine it as an ode to long-standing booty calls (“You just call out my name/ And you know wherever I am/I’ll come running to see you again”). It’s an interpretation that could be simultaneously sexy and hilarious, since this song was relegated to the world of middle school choirs and youth group campfires long ago. It’s like finding a hidden, dirty double meaning in the Sesame Street theme song. Take a cue from the Isley Brothers and unlace this straightlaced Taylor gem.

* The title of Frampton Comes Alive! was Peter Frampton’s confession that he is a zombie.

**One day Carlie Rae Jepsen will rule us all. Exhibit A.

Top 5 Worst Love Songs

Claire: Welcome to Week 2 of our February love song extravaganza. We’ve done Top 5 Love Songs, had our first ever guest post with Top 5 Alternative Love Songs, and now it’s time for my personal favorite, Top 5 Worst Love Songs (or what not to woo anyone with, ever). Get ready for a few more weeks of love, lust, loss, Lionel Richie, and other musical goodies brought to you by the letter L.

CLAIRE’s List:

“She’s a Lady” by Tom Jones

An upbeat, misogynistic number by America’s most revered lounge lizard (Wayne Newton, it’s over. You heard it here first.), Tom Jones. This, like much of Jones’ body of work, sounds like it was written for the soundtrack of an early 80s romantic comedy. Here’s the scene: Hot chick in day-glo shoulder pads enters the restaurant in slo-mo (and you know that restaurant has a salad bar and oddly placed palm tree like plants, cause shit is CLASSY). Jaws drop, weirdly tan guy in a suit (read: Tom Jones) who’s watching her enter leans back approvingly and nods (That’ll do, shoulder pads. That’ll do.)

Lets take a look at a couple choice moments from this song:

  • She’s never in the way” and “I can leave her on her own, know that she’s okay alone, and there’s no messin'” : These lines sound like they should be followed with a chorus of “She’s a toddler”
  • And I don’t abuse her!”: He says this twice, guys. Congratulations?
  • Woah woah woah” and “Na na na”: You get ONE. One sound. Get it together, Jones.

“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship

Mannequin is a touching love story about a man who can’t handle relationships with humans so he gets it on with a mannequin and nobody thinks that’s weird. It features Hollywood power players “That-guy-who-did-not-deserve-Molly-Ringwald-in-Pretty-in-Pink” and “That-lady-from-SATC-who-said- ‘Lawrence of My Labia’-and-ruined-both-the-movies-and-Arabia-for -me, forever.” Damnit Kim Cattrell. This is the creepy theme song for their “man meets and marries doll” love story. I first heard it at the “Delocated Variety Hour” show a few weeks ago with Ben Gibbard singing into a voice modulater while watching Jon Glaser go to town on a mannequin. So it was pretty magical.

“Every Breath You Take,” by The Police

A love song that says “Stalking is neat!” and “Sting is gonna getcha!” Come on everyone. Stop playing this at your wedding, stop using it on shows and in movies when characters finally fall in love, just stop it. No. Listen to the lyrics just one time and you’ll know that a song about a heartbroken dude who is watching you sleep and breathe is not romantic. It’s scary as hell…just like Sting.

“I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meatloaf

Full disclosure: Much to my parents’ chagrin, I loved this song when I was a kid. But that was just because the video is awesome and it’s live action Beauty and the Beast and explosions! Explosions! Anyway. Basically, Meatloaf will do anything for love, but he won’t do a bunch of stuff that nobody would want him to do anyway. I swear at one point it quotes graffiti I read on a bathroom wall in high school, (“Some days I just pray to the god of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”). And I know Meat Loaf came first, but trust me: Fourteen year old boys with sharpies were writing similar sentiments in bathroom stalls way before the early ‘00s. They were also saying earnest, hormone-addled things like “But I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way, tonight” since cave-boy first invited cave-girl to come over and make out in his basement. Meatloaf, you’re too old for this. Do all the stuff you said you would do and leave it at that.

“I Want it that Way” by the Backstreet Boys

In 1998, the Backstreet Boys decided that they were so important that they no longer had to use sentence structures or themes or any basic songwriting staples. They weren’t excelling on these points before, and they were making Scrooge McDuck levels of cash, so at a band meeting one day, the awkwardly old one said “Hey guys, lets just say words and dance.” And the non-threatening to girls one said “Why don’t the rest of you have to have ponytails? It’s 1998. This is not a thing anymore” And the one in the hat said “We can just say the words ‘heart’ and ‘you’ a lot so preteen girls get confused and think a) we’re singing to them and b) we’re super deep?” And really Christian guy and Nick Carter agreed, and it was so. Here’s a link to the lyrics. Enjoy.

JOSHUA’s List:

“Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band

This is one of those songs that falls under straight up creepy, akin to “Every Breath You Take.” It’s masked, however, by a very beautiful and relatively hard to play chord progression and Matthews signature wilting voice. But he’s essentially talking about stalking the girl he’s in love with and admitting to having wet dreams about her! What did you think “come into you / in a boy’s dream” meant? Maybe if he had spelled it “cum” or “skeet” we all wouldn’t have been suckered into thinking this is song is pretty and sexy. I actually like that. The next time a pretty woman asks me to play this song (it’s always the really pretty ones who like this song [often blond]) I’m totally replacing “come” with “skeet” and we’ll see if that changes how she hears the song. Or if she slaps me in the face.

“Baby, I Love Your Way” by Peter Frampton

Oh man, this is a boring song. He talks about different types of light for like 6 verses then follows each up with a very nonsensical chorus. To what way does he refer? The way she does what? Because, Mr. Frampton, the way you’ve done this song is boring, straight down to the chord progression. And Rob Gordon was wrong, even Lisa Bonet couldn’t save this one.

“I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder

Speaking of High Fidelity, the boys in the shop had it right with this one. No one wants this song…which is basically a calendar. He boldly takes us through each holiday month by month and reminds us, in a precursor to Rebecca Black, that January is followed by February and March is after that. And the worst part? Stevie Wonder is a musical genius and  yet this song sounds like it was knocked up in ten minutes on a Casio keyboard with multiple MIDI sounds and a drum machine and a robot voice. Talk about phoning it in, Li’l Stevie.

“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton

All I want to say about this song is it would far more interesting if he had answered truthfully and said, “No, honey, you look like you’ve gained a bit of weight.”

“Your Kiss is On My List” by Hall and Oates

Oh, Hall and Oates. Does anyone really want to get a love song sung to them b a creepy dude with a 70’s pornstar mustache?  Or does this answer that question?