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 Songs for a Foggy Day (by Claire)

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

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

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

“Spooky,” by Dusty Springfield

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

“Swingset Chain,” by Loquat

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

“Fluffy Lucy,” by Cracker

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

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

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

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

“Sweet Thing,” by Van Morrison

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

So Hot Right Now: August 2012

Claire’s List: If we named these lists, I would call this one “Napkin Songs” or “Margin Songs,” since they lived on napkins and in margins, scribbled over the course of several months. In a weird experiment, I listened to them in order, and they mostly worked as a playlist, with a few minor alterations.

1. “Sweet Thing,” by Van Morrison

2. “Minneapolis,” by That Dog

3. “Le Temps de L’Amour,” by Francoise Hardy

4. “Fluffy Lucy,” by Cracker

5. “Everyday,” by Rogue Wave

6. “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” by Smokey Robinson

7. “Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song),” by Iron & Wine

8. “Benny and the Jets,” by TV Girl

9. “Love My Way,” by The Psychedelic Furs

10. “Life is Short,” by Butterfly Boucher

11. “Smokers,” by the Old 97s

12. “Waiting for Tonight,” by Tom Petty

13. “I Want You Back,” by Hoodoo Gurus

14.  “Malibu,” by Hole

15. “The Crane Wife (Part 3),” by The Decemberists

Joshua’s List: I usually put these together with some sort of theme in mind. This time, I didn’t. It’s just badass.

1. “We Used To Wait” by Arcade Fire

2. “Demon Kitty Rag” by Katzenjammer

3. “Classy Girls” by The Lumineers

4. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” as done by Cake

5. “Choose Me For Champion” by Rasputina

6. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash

7. “Stay With Me” by Faces

8. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (live)” by The Band

9. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists

10. “Telegram” by Saul Williams

11. “The Road” by Tenacious D

12. “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers

13. “Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire

14. “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + the Machine

15. “As I Rise” by The Decemberists

Mixtapes for Celebrities: Warren Zevon and Lindsay Lohan

Claire: We’re kicking off our month of mixtape madness with mixtapes for Warren Zevon and Lindsay Lohan. Through the power of playlists, we’re hoping to show Warren Zevon the music he’s been missing while we’ve been missing him, and to make Lindsay Lohan’s recent comeback her last.

Joshua’s List: Dark Songs for a Dark Motherfucker (A Mixtape for Warren Zevon)

Dear Mr. Zevon,

We miss you here on earth. We just don’t have anyone like you anymore.  And while you’ve been kicking it in Rock and Roll Heaven, there have been some songs that you would just love. They’re right up your alley.

“Holocaust of Giants” by Rasputina          

Ok, so, maybe I lied. I’m not sure how you would feel about cellos as the main instrument. But it’s cellos that are often played through distortion pedals. And Melora Creager is almost as deviant as you were. This song recounts finding the bones of a giant on the banks of the Ohio, who “slaughtered each other in a meaningless war,” which she thanks god “we don’t do that anymore.” It’s exactly the kind of humor I think you’d be down with.

“Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble

I understand this may be a little lo-fi and stripped down for you , but it’s a song about domestic abuse and murder set to simple, easy, down-strummed guitar chords. With an accordion. And amazing harmonies. I have to think this would worm its way into your head just like it has mine. Maybe you’d even cover it. Yeah….Oh, I think I just got an erection. To murder. Hot.

“People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad

His voice is tough for you, I know. But man, he’s for realsies, isn’t he? I have a feeling you would love the lines about there being a child pornographer and a Nazi inside all of us (especially “and a politician too”).  And I think you’d really love their re-imagining of “Mrs. Robinson.” They are very sick and twisted, no?

“How a Resurrection Really Feels” by The Hold Steady

At this point you’re asking yourself, “Ok, this list is pretty good so far, but where’s the power? Where’s the oomph? I mean, really…Where’s the fucking guitars?” Here they are. The Hold Steady know how to deliver an amazing song about a homeless prostitute and heroin addict dying in a church with badass guitar lines and ridiculous solos. And Craig Finn’s voice makes him sound perpetually drunk, something I know you’d appreciate.

“A Cautionary Song” by The Decemberists

This song came up on my shuffle at work the other day and inspired this list. The Decemberists have lots of dirty, dark songs, but this one takes the cake (also, it seems that prostitution and the accordion are running themes in this list). It recounts the tale of a woman who goes off to sell her body to sailors who pass her around like a ragdoll and then throw her back ashore with a couple dollars and the promise to kill her if she tells the tale. And, oh wait, it’s your fucking mother. She does this to put food in your grubby little mouth. It’s all sealed with the wonderful musical and lyrical footnote at the end, “Remember what she does when you’re asleep.” You’d hear this song and smile to yourself, I know.

Well, Mr. Zevon, I hope you’ve liked my list. Rock and Roll Heaven must be awesome, with the Tupac, the real Paul McCartney, and Otis Redding. But hopefully this list has made you smile and laugh. If you liked it, maybe you could do me a favor and put in a good word with the Rock and Roll God to just kill Nickelback already? Thanks. We miss you!

With musical love,


Claire’s List: Career Advice for the Prodigal Comeback Kid (A Mixtape for Lindsay Lohan)

Dear Ms. Lohan,

Look at you! Done with your probation, getting your red-headed groove back on, popping up on TV…yeah, we’ve seen this before. Linds Lo, I’ve been rooting for you since “The Parent Trap,” and I think you can make this your last comeback, but it’s going to take some work. So I made you a mixtape that’s better than Oreos dipped in peanut butter. Enjoy.

“Bad Reputation,” by Freedy Johnston

I think denial is part of what makes the closed door on your wild ways a revolving one. The message from Freedy is solid: I know I’ve got a bad reputation, and it isn’t just talk talk talk. After years of weak excuses and rebuttals, isn’t it time to be upfront about what you’ve been doing for the past few wasted years? Look at Demi Lovato—you were definitely her Disney prototype, right down to the post-fame boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama, you’re gross. If you end up dating Elle Fanning in a few years, I will personally come over and punch you in the head) and she’s following the Tao of Freedy and thriving.

“Bloody Motherfucking Asshole,” by Martha Wainwright

Oh Michael Lohan, you tabloid-celebrity-chasing buffoon. Look Linds, you did not draw winners when it came to picking parents. The same logic goes for whoever managed your music career.

Once upon a time, every child actor didn’t have to sing. Mini-pop superstardom wasn’t part of the Disney deal. You’re from that time; your musical talent was legitimate and not just an auto-tuned part of your Disney package. But whoever managed you decided to focus more energy on selling you as a Top 40 sexbot instead of a legitimate singer.

Throw the world a curveball and make a good album. Cease and desist your current contact with Pitbull. Again, take a note from Lindsay Lohan 2.0, Demi Lovato, who seems to be trying to make decent music outside of the Disney mold. Kick off your album planning with some Martha Wainwright listening. She wrote this song about her terrible father/daughter relationship with Loudon Wainwright III. Consider this a higher-brow “Daughter to Father.”

“Bette Davis Eyes,” by Kim Carnes

I have a theory that everyone wants you dead. Listen, not me, but really: You’ve been marketed as an impending tragedy since you were about 20. I don’t think photographers keep thrusting you into high profile shot for shot remakes of Marilyn Monroe because you’re her look-alike—you’re not, and there are teams of young actresses who have taken her style cues and mannerisms for years without this level of Marilyn association. I think it’s because it was decided a long time ago that you were a tragic beauty.

And this isn’t just about past slipups: No one marketed Robert Downey Jr as James Dean. When Charlie Sheen fell into a whirlwind of substance abuse and mental illness, he wasn’t overwhelmingly linked to tragic, deceased male actors. But you fell into your own whirlwind and were suddenly associated, constantly, with a beloved actress who ODed at a young age.

I know the reference in this song is to Bette Davis, but I see it as your send-off song: Listen to it, and say goodbye to the tragic seductress with the big old movie star eyes. And the next time I see a photo shoot of you, I hope they style you to look like you. Or Ann Margaret, who makes way more sense as an old movie star doppelgänger.

“You Don’t Own Me,” by Lesley Gore

When you’re working your ass off to change the public’s opinion, relaunch your career, and get that Oscar by the time you’re 30 (yes, I’ve watched your interviews. But we’ll be 30 in 5 years kid, so pick up the pace!), you need a “Fuck everyone, no one can stop me!” song. Here it is.

“Come a Long Way,” by Michelle Shocked

You hosted SNL, you showed up sober and put together for loads of interviews, you did all your community service, you’re playing Elizabeth Taylor in a Lifetime movie….you have come a long way, and you haven’t even left LA.

Good luck with everything, Lindsay Lohan. One day I want to see you with a Robert Downey Jr. Type of fame, where you get solid parts and no one talks about who you were or what you did when you were young and troubled.



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 Album Openers

Claire: We’re wading through our record collections this month and taking a look at opening tracks, middle tracks, closing tracks, penultimate tracks, with, as always, some musical nostalgia and High Fidelity references thrown in. The idea for this month’s theme started with both of us rereading High Fidelity, as all good ideas do.

So what makes a good album opener? A giant musical blast, or a soft hand-held intro? A song that hints at a great album and delivers, or song that cons you into listening to something subpar? We landed on all of the above.

JOSHUA’s List:

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” by Arcade Fire, on Funeral

This song has the softest opening of any of the songs on this list, but like the album it begins, it swells to a grand and exhilarating scale. It positively exudes the childhood wonder that permeates this album: It’s like Win Butler dropped acid and mentally regressed to age 6 and wrote an album about it. The instrumentation of the song reflects that idea, with wide open, repetitive piano chords and simple, bass drum heavy drumming. This song made me listen to everything Arcade Fire ever wrote.

“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, on Lungs

I once told my brother Daniel I’d love to cover this song…if I only had a harp. It’s so infectious. I think it’s the clapping that causes this song to just stick in your head for months after you hear it. And Florence’s voice…Jeebos. Unfortunately, it has a level of promise that the rest of the album just doesn’t quite live up to. And the album is pretty damn good too, but this is a masterpiece, hands down. Just try to get it out of your head. Good luck. Side note: Florence Welch sings about horses all the fucking time.

“The Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon, on Graceland

A perfect way to start what I think is one of the most perfect albums ever written. How Simon makes accordion so appealing, I’ll never know. And that bass! Oh man, I have dreams of being the bassist for this album like three times a week. The lyrical phrasing and timing of this song is great, too: it’s never quite on the beat, but either just behind it or just ahead of it. The song signals what’s to come in the album and glib and ironic ideas of what’s to come in America from 1986 on. And lasers! Bizzow!

“Testify” by Rage Against the Machine, on Battle of Los Angeles

I don’t think you can talk about album openers without talking about Rage Against the Machine. Every album they had opened with an insanely “up” song and this is no exception. And it’s tight. Tight like the whole album is, much more so than their other albums. It’s like the album was designed to be listened to start to finish each time, each song building on the intensity and message of the previous. It may not have been as caustic as the previous albums, but I think it’s their best, and this is the best way to open that album.

“Don’t Carry It All” by The Decemberists, on The King Is Dead

This is my favorite album opener on the list, hands down. Those of you familiar with the Decemberists know that their previous albums were all steeped in the tradition of British folk revival; that is, it sounded like their music was plucked out of a galley of a whaling ship in 1860. This is decidedly different: Big, open major chords, harmonica, beautiful mandolin and backing vocals. It’s the Decemberists’ take on classic Americana. It’s exactly what they sing about: A “turning of the season.” Let’s raise a glass!

Honorable Mentions:

“Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf, on Bat Out of Hell: Almost all of his songs are about losing his virginity, except this one, in where he beefs it on a motorcycle. Bad. Ass.

“1816, the Year Without a Summer” by Rasputina, on Oh Perilous World: Sets the stage for historical epic as commentary on the Iraq war. But this song, as Melora Creager is oft to say at performances, is a song about the weather.

“Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, on Stop Making Sense: God, this was so close to making the top list. It’s amazing. The guitar work is impeccable.


“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” by the Talking Heads, on Remain in Light

I owned “Remain in Light” for years before I listened to the whole album because I could not get past this song. Funky, bizarre, like if Brian Eno and Parliament Funkadelic made a new wave love child. It’s rare to have an album start to with a burst like this, but as you can see from Joshua’s Honorary Mentions, the Talking Heads excel at this: “Burning Down the House” was a track one, as was “And She Was” which, though not as rowdy or bizarre, begins with a jolting “Hey!”

If, like me, you spend part of your week writing about albums, and the bulk of it reading stuff about the War on Women, don’t be surprised when the line “…And I’m a government man” gets stuck in your head. And the reoccuring dream where Rick Santorum dances to “Born Under Punches”? Occupational hazard.

“Box of Rain,” by the Grateful Dead, on American Beauty

The first time I ever listened to the Grateful Dead by myself, outside of my parents’ cars or stereo, was when I was fifteen and suddenly obsessed with “American Beauty.” It’s not a creative first Dead album, but I fell into that deep musical love with it, the kind where you listen to an album on repeat for a whole year with very few pauses for other music. This was the song I replayed the most. Beautiful, gentle, and one of the very few times where Robert Hunter’s odd-quasi-poetic lyrics got under my skin.

“Miss You,” by The Rolling Stones, on Some Girls

Is it weird that I’m always embarassed to write about the Rolling Stones? Is it because every time I play the “What band does everyone like that you don’t?” game with people, The Rolling Stones always come up? (Top 5 answers to that question: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Who, Radiohead) Anyway, great opening to a great album—tense, sonically interesting (shuffling from oohs to aahs, singing to lyrics, and a nice showcase of Jagger’s weird and limited range) (none of those sound like compliments, but really, it’s a good song. Jagger is okay too.), and a solid introduction to the feel of the album overall.

“6’1″,” by Liz Phair, on Exile in Guyville

The irony of the placement here is not lost on me. This was Phair’s first album, so who knew what to expect. But when the guitar starts, and then her funny flat-ish voice throws out a catchy balance of anger and snark and imagery—you want to sit down and listen to the whole record. Even now, when Phair has since sold out and sold back in, has made good albums and not so good albums, when we all know what’s up with her and have for a while, this song has that “I want to know this girl, and I want to hear what she says next” quality.

“Cooksferry Queen,” by Richard Thompson, on Mock Tudor

What can I say? I like a tense opener. Listen to the first few bars of “Miss You” and “Cooksferry Queen” and you’ll understand. This song builds—in speed, in lyrical content, in Thompson’s voice, which goes from smooth and steady to gruff and growling. And it has the classic Thompson song story— Boy named James/Mulvaeney/Insert-British-sounding-name-here meets redheaded/curlyheaded/pigheaded girl, goes on a heady adventure with his ill-fated love, encounters danger/far flung small town locales/psychedelic imagery.  

Honorable Mentions:

“Welcome to the Working Week,” Elvis Costello on My Aim is True: I listened to this song so many times at a long ago terrible job that it will always remind me of crying while eating a sandwich. For all you pop-music-lovers or terrible-job-havers (or anyone looking for a good, upbeat sandwich cry), this is a great song. Enjoy.

“Blue Bird,” Bonnie Raitt on Bonnie Raitt: A happy, lovely opening to a sometimes happy, always lovely self-titled freshman album by Bonnie Raitt.

“Icky Thump,” by the White Stripes on Icky Thump: I completely forgot about this album. These things happen. Welcome to the honorable mentions category, White Stripes.

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.