Knocks Me Off My Feet
Partially spurred by the thousand perfect pop songs thread on ILM, I made another one of those compilation things that I was doing so frivolously earlier in the year. Pretty much the first three songs on the compilation were on their way to compilationdom, but the thread really kickstarted the choosing process.
I'm really obsessing over song structure right now. Last night I wrote a song (using the ukelele! booyah Tyler!!!) but it was lame, something like an improvement on "Isolated Mines" a song that wasn't asking for improvement because it got right its way-too-crowdedness the first time. This one's crowdeder, it has form changes in the middle of chords, it extends chords, it transforms minor things into major things, its all very complicated and in about three keys. Anyway, listening to these songs not only cheers up my listening brain but it also inspires me to catalogue my thoughts about them.
So in lieu of someone to talk to, I am going to write down what I feel about these songs right here.
1. Althea and Donna - No More Fighting.
This is the OTHER Althea and Donna song (the first one being Uptown Top Ranking which you have to hear if you haven't already). They have a wonderful blase feel about them, which makes the fact that the beautiful pop songs they are cajoled into all the more triumphant. The minor key melody that has made me obsessed with minor key melodies is played by all sorts of glorious sounds, from saxophones and guitars and keyboards and saxophones and trumpets that sound like guitars. I love how the horns work in this song, they are like an after thought and they give this beautiful lift to everything, especially during the beginning of verse 3.
My favorite part of this song is at the end of each verse where they repeat something really fast, 'eventually eventually eventually, its all going to show...' it gives the song this very folky feel, where the language is more important than the structure of the song. This song feels very communal.
2. Arthur Russell - Arm Around You.
I keep on thinking I will hear this song someday and hate it, considering I've listened to it probably ten times in the past three days. Some people listen to songs over and over and over like that, but I can't take much more than four listens usually. This isn't a particularly complicated song, there's really only two melody sounds, his voice and a little plunky keyboard that I'm sure I've played before. There's drums going on constantly, but you almost have to ignore those.
The important thing about this song is how uplifting it is. Arthur does this thing much like Karen Carpenter, where its like you feel them having to hold back their emotion or they are going to start crying or break the microphone or something. There's this bizarre intensity in his almost Kermit the Frog voice. Here's another song containing those wonderful lifts, 'got to put my-y-y arm around you'. The keyboard is playing between two and three notes (the third note is an afterthought) through the song, but it feels in my brain like its a whole symphony that rises with his voice. I'm not completely sure if the keyboard is playing chords or just one note. The timbre is kind of weird, where it could be either thing. Somebody more levelheaded could probably tell me. I'm not obsessing or anything. A lot of people would say that this song is too long, but not me usually.
3. Cocteau Twins - Iceblink Luck.
This is a very well-planned out song. Its like: opening melody, verse, chorus (but just a tease), verse, chorus (fuller), musical bridge with bombast and the last chorus which is extended and different and then the end. There is no wasted space. The Twins sing very pretty and enunciate poorly, which would be a bad thing if this was rap, but this is not rap, so it sounds like they are foreign which I'm sure makes them more appealing to some people. Instead of 'you're the match of Jericho' I thought they were saying something like 'You're no macho cherry cola'. Again, if you don't like drum machines you will have to look the other way. You should look towards the fact that they are making guitars sound like chandeliers.
4. Daft Punk - Face to Face.
I don't particularly admire the form of the song so much as I like the stuttery feel which I'm sure is acheived through robot technology that we don't have. For some reason I picture Conner and I attempting something like this and it would sound very funny because I'm not quite sure how to stop a bass a hundred percent quite yet, so there would be a lot of pops and stuff. Playing the bass is kind of like driving a car for me (or what I imagine driving a car to be like). You just kind of get in and start going and try your best to aim away from things. Picture the distance you travel in a car being the amount of time you are playing the bass, and the speed of the car like the tempo of the song (you might have to pretend you are on a freeway). The concept of a bass hitting something really just concerns how good you are with sticking to the rhythm. Its worse if you hit something with a car, but in both cases you can pretend it didn't happen.
5. Stereolab - Ping Pong.
The drums are the focal point in this song for me, I think. They play these compact and delightful fills. If I focus on the lyrics, I picture Chris Connelly (the teacher, not the Industrial music pioneer), playing us communist songs trying to convert us in class. I agree with the general idea, but its like trying to convert us to Herman's Hermits. We've lived through it and we knew that it didn't work the first time, so why would we buy it this time? Anyway those drums are clean and miked nice.
6. Jesus and Mary Chain - April Skies.
The Jesus and Mary Chain use treble/feedback like churches use organs. The idea in church is that the organ is so overwhelming that we can't help but believe in God through the music. Here also, we can't help but believe in the Jesus and Mary Chain, even if their one drum does sound like a drum machine here. I don't even know why I like this song, they're mumbling something. Well, that melody before the voice jumps the octave is pretty nice. I mean, nobody is going to be quoting these lyrics or anything, the JAMC just have a good grasp on the texture thing. They don't do the chorus until the end of the song, which is a very brave move in my mind. I am definitely going to aspire to that in a song sometime. As a matter of fact, I'm noting that down right now.
7. Mclusky - Day of the Deadringers.
The bass in this song is the Frankenstein monster strolling down the corner. The guitar and the singer are the same person and that is the person that is narrating the monster's accidental mayhem. He's got this catchy melody (with the guitar) and this delicious spurt of tons-of-words that propel the song into the non-chorus. I always strive for this type of mania. Mclusky is one of these 50% bands, which you think would make them a D minus band but they aren't. Musical percentages are not the same as school percentages. He's got this rave thing down, which is probably more tone than writing, because I think I write a lot of these too many things at a time kind of things. One thing that I have to do on this album (that I think I actually did pretty well on the Heart that Ate New York) is singing on the recordings like I sing live. That and hitting more notes.
I think I could actually play guitar like this, but I don't know if I could play bass like this. I considered today getting a rhythm guitarist, but they would have to be more proficient than the lead guitarist.
8. The Archies - Jingle Jangle.
Every time this seems like a brilliant transition. The angry dudes of the 00s to the happy guys gals of the 70s (pretending to be the 60s). I played the bass along to this song on the bus and I'm pretty sure nobody was looking. I should probably be listening to more of this kind of superstudio pop where the people know as they are recording the song that it is going to be something big. That's what I admire about groups like Steely Dan, they KNEW you were going to be singing along. Another thing to note is that even though the chorus is pretty bonkers, the bass and the guitar and the drums maintain a certain dignity, its just the voices that get pretty big.
9. Stevie Wonder - Knocks Me Off My Feet.
This is one of these songs from Songs in the key of Life that I liked for the worst reasons. The first time I listened to it, I liked it because it reminded me of a song called "Thug Lovin'" from the nineties by a band that I don't remember and I didn't actually like. But its always good to hear something familiar in a piece of canonical music that you are hearing for the first time, its like 'oh, that's where that came from' especially with soul music.
I really like the structure of the song, how it seems like it has two choruses, both lead into with the phrase 'I don't want to bore you with it...' like its this disclaimer coming from a frail guy on the street who then proceeds to sermonize the heck out of you. I like the way that Stevie plays the drums, its a certain kind of uninformed rhythm, where its almost all cymbals and stuff. Cymbals are to Stevie Wonder as Feedback is the the Jesus and Mary Chain. Its this unstoppable cathedral of sound. Stevie takes us to heights (partially with his voice and partially with his wacky rhythm) that I could not possibly reach, so this song is at once affirming and depressing.
10. Smashing Pumpkins - Whir.
I'm pretty sure I'm never going to really like this song. I always admire Billy's guitar work and engineering and etcetera, and the brushwork in the background is certainly exemplary, but the song fails to deliver more than it succeeds.
11. ELO - Do Ya.
Another song that I'm not terribly impressed by. Do ya do ya want my love. Its epic and plenty of that. The guitar slides that in punk bands hands become novelty and travesty and etcetera here are jet engines screaming in for ten point landings. There's an awkward cut in the middle that always makes me feel bad. But you know, if you are going to have an awkward cut, the best place for it to go is heavy drums. I like how the drums sound like artillery almost in the song. This would be a good song to christen a new war with, if only it wasn't about love. Do ya do ya want my bomb. I think the melody in the chorus is severely lacking for this BIG of a song.
12. Os Mutantes - Algo Mais.
So maybe subconsciously the plan was that the only way to follow up three classics in a row was with three duds in a row, and this is the end of it. The verses are like one note and one chord, the only good part is when the guitar gets all ice rink and running down the side of a mountain really quickly and etcetera. Theres good drum stuff in here, but man, give us some sort of melody to hold on to. This is probably one of the worst early period Os Mutantes songs, I think I was probably living somewhere in my head with the decision to include this. Maybe like the chorus lasted longer, or the song was in stereo or something. Putting a mono song next to a bunch of stereo songs bothers my brain.
13. Syd Barrett - If It's In You.
I don't know if other people would be okay with the little melismatics at the beginning of the song thi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-inking of you... etc. The lyrics of the song are pretty brilliant 'she's a mean go getta got to write her a letta' 'I am young yum yummy and dumb, yam yummy yum yum'. I would have to listen to this fifteen times to get a hang of how the song is built, but I like it. I may do that.
14. Sly and the Family Stone - Hot Fun in the Summertime.
That's what I'm going to be experiencing in Fresno, hotness. I saw a guy today wearing a shirt that I'm pretty sure said Fresno and had a crossing out symbol, you know what I mean. I thought about hitting him pretty hard in the face out of the town spirit that the pageant we did in third grade instilled permanently in me. Anyway, this is another one of those songs I can't do because I don't have any soul. Not even computer soul. We could do trading off vocals though, and I have a song planned where we do that. I hate how it fades out prematurely, in the middle of the second chorus - YOU COULD HAVE GIVEN US MORE!!!!!
15. The Chills - Wet Blanket.
This is one of those 'where the hell did this come from!' songs which the guys that I talked about in the Archies song hate. Because its dirty and flimsy and brilliant and destroys everything they know about what people like. Not to say that people like this song, but it is pretty close to perfect. The Chills are really brave lyricists, they'll say stuff that I am afraid to say in songs 'your so so so beautiful, why aren't you mine?' for example. Man.
This song has a kind of opening thing that makes the Cure worthwhile sometimes for me, I don't know, I'll look at a chord sheet or something, but it starts the song off in one vein and then switches things when the vocals first come in. This is another song where the backing is relatively tame, but the vocals really bring it to life, like the Archies song.
16. The Monks - I can't Get Over You.
My favorite thing about the Monks is their first song, monk time. It establishes this hilarious personality for them that makes them the funnest pre-punk band. That and the fact that they have a banjo. This song was recorded pretty dang recently, like in 1999. I just found that out. Anyway, they still have the same personality and I always picture them like a Saturday Morning cartoon that I'm glad never was because they wouldn't have been able to get the Monks (especially the lead Monk) to do the voices and I would have been crushed. Also it would not have lasted.
17. Pere Ubu - Caligari's Mirror.
I was way more impressed with Pere Ubu when I knew nothing about the afterpunk music. Also reggae. The rhythm section seems barely holding on for about 40% of their work, which I am not happy about. I like the chorus of this song a lot, that's the reason its here. The guitar in this song, the lead guitar is pretty impressive and I hope to play or have played something like this guitar in the future. This is one of these screw around in the verses and then do the choruses straight song. My favorite part of the song is the end when Dave Thomas sings "as she rises... out the door!" and its the culmination of the great chorus marooned in an average song.
18. The Clash - The Sound of the Sinners.
The Clash were post-punk in two ways. Number one with the rhythms and styles. Number two, they were one of the first big sell out punk bands (with Combat Rock). Sandinista! was the apex of them, for me, it was their last really auteured-up album and of course one of the crazy-biggest albums in history. Three records, people, and NOT a box set. The Clash have a tendency to extend their songs about two minutes longer on average than they should be, so that probably contributes to the length of their album. It is pretty gutsy for a punk band to have a gospel song on their album, even if it contains that ironic church money patter at the end. I had a thought about the Clash and Cornershop, but it was probably an obvious thought and one that the existence of Big Audio Dynamite made unneccesary.
19. The Beach Boys - This Whole World.
This is a great song for a couple reasons. Number one it feels to me like the epitome of misfired male egotism. The song goes 'I'm thinking about this whole world' but it really only has to do with the narrator's boy-girl concerns. It is a good precursor to all that crappy music people made with guitars in the nineties. Anyway, their music would be less crappy if they put such delightful vocal harmonies in their musics, and included a breakdown moment with humming and reverb.
20. T Rex - Raw Ramp.
There's a bunch of hilarious lyrics in this song: "oh baby, I'm crazy about your breasts" "Baby your mouth is like a ghost". I'm not sure about the 'raw ramp' line. There's some great guitar solos in here. The rhythm sounds like the previous songs mmm bop ditty rhythm, which makes me an accidental genius for putting these back to back. The guitar, like Mr. Bolan is a wacky little thing that makes this song wonderful. Why can't I put achievable songs on these compilations, what about some nice Fountains of Wayne?
21. My Bloody Valentine - When You Sleep
. I didn't like My Bloody Valentine for a long time and then I heard "Isn't Anything". I think the key to my liking them was the kooky dissonances that are just thrown in there haphazardly. I'm not sure if there are any in this song, but I"m pretty sure that this song features gang vocals, aka vocals I like. Yeah, blah blah, I could make those guitar sounds too if I had five hundred thousand dollars. I've noticed a lot of similarities between the Bloodies and the Pumpkins in days recent too, just their treatment of the guitar as a big, but dealable beast. Like when Dante and Virgil are going deeper into hell and they encounter Cereberus and get past him by throwing a clod of dirt his way for him to eat. I think that's pretty much Kevin Shields and Billy Corgans shared idea of the guitar. The equivalent of dirt that will get us past this kind of guitar thought and further into hell is BIGGER DRUMS. This song would segue well into "Once in a Lifetime". I'll do that next time.
22. Dexys Midnight Runners - My National Pride.
I can't tell you how much I like this band. Its a lot. And its mainly because of Kevin Rowland's voice. Kevin's solo stuff isn't as good, because the thing with people like Kevin Rowland (like Morrissey for example) need the mania of democracy to keep them in check and also exciting. This song is full of space and good sounding instruments and good sounding Kevin.
I wish they had Dexy's Midnight Runners songs at kareoke places, because I'd totally do them. I don't think they'd have Come on Eileen, because its kind of a hard song to sing, for the same reasons that I'm pretty sure that nobody would want to/be able to do "Take on Me", because people just aren't born with that kind of heaven in their lungs. You have to get it in your soul, like the sort of Joycean construct that Rowland and his band (and without his band, or with his various bands) have built up, that keep pulling me back to the band. There's a ton of quoting, not only from other bands, but to songs as a social phenomenon. This song, of course, especially reminds me of Joyce, with the whole 'national pride' thing.
So that's the compilation. Its pretty brilliant. I've listened to it five total times now, which is a lot for me. I probably shouldn't say that, because it makes me sound like a lightweight.