366 Songs 209: Shame

I’m sure there are people who’d make fun of me for liking this song, and I can see why; there’s little original about it (The first time I heard it, the opening actually made me think “Oh, it’s like ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles, but less new”), and it’s over-produced to a degree that almost feels impossible past the 1980s, and yet… And yet, it’s very sing-along-able, and it’s funny. It’s that last part that really makes it work for me – I’m not sure how much of the song is actually meant to be funny (The “So I got busy throwing everybody underneath the bus/And with your poster thirty foot high at the back of Toys’R’Us” part, definitely), but there’s some comedy for me in lines like “My tears could fill the Albert Hall/Is this the sound of sweet surrender?” nonetheless.

And, dammit, even though the vocals are weirdly transAtlantically flattened and the instruments over-produced, I still like the melody of this, deep down. No matter how much it owes to “Blackbird.” Which is, admittedly, a lot.

(Points to both Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow for the “Brokeback Boyband” video, too.)


Meet the Conservative Minister of Parliament for Cannock Chase, everyone! As always, because it’s Twitter, start from the bottom and read up (He’s tweeting about the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics, in case you can’t guess).

Social media isn’t that hard, people. Just don’t say anything that you’d be embarrassed for other people to see. Like, for example, the above.

Under The Unfinished Westway

Huh, interesting. William Orbit – fast becoming a Blur spoiler fan-favorite after working with the band on new material and then being dumped when they didn’t like the results – has released an earlier version of “Under The Westway” on YouTube:

It sounds unfinished and far less interesting/epic than the finished version, and I find myself amazingly grateful they didn’t go with this direction, but what’s really fascinating is an entire middle section that was dropped from the song as officially released (1:52-3:30) that’s… actually the best part of this version, and something that I almost wish had made it into the finished take. If nothing else, the bit about “On Friday night/In public houses/We are wonderful/Pathetic or just/Plain gone” is a lovely intro into the “It’s magic arrows hitting the bull!” part at the end…

(Now I’m very curious about what other bits have disappeared from familiar songs that I’d love. That box set filled with demos and unreleased material keeps tempting, dammit…)

The Headline Wasn’t Mine

In which my Time piece from this week has a Sally Field moment. Really, I’m just doing these now because history has taught me that one day I will no longer be writing these and I’ll want to remember that people liked them once*; next week’s piece – Thankfully, not about Batman because I am done with that guy for awhile – promises to be esoteric enough to not even make it into the top 20, never mind the top 10, don’t worry.

(* That’s not actually a joke; I remember writing some things for io9 that were popular and I liked, and now I wouldn’t even vaguely be able to tell you what they were. I just remember that period as one where I wasn’t popular enough, depressingly.)

366 Songs 208: Circle Sky

There’s a lot to love about “Circle Sky.” Where to start…?

Let’s go with the bassline, Peter Tork happily bobbing up and down the scale and keeping the whole thing grounded – There are times when it’s the clearest thing in the mix by far, weirdly enough – while Mike Nesmith outjangles the best of them and Mickey Dolenz drums his little heart out in the background (Davy Jones, as you can see in the video, doesn’t contribute that much, all told). Or Nesmith’s epic, half-yodel vocals as he sings about some kind of 1960s psychopolis that is “a very extraordinary scene to those who don’t understand” and yet, somehow, seems quite appealing the way he puts it.

It’s a song from Head, which for my money is the best ’60s band movie – Yes, better than any of the Beatles’ efforts – and one of the most interesting counterculture movies ever made, but also something that’s home to some of my favorite Monkees music; “As We Go Along,” “Long Title (Do I Have To Do This All Over Again),” even the version of “Daddy’s Song” – They’re all really good songs, and examples of the weird music hall psych pop(corn) that the Monkees offered at their best. None of the above, however, is why I chose this song for #208 in this series. No, instead, I chose it because – after something like three months of running behind, this entry finally means that I have caught up with the number of days in the year to date, meaning that I am – for the first time since February, I think – back on track for a “One Song A Day” plan for this series. “It looks like we’ve made it once again,” as Nesmith sings. Let’s see if I can keep up this pace so that I can get to the next line, “It looks like we’ve made it to the end!”

366 Songs 207: Dirty Harry

There are so many reasons why “Dirty Harry” shouldn’t work: It has a child’s choir, it’s lyrically very simplistic outside of the Bootie Brown rap, which itself has a political reference that was already dated by the time the song appeared (“So said the speaker/With the flight suit on/Maybe to him I’m just a pawn,” referencing George Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech from 2003). And yet… It’s kind of a great song. What happened?

It’s tempting to put it down the the production; Danger Mouse and Damon Albarn have definitely created a great backing for the vocals here, with the phased organ, funk guitars, horror movie strings and the wonderfully vacuum-ish swoop and dive as Bootie does his stuff (Listen to this version of the song without the rap to see what I mean; skip to the 2:10 mark:

It’s great, isn’t it?)

What’s fascinating to me is to hear the original demo for this song, which was released under an entirely different name (“I Need A Gun”) on Damon Albarn’s Democrazy album. It’s recognizable for the vocal hook, but nothing else:

Somewhere in the Gorillaz vaults, there are works-in-progress that show how this song went from that barebones demo to the final version; I’d love to hear them, and find out how the whole thing was built, piece by piece, with every new ingredient just seeming like a bad idea that somehow comes together.

366 Songs 206: The Statue Got Me High

Even though Flood was the big hit album, Apollo 18, the follow-up, is the one that I still think is the best of the They Might Be Giants albums, filled with pop songs that just… worked, for want of a better way of putting it. “The Statue Got Me High” is an example of that; if you can look beyond the production – with the drum machine making it sound, weirdly, far cheaper and tackier than it actually is – there’s a great little psychedelic song at the heart of this one, with – again – some great harmonies despite their appalling singing voices. Much like my love of Billy Bragg, I suspect that my love of They Might Be Giants is based upon some strange notion of adoring the idea of the song, rather than the song itself.

366 Songs 205: Dead

Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that They Might Be Giants wrote songs for other people to perform while listening to “Dead,” from their 1990 album Flood (It’s the closest they had to a crossover album; it’s the one with “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” on it). The flat-vowelled accents of Johns Linnell and Flansburgh do this song no favors, which is a real shame; it has a lovely structure, especially in the call-and-response bridge that starts at 1:33, and the arrangement that has both Johns harmonizing for the majority of the song feels like it deserves singers with less nasal voices, to be brutally honest. Despite that (because of that?), this is an earworm of a song that nestles into your brain sneakily, distracting you with the vocals and letting the wonderful piano that underpins the whole thing quietly slip into your head and decide to stay for awhile.

Can You Crowdfund Journalism?

Under increasing financial pressure from the Web and the decline of print advertising, newspapers and other traditional media outlets have been laying off staff and trying to fill the gap with services such as Journatic—the hyper-local aggregator that uses offshore workers— or simply doing without such things as copy editing. Are there further solutions to that reporting gap? Crowdsourcing journalism through sites like Reddit could be one, but crowdfunding could be another: One journalist in Michigan has raised funding through a Kickstarter campaign so he can travel around the U.S. interviewing people about the upcoming election. Could crowdfunding allow other journalists to do investigative or in-depth projects as well?

From here.

I have, no joke, been thinking about this on and off pretty much since I first discovered Kickstarter, as much from a selfish point-of-view as the high-minded theoretical sense. I have done internal math in my head about how much it would take for me to be an independent comics journalist for a year, writing for myself and my own site – whatever that site might be – and whether or not I thought I could raise enough money to do it, leaving the writing gigs for Newsarama, Comics Alliance and Robot 6 (and SpinoffOnline, which isn’t a comic site but does take enough of my time each month that I’d need to drop it if I was to do this properly) without just crippling myself financially in the process. For me, I don’t think the money’s there; I’m not enough of a name, without enough of a readerbase with the kind of disposable income to fund what I’d really need for that period of time, especially because they get enough of me for free online as is (Whether or not my online ubiquity has damaged my “brand” is something else I think about, a lot; that’s something for another day, though). But in the wider, theoretical sense…? I think crowdfunding is definitely a future for journalism, if not the future.

We’re moving away from crowdfunding being some kind of novelty and spectacle to just a fact of the modern Internet, and as soon as that happens, then we’re likely to see crowdfunding for all manner of projects, both creative and otherwise. Whatever you can manage to sell to the Internet at large, in fact.