366 Songs 301: Ain’t That Love

I was reading something, somewhere, recently about the way that gospel audiences were appalled by what they saw as the sexual nature of Ray Charles’ vocals in early releases; it was a strange moment for me, because I came to Charles at the end of his career where the innuendo one grunt could have was nothing compared with the tales the man had built up around himself, but listening to this early single, it make a bit more sense. “Ain’t That Love,” after all, has a very gospel structure with the call-and-response to it, something really emphasized by the tambourine, oddly enough. You listen to this and you can imagine a younger Charles singing songs of devotion amongst the faithful and raising spirits as well as temperatures with each note.

(I love the chasteness of this song, too; “Oh, when you walk/I wanna walk with you” Charles says, asking “Ain’t that love?” and it is, albeit a particularly innocent, amusingly desexual idea of it.)

366 Songs 300: Stacked Actors

“Stacked Actors” shouldn’t work as a song, I think everytime I listen to it; it’s a car-crash of rock cliches, from the feedback that starts it to the scream before the guitar solo, and including the faux-lounge rock of the verses that sounds as much as anything like UK act Terrorvision’s appalling “Tequila” from the 1990s:

And yet, it does. Is it the intensity of Dave Grohl’s vocals (For some reason, when his voice cracks on “truth” in the “All I want is the truth” at 3:39, that always gets me), or the lyrics that go from sly (“God bless/What a sensitive mess/But things aren’t always what they seem”) to outright bitter (“Stack dead actors/Stacked to the rafters/Line up the bastards/All I want is the truth”) and back to sly again (“We cry when they all dye blonde”)? Is it that the stomp of the chorus, heralded by that burst of feedback, is irresistible in a way that was later harnessed by “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes?

The answer may be all of the above, together with the fact that we want to like this song; there’s something weirdly underdoggish about it, and about the Foo Fighters in general. For triumphant rock, it’s particularly untriumphant and submissive, and there’s something appealing about that. It’s music that rages against a celebrity machine that it’s complicit in, and yet the contradiction oddly works in its favor. I’ve never quite worked out how they managed to pull that trick off, but it’s definitely a good one.

366 Songs 299: 3030

A true story: Years and years and decades ago, when rap first started appearing on British radio and the pop charts, I remember my dad being weirdly excited about the potential of the genre; he talked about it being a way to make poetry more accessible to young people, and the ways in which it was really just spoken word performance coming alive again. That lasted… ehh, months, at best? And then he defaulted to the old man position of it being noise, not people singing just talking, and the like, for the rest of his life. He was won over by the conservative position and the fear of a culture alien to him, depressingly.

I always think about that when listening to “3030,” or any track from the Deltron 3030 album. Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s performance on these tracks feels like something that may have convinced my dad to default to his earlier position. There is poetry here, smart and funny and wonderfully strong in the way it introduces and evolves narrative while still working as individual tracks for the casual listener. It’s wonderfully complex and evocative, helped along by the grandiose production of Dan the Automator, who provides wonderfully grandiose music to act as backdrop, pushing memories of epic science fiction space operas and classic classical music to the forefront with the orchestral and choral sweep of the whole thing.

I never got to play Deltron 3030 for my dad; I have no idea whether he would have gotten it or not. But I like to pretend that he would, even so.

366 Songs 298: Doing The Do

“It’s me again/Yes, how did you guess?”

There is little as weirdly comedic, with hindsight, as late 1980s/early 1990s crossover rap music. Today, “Doing the Do” sounds ridiculous, like some amateur idea of what dance music should sound like with all the vocal “Ooh Ooh” samples and particularly synthetic instumentation. Back when this was released, though, this song was awesome. I remember the fifteen year old me fancying Betty Boo herself, and thinking that this was a great little pop song (I still love the “I’m sorry/If I upset ya” bit, I have to admit) that was wonderfully contemporary, a feeling brought on, I’m sure, by said crush. I was wrong, but to my credit, Betty eventually got to pop nirvana with later releases:

Twilight and True-Life Writing Stories

Time.com has had a facelift, which means that the Top 10 Most Popular Entertainment Stories box is gone – gone! – and replaced by a less-visually interesting Top 5, so I doubt I’ll see my stories appear there (and take a screencap for here) as often. Nonetheless, here’s this week’s story, all about the fact that The Twilight Saga movies are rumored to be continuing past the original novel series, and why that’s a bad idea. Watch as I skillfully weave in Planet of The Apes, Before Watchmen and Frasier!

Strange but true fact about the writing of this week’s story: It happened on Monday, but Monday was a very, very odd day for reasons which I shall share shortly (Spoiler: Canada was involved), and I had next-to-no time to actually write the story. I’d done all the research already – that’s usually done before Monday begins, no matter what – and I had a vague through-line of what I wanted to write, but whereas other Time pieces have taken the best part of a day (and sometimes more) to put together, various circumstances conspired to give me, at best, three or four hours or so. Knowing that I didn’t have time to worry about it, I just sat down and wrote, and sped through it, convinced that I’d get far more edits than usual but would have the time to re-write the next day anyway. And then… the least amount of edits ever requested for a Time piece of mine*.

There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

(* Of course, the pitching process for this week was unusually hard, so maybe there’s a karma thing going on there.)

366 Songs 297: What Goes On

I love that “What Goes On” sounds like a really basic garage rock song until 1:08, and that guitar solo that sounds like the start of drone rock. The first minute of the song, though, with the jangly guitars, Lou Reed’s growly vocals and the organ in the background… It’s as if the band had been listening to ? and The Mysterions and decided that they wanted to try that really simple, riff-based shit and see what they could get up to. As much as I appreciate a good drone every now and then, it’s that first minute that I love about this song, and everything that follows feels like a let down compared with the grimy energy of what came before.

366 Songs 296: Satellite

There’s a rawness to all of the songs on Elliott Smith, his second (of six) albums, in part because of the recording process – the songs on the album are all self-recorded onto (I think) a six-track, and you can hear the amateur quality in the hiss that surrounds the entire thing, and is most audible as the song finishes. It’s there, too, in the lyrics, though: “And for all you know you’re the only one who finds it strange/When they call it a lover’s moon/The satellite,” as if you’re listening to outsider art made mumbling beauty. This is a wonderfully simple, wonderfully intimate song, so short and unstructured that it feels more like poetry put to music, a sketch of a feeling, rather than any kind of finished music. Like most of Smith’s earliest output, that briefness is a lot of the appeal to “Satellite”; the unrehearsed, unfinished quality that makes it easier to feel as if you’re seeing inside someone’s heart, whether it was true or otherwise.

366 Songs 295: Ana Ng

They Might Be Giants are a band that’s so much an acquired taste that it feels as if they’re almost deliberately off-putting. That nasal voice! The purposefully-restricted arrangements (the cheap-sounding drum machines!)! And yet, under all that, there is a real pop sensibility; listen to the chorus of “Ana Ng” – not the vocals, as such, but the whole package – and there’s something very perfect pop about it, at least to my ears. At heart, this is a bouncy pop song about unrequited love (“And we still haven’t walked in the glow/Of each other’s majestic presence”), and what could be more mainstream pop than that? Admittedly, you have to pick your way through chainsaw guitars and tinny drums and nasal vocals to find it, but once you do, it’s like seeing the arrow in the Fed Ex logo; you’ll never be able to go back to the old ways ever again.

Something strange and wonderful about this song: The number of people performing their own covers on YouTube. Gaze upon these wonders for yourself.

I kind of love that. Clearly, TMBG fans are the performing kind (And, yes; I really think that each of these covers demonstrates the greatness of the song under the original’s production. Your Mileage May Vary, as they say).

366 Songs 294: Hot Knife

I love the many ways in which “Hot Knife” – An appalling earworm, and one I should probably apologize for right now – sounds like it’s come from outside of time to bring you messages that don’t necessarily make sense just yet: The kettledrum, sounding like some old 1940s movie serial with a jungle theme, the piano that comes in and seems intentionally out of synch with the rest of the song, the multi-tracked vocals for the second verse, or the lyrical choices (“He excites me/Must be like the genesis of rhythm/I get feisty/Whenever I’m with him”). Everything feels like an element that’s exciting and interesting and a throwback to a different time period from everything else in the song, and that it should go together properly, but somehow, it does. This is a song in 4D, working at angles that we don’t even really comprehend. One of the standout tracks on Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel, which was already an album that was breathtaking in all the right ways.