Firstly, anyone who didn’t think that I was going to go with this song for the final day of the year, you really don’t know me that well, do you?
This is such a lovely song in almost every incarnation, if only for the longing and hopefulness in the lyric and the swooping melody. “Oh, but in case I stand a little chance/Here comes the jackpot question in advance…” How can you fail to fall for a song that says that? Myself, I’m partial to the Rufus version above; I think the plain arrangement and his moaning vocals fit especially well, for some reason, but there’s no denying that Ella made it swing like few others:
And so, we come to the end of this year-long experiment to write about a song every day. It failed, in many ways – I didn’t write one a day, and had to play catch-up numerous times – but it was fun nonetheless, even when it felt like a broken promise hanging over my head. I’ve been emailed to ask if I’ll be continuing it in the new year, and I doubt it; I’ll search for new ways to write about music and find my footing there, I think (An album a month, maybe?), and I want to get away from promising something every day because I know from experience that that’s not always possible for various reasons. As to where that’ll leave this blog… Well, we’ll see together, I think. 2012 has been, as I’ve said elsewhere, a rough year and as part of 2013’s correction course, I want to try and find a new creative equilibrium to tamp off the excesses of work. I suspect this site will play some part in that, even if I don’t know what form it’ll take.
Happy New Year, everyone reading this, wherever and whoever you are. May your next 366 songs, and days (Well, 365, of course; next year isn’t a leap year), be something to leave you smiling.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: followers of the Umbanda religion pay tribute to Iemanja, goddess of the sea, at Copacabana beach. Worshippers present gifts to the sea goddess to give thanks for the past year and ask for blessings for the new year. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
I feel like I should do this. Not so much the giving thanks, but the asking for blessings. 2012 has been a rough year that I shall not be sad to see the back of. My fingers are crossed for a better 2013, but I’m not above asking sea goddesses to help with that if they can.
A song that’s beautiful in a particularly ugly, self-aware and urban sense (“The moon is a sickle cell/It’ll kill you in time”), “Coming Up Roses” was the soundtrack to a particularly weird and unhealthy post-break-up period of my life way back when, and its apathetic shuffle and broken-hearted poetry felt particularly apt at the time for the person I was back then. To me now, there’s a lot of nostalgia and memory wrapped up in it, but it feels like a nascent, incomplete version of everything that Elliott Smith would come to embody in later life. There’s a hint of his use of harmony vocals and surprising melody, but the only thing that I have think of when I think of Smith now that’s truly there in this song is the fragility. There’s a sense that this song is a promise of what lies ahead, but one so barely-there that it could burst at any second like a bubble floating around in the air, waiting to disappear.
I still remember my excitement upon hearing this song for the first time; it was the first release for R.E.M. since the ridiculously successful, melancholy Automatic For The People, an album that had happily stoked by obsessive collector nature and found me buying up every R.E.M. release I could find, and a song I had genuinely been waiting months to hear. Thankfully, unlike most of the rest of Monster, the album it comes from, “What’s The Frequency” is a good song, or at least, a catchy and interesting pop song (It’s maybe a little too slight to be objectively good; there’s little surprise to it, and little content past the riffs and backwards-guitar solo); I rewound and rewound my taped-off-the-radio version of it, listening to it exhaustively, confused and exhilarated by the transformation from melancholy tunesmiths to wannabe rockers that the song represented, but was as equally turned on by the chance to hear rock that wasn’t beholden to the sincere and angry grunge noise as I was used to at the time as I was let down by the lack of nuance of the stuff I’d become more familiar with at the time.
In many ways, this song was the beginning of the end of my love affair with R.E.M., which was also my first big love affair with any band; it was a song that was “good enough,” but even just admitting that to myself was to admit disappointment and defeat, and allow myself to accept that, maybe, my heroes weren’t as infallible as I wanted them to be.
The second last song from Radio City, the second Big Star album and arguably Alex Chilton’s greatest – or, at least, most coherent – album of his entire career in terms of writing, “I’m In Love With A Girl” is one of those wonderfully universal songs that manages to sound so full of everything – emotion, meaning, the whole shebang – despite being relatively devoid of anything other than a sunny melody, and Chilton playing an acoustic guitar and singing lines that are so vague as to sound universal. “All that a man should do/Is true” he sings at one point, which is almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things but sounds right, dammit. After all, we’re already won over by the opening lines, and want to be on his side, even if he’s not making sense. “I’m in love with a girl/Finest girl in the world/I didn’t know I could feel this way,” he sings, and the romantics that we are swoon a little inside. It’s like pop distilled down into one under two-minute blast.
More proof that the greatest love songs come from the least likely sources at times, Billy Bragg’s “The Price I Pay” is one of my favorite relationship songs, in part because of the heartbroken lyrics (“There’s something inside/That hurts my foolish pride/To visit the places that we used to go together”) and in part because of the wonderful arrangement that pushes Cara Tivey’s piano to the fore, and lets her backing vocals provide a gentle counterpoint to the ungainliness of Bragg’s own singing. This is a beautiful song, despite an accidentally ugly lead vocal and awkwardly loping, looping melody; it’s all because you can tell that the whole thing is heartfelt and honest, and that always wins the day.