First Love

No matter how old you are or how many years may go by, you never forget your first love. There is something so inherently magical about them, the way they caught your eye, the way they commanded your attention. And no matter how far your life carries you away from that first moment–that first connection–when it is the real thing, you will always feel that magic. That day they became a part of you and whether you embrace it or deny it, they played a vital role in forming the person that you are today.

I clearly remember the first time I held Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my hands. I stared at the cover and let the images wash over me: the vivid yellows, blues, and reds, the bizarre assemblage of people, the French horn. It was one of the first times in my life that I listened to music that I chose. I didn’t listen to it because it was handed to me by my parents or because it was pushed at me by the high hand of the Disney Corporation on the Mickey Mouse Club. I listened to it for no other reason than that I happened to stumble on my parents record collection one summer afternoon and I was intrigued. I pulled that vinyl out of the sleeve, laid it gently in the player, put the needle down… And after that I really was never quite the same.

I’ve spoken about the experience before on this blog. In fact, it is how I started the blog more than a year ago–my apologies to any long time readers who are now bored out of their skulls. Way back then I pledged that I would defy the expectations of my old high school friends by not constantly writing about the Fab Four–which I am sure got a few skeptical snorts and maybe even a few sighs of relief. Well looking back over my entries, it appears I was true to my word. Over the last year and a half I have only written about them twice. Take that you non-believers! And now I’m going to break my own rules…

The thing is that for all my obsession with The Beatles during my childhood and teen years, I rarely listen to them in my daily life. I’m too much of a voracious music fiend to dwell too long in one place, and since starting the blog that tendency has only increased. But every once in a while, life (sometimes in the most mundane ways) decides to remind me of my roots. And suddenly I am transported back to that day in front of the stereo, watching the needle travel the grooves as it produced some of the most wonderful music ever created.

Take last weekend as my husband and I made the rounds at the local Trader Joe’s (oh so glamorous, I know). While sifting through the frozen goods, I noticed that they were playing Norwegian Wood over the speakers. You get all kinds of canned music in grocery stores that range from the tolerable to the glaringly awful, so I was pleased for once to hear something that didn’t make we want to stuff my ears with cotton. Smiling, I continued my browsing. A little while later, I realized that they had to be playing the entire album and my respect for the Trader Joe’s staff increased ten-fold.

I hadn’t listened to my favorite band in months, having been distracted by that there new fangled indie rock they got these days. But I was truly amazed at how happy listening to them again made me. Sometimes it is the simple things, like music in a supermarket, that illustrate the most important life lessons. The things you truly love in life, the music, the people, the places, will always be there for you when you reach for them. For the relationships that really mater, time and distance mean nothing. And even if it is only in your mind, you can always rekindle your first love.

So in honor of this, here are some of my favorite songs from a truly worthy album: 1965’s Rubber Soul. First up is John Lennon’s tale of a one night stand with a modern girl. Featuring George Harrison’s first success in integrating the sitar into a rock n’ roll song, this song has grown on me over the years (something about it just goes right over the head of a ten-year-old). In this case, I have dug up a video featuring candid footage of the mop tops.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

Second up is the lesser known gem called You Won’t See Me. One of the few Beatles’ songs that featured real lyrical angst, Paul McCartney’s vocals are perfectly balanced by the airy backing vocals and Harrison’s ever-present guitar riff. Here’s a live version from 2004 in which Paul McCartney claims that it was never played in concert. I’m a little skeptical of this because The Beatles were still touring in those days, but they had such a voluminous catalog even then that I guess it is conceivable that such a beautiful song could be overlooked.

You Won’t See Me

And last but not least, one of my top 10 Beatles favorites is the immaculate composition entitled I’m Looking Through You. How do you write about an epiphany? How do you describe that earth-shaking moment when you take a real close look at the people around you and truly see them for who they really are? Depicting a mental thunderbolt is no mean feat. But I think Lennon and McCartney did a pretty good job with this one. Give it a listen and see if you don’t agree.

This particular video is a clip from the lamentable Beatles cartoon of the mid 1960s. Not having watched it in a good 20 years or so, I had forgotten how bad it really was. Think the creator’s of Rocky and Bullwinkle who, having never actually seen the Fab Four or heard their speaking voices, drop acid and have a go at it. Now make it worse. All I can say is poor Ringo! They really do him a bad turn. For those who just can’t stand the corniness, you can skip to the song by clicking on the embedded link in the song title.

I’m Looking Through You

And for those of you faithful readers looking for extra credit, you can listen to the album in its entirety here. Rubber Soul was a landmark album and the first one where the band mates felt like they had real artistic control. The production levels are gorgeous for the times and every song is a classic. All true students in the school of pop music should hear it at least once.

I watched, I let it burn

Music has always been a cathartic experience for me. When something is bothering me, exciting me, or depressing me, 9 times out of 10 I will reach for my headphones to deal with it. And considering the myriad of addictive choices out there that I could reach for (food, alcohol, sex, shopping, etc), I think this is a pretty healthy choice. Sometimes I roam through my music library in search of that one song that just hits the right nerve. I compulsively hit the skip button on shuffle mode, pausing only long enough for the opening bars to register before moving on, until that song that feels right right now hits my ears. As you might imagine, this is often times a frustrating and occasionally an unsuccessful way to go about things, being dependent on both the level of my agitation and the caprice of the shuffle algorithm. But other times I get lucky and the song finds me.

This is what happened to me last week when several large pieces of news (some good, some… questionable) were rather unceremoniously dropped in my lap. An agitated coughing mess with a lot of folders to label, I decided to indulge a little and listen to All Songs Considered while I worked. And right there in the middle of the podcast, a song that I had already heard once in passing without taking much notice pulled out a sledgehammer and said, “This is your song. Right. Now.” And all I could do was listen.

I’ve talked before about the art of the cheerful fuck-off song. There really is nothing quite so endearing (and sometimes profane) as a song which tells the world where to stick it in a bright and upbeat manner. The juxtaposition of a vicious dressing down with a rocking beat is one that I consistently find intriguing and amusing. These songs are extremely useful for burning through a store of nervous energy. Sometimes they even provide a sense of closure. Surprisingly, there appears to be a statute of limitations on taking someone to task and a chipper song that flips the bird at your regret of choice can really work wonders for your peace of mind.

During the last year or so I’ve been slowly compiling a list of songs like this and the latest edition has got to be I Love It by Icona Pop. Hailing from the Swedish club scene, this female electropop duo is spearheaded by DJs Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, and their latest single is positively infectious. Hands down, it is one of the most energetic songs in my catalog. Featuring pulsating industrial tones and a throbbing beat sure to please even the most discerning of club crowds, Jawo and Hjelt paint the picture of someone who has reached such a height of frustration that they no longer care about the consequences. The result is impossible to listen to without rocking out and some of the lyrics will leave you chuckling.

The only problem with the song is the abrupt–and I mean abrupt–ending. There is no climax or even a winding down period. It screams along at an insane pace and then just stops. The effect is more than a little jolting and means that the song is highly sticky. You’ll find that you are still humming along hours or even days later. And if you are anything like me, you’ll spend a good chunk of a night lying in bed and staring at the ceiling while it blares in your head on repeat. Given this unfortunate side effect, do you dare to risk listening to it?

Oh, come on! Trust me, this is such a satisfying song that it is worth losing a little sleep over it. Go on and listen. You know you wanna!

I Love It by Icona Pop