Confessions of a music snob

Have you ever had one of those moments where you unexpectedly get a good hard look at yourself? I mean a really candid look, without all those barriers and filters that we all put up each and every day between our inner selves and the outside world. Now, don’t play innocent with me. You know exactly what I’m talking about here. The kind of barriers that keep us from yelling at the barista who got our order wrong, from telling our boss what we really think of him, and from lecturing our friends on why they should convert to one of our chosen philosophies. Some may call it conscience, others may call it politeness, but it’s a survival tactic really. You know, the stuff that keeps us from being boorish and makes us suitable for civilized company. We all put up these walls, although not always consciously (and there are a few people out there who could stand to add a couple more coats of varnish to theirs–you know who you are). However, because the placement and use of these mental screens is not always premeditated, we can sometimes be shocked at what we see when they are casually swept to the side. It usually happens in an off moment, directly after you’ve opened your mouth about something. You give your opinion to your audience  and then a little voice in your head pops in and asks, “Do you really mean that?” And your answer may catch you off guard.

Today I amazed myself by having one of these moments of sudden and brutal clarity. How did I pull off such a feat, you say? Well, this morning I got the sudden urge to text an old friend and ask what her top 5 bands are right now. We live across the country from each other, are at different points in our lives, and have very different beliefs–things that in this day of rabid partisanship have been known to tear friendships apart. We have weathered a lot over the years and still share one of those close bonds that time and circumstance do not seen to touch. But lately our conversations haven’t progressed much beyond how-are-yous, happy-birthdays, and condolences. Not from lack of affection, more from lack of time. And I realized that I had no idea what she was into these days. This seemed simple enough to remedy, so I thought I’d find out. What followed was a lovely and long conversation about what she is listening to now. She dropped names, some I knew and some I did not. But on the whole, there was much we had in common and I even got a few names of artists who–from the sound of it–I should know (something I am working on rectifying, let me assure you).

I was impressed and pleased that we had so much in common musically but still had new songs to share with each other. I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter what religion she prescribes to or that she is a member of  the other political party, her music taste passes muster and that is what really matters.

That’s when it happened. That little voice in my head popped up and said, “Do you really mean that?” And I stopped… and I realized that yes, I really did mean it. And then I groaned!

When I was a teenager, I was accused by several friends of being a music snob. For me there was no worse insult, even then, but I admit now that I more than earned the title. I’ve talked about it before in previous posts, how I used to whine and moan and grimace when music I didn’t like was played in my presence. I was an awful little pain and I thought I had grown out of it. I truly did… but it seems that I was wrong. At best, I am a recovering music snob who happens to relapse every now and then. Apparently today was a relapse day. It appears that sometimes when those internal barriers come down, we find out that there was actually a second layer shielding us from ourselves.

On the bright side, I also reaffirmed that I do not need to be in the same ideological boat with someone to be their friend. I may be a music snob, but I guess it could be worse. And now while I go do some research on 12 step programs for the musically pompous, you get to see an amusing video from one of my friend’s current music picks: The Walk by Mayer Hawthorne (NSFW).

Advertisements

Why don’t you make like a tree and leave (NSFW)

Tonight’s title probably sounds a little cryptic, but it will all make sense soon (plus, it made me chuckle). Honestly, I had to really stretch for a title this time, but thankfully Biff from the Back to the Future trilogy saved the day again (you’d be surprised how often that happens). I promise that this is not another one of my crackpot theories about music. (Really! I mean it!) What I wish to speak to you about in this week’s little lecture is well… how can I put this delicately? My subject is songs that lyrically tell someone to take a long walk off a short pier, but with a great beat you can dance to. In short, the cheerful fuck-off song (well… so much for putting it delicately). There is a real plethora of songs out there that fit this bill. Death metal has by no means cornered the pissed-off music market. Pop, rock, and even punk are chock full of amazing songs that can inspire bouncing around in your socks in the living room or dancing in your chair at work (I, of course, would never ever do anything so undignified). Sometimes when listening to this type of song you can be having such a great time that you forget how serious or angry or jaded the lyrics really are. The joyful energy of the music can have a masking effect, shielding the listener from the sometimes blunt anguish of the singer. But I find that the combination of lyrics and music often intensifies the experience and can be a great way to work off the negative vibes that accumulate throughout the day. And I’ve assembled a short list of examples here. Feeling stressed? Want to tell someone to go suck on a lemon? Well then let’s get started!

My first example is a no-brainer: 1982’s Goodbye to You by Scandal, a New York-based pop and rock band fronted by Patty Smyth in the early 1980s. ’80s pop is one of my biggest guilty pleasures (I’ll admit it) and this song makes me incredibly giddy whenever it comes on. With its great guitar riffs, manic electric keyboard solo, and Smyth’s smoldering delivery about a love that has sickened, it easily earns it’s place on this list. I’ll warn you though that the video is a little odd. Either someone didn’t quite master their lip-syncing skills or the video producer didn’t bother to match up the recording with the performance. It’s so close, but just enough off that there is almost an uncanny valley effect. Also, whoever thought random freeze-frame close-ups of the band members’ faces was a good idea probably had been smoking something that day. Oh well, here it is in all its slightly unsettling glory:

Next on the list is a song that might seem a little far-fetched at first, but bear with me. I speak of none other than Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic Go Your Own Way. True, it lacks the pure pop joy of Scandal, but this song more than earns its place here. The driving beat, the vocal harmonies on the chorus, the amazing bass lines of John McVie, and the plaintive voice of Lindsay Buckingham all add to the energy of the song and build something greater than the sum of its parts. Need to work off some steam really quickly? Take a power walk with this one in your headphones and you’ll be beat by the time the last guitar wail fades. I guarantee it! The lyrics are almost shocking when you stop and analyze them–essentially calling Stevie Nicks out on the carpet and branding her as an ungrateful slut! But the rocking tenor of the song softens the blow to the point that you walk away thinking only, “Wow. That relationship was a bit of a mess, wasn’t it?” It took me years (and a Fleetwood Mac Behind the Music special) to finally catch the true meaning of what he was saying. This time I’ve procured for you a video clip from their 1997 MTV televised reunion, responsible for generating a whole new chapter in the band’s lengthy collective career. As a bonus, you get to chuckle at the antics of drummer Mic Fleetwood. (By the way, I love Nicks and think that Buckingham probably could have handled the break-up better… certainly, he could have done it more discreetly.)

The third example in my little presentation is going to be really obvious. If you are compiling a non-soul crushing soundtrack for telling someone to drop dead, you would be horribly remiss to leave out Cee Lo Green. Let’s face it, his 2010 hit would make this list on the title alone. With a name like Fuck You he’s not exactly beating around the bush, now is he? And this song (and the accompanying video) have so much going on that they could easily merit their very own blog entry. Green is an amazing artist in his own right, but he has this great talent for imitating other singers. And in this song he is channeling Stevie Wonder like you would not believe. He even has a bunch of back-up singers who immediately put me in mind of The Pips (as in Gladys and). In the video we follow the growing pains of young Green, played by actors who do a kick-ass job lip-syncing, as he tries and ultimately fails in his attempts to win the girl of his dreams. It’s highly entertaining and is one of those videos that will give you a major case of the warm fuzzies–at least that’s what happens to me. I don’t know how you could have avoided seeing this video some time in the last year or so, but just in case here’s the uncensored version (NSFW!):

My last offering tonight is a song called Lemonade by Tsunami Bomb, a lesser know punk band from the Bay Area who broke up in 2005. The song was released in 2001, but I first discovered this band around 2002 or 2003 through a now infamous file sharing program called KaZaA (yes the spelling is accurate). Around that time I was seriously craving harder rocking bands that actually featured a female singer, but in those days your choices were either Christina Aguilera or Sarah McLachlan. Nothing particularly wrong with either choice or the genres they represent, but being a huge punk-rock fan I wanted something edgier. And the beauty of music sharing, although obviously illegal, was that you could expose yourself to music you often couldn’t find elsewhere. Tsunami Bomb didn’t always stick to strictly punk, often ranging along both the softer and heavier ends of the spectrum. But this song runs right down the middle. It is raucous and raw with exaggerated drums, the best bass line ever, and lead singer Emily Whitehurst’s surprisingly potty mouth lyrics. Even after all these years–and a couple cart loads of baggage connecting the song to someone I used to know–this song still hits a satisfying chord inside me. My list could never be complete if I left it out. (Sorry for the Powerpoint slide show for a video, but they never made an official video for this one and good live performances on YouTube are apparently in short supply.)

This is just 4 songs and I’m willing to bet that it is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s your favorite cheerful fuck-off song?

1960’s Revival?

Well, my friends, it appears that the 1960s are still alive and well in the realm of music. That immensely prolific and infinitely informative decade not only left an indelible mark on the music industry, but it forever changed the perception of what  popular music could be. And it could be argued that it laid the groundwork for the teenage-driven culture we live in now. It is clear that many of today’s artists are pulling heavily from the trends and styles of their parent’s generation. It may even signal a 60s music revival. What’s that? You say it’s a crackpot theory? Don’t be too quick to judge. My little presentation may just make you change your mind…

Continue reading

Eating Crow: Or How I Learned to Love the Cover Song

Okay, I have a confession to make… when I was a teenager, I hated cover songs. Truly and passionately. On principle. In my view, cover songs were simple counterfeits that could never compare to the original intent, feeling, or talent of the artist who created them. End of story. I was young and idealistic, I know. This was probably some of that music-snobbery i was accused of around the age of 16 or so. I persisted in this notion for several years and the good intentions of several well-meant gifts went unappreciated (although to be honest that elevator Muzak album of Beatles covers truly was horrid).

But I finally did come around… eventually. Although in truth it was not because I became older and wiser and finally gave cover songs a chance. No, it was the realization that several songs I adored were actually *gasp* covers themselves. The examples started to pile up and soon I could no longer stand by my fervent ideology. I embraced the cover song and discovered a whole new world of musical delights.

Which brings me to today’s little presentation. A case study (if you will) of Lovesong by The Cure. Originally released in 1989 on their album entitled Disintegration, this is a perfect example of British New Wave at it’s finest. Dark and melancholy, with just the right amount of pop sensibility to make it palatable to a main-stream audience. There is a bit of epic about it as well, bringing to mind images of star-crossed lovers vowing to love each other despite that world war or deadly plague or angry father. The video, however,  has the band moping around in the depths of some cave. Somehow doesn’t do the song justice. But for reference’s sake, here you go:

This is the original and by my 16 year-old ideology, it should be my favorite version, right?

Wrong. My favorite cover of Lovesong was performed by 311 for the 50 First Dates soundtrack in 2004. Taking the song in a different direction, they infuse it with a bouncy, almost reggae quality and add a slight echo to the vocals. It is slower than the original version and sweeter. It becomes a song of devotion, conjuring up images of crowded dance-floors that are suddenly empty when the eyes of two people meant to be together meet across a room. This even happens in the video!

I love this version, not just because it is beautifully performed and masterfully produced. Not just because Nick Sexton is hot as hell in the video. But because it was the first song I danced to with my husband at our wedding. (I’m biased. So shoot me.)

There are many, many, many covers of this song. And I’m sure they are all valid and vastly different. But I recently came across another version worthy of mention. Covered by British songstress Adele earlier this year, she brings a sultry and intimate feel to the song. With understated accompaniment and an amazing voice that ranges from softly crooning to belting out at the top of her lungs, she takes a familiar song and transforms it. It has a seriousness that the other two versions lack.

Songs like Lovesong ( and its many incarnations) show that a song can morph and come to possess a range far beyond their creator’s original intent. They can certainly  sway the certainty of a serious teenager standing by a silly conviction. Or they would have if they’d been around when I was 16…

Do you have a favorite cover song?