Thursday, June 23, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 23: Your Favorite Song This Time Last Year

      It's funny how quickly pop songs start to sound "old." In order to figure out what I was listening to this time last summer, I'll admit that I had to consult iTunes and a couple of music blogs to see what the top tracks were for June 2015.  In almost every case, my first thought was whaaaa? that seems like AGES ago!, but nah, in every case I was wrong, because it was just one measly trip around the sun ago.

      My pick for today is a song that I was 100% obsessed with around this time last year.  In retrospect, I don't think I'd put it in my top 50 Songs of All Time, but it could possibly squeeze its way into the top 200. Ask me again next year and I'll likely have changed my mind.

      Before you get all judg-y about my selection, keep in my mind that I was not alone in my Rihanna-love last year.  This track was hotttttttt.

      Here's my pick for Day 23, Rihanna's "B*tch Better Have My Money":

      Pay me what you owe me.  Don't act like you forgot.

      Wednesday, June 22, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A Song You Wish You Had Written

      Ok, at this point-- I'm writing this on June 37-- I'm already six days behind on the 30 Day Song Challenge.  I was just about to give up and call it quits, but then I remembered that I've been doing this for a long time and, even if this year's iteration ends up being the last hurrah, I ought to see it through.  So, I've got a little less than 3 days to catch up and finish.

      Hide and watch me do it.

      My pick for today is Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," first released on his 1982 album of the same title.  It goes without saying, I hope, that Nelson is among the greatest of American singer-songwriters, but God also gifted that man with a very unique kind of warbly voice that somehow manages to caress and expose every bit of human vulnerability in its most rarefied form.  This little ballad of love and regret is one of his best.  Here it is:

      Little things I should have said and done.  I just never took the time.

      I could throw all of Willie Nelson's song lyrics into a bag, randomly pick out one line, and almost certainly find in my hand a First Principle for Living and Loving.  He's that good.  But "Always On My Mind" is my pick today because I wish I had the courage to be as honest, as vulnerable, as self-critical and as gracious as Willie is in this song.

      This, to my mind, is the song that says all the things that everyone, at some point in their lives, need to hear... but which hardly anyone takes the time to say to those who need to hear it.

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A Song You Want Played at Your Wedding

      I won't ever get married-- partly because I object to the state institution of marriage, but also because I'm old and ornery and too attached to my own independence now-- so today's prompt is a bit of a strange one to answer. For the record, I love weddings, I love couples who pledge their lives and fidelity to one another, I love cake and flowers and Vitamixes and the chicken dance...I love love.

      I just don't love the fundamentally exclusive, overdetermined and state-sanctioned cultural institution of marriage-- which bestows civic and economic rewards, for thoroughly undemocratic reasons entirely unrelated to merit, right or desert, which does so at the expense and to the detriment of more than half our democratic citizenry, which has no governing interest other than the managerial consolidation of private property and the compulsory regularization/normalization of sexual behaviors, familial structures and gender expressions-- and which has now been marginally modified by the highest court in the land to be a slightly-less-exclusive exclusionary institution.


      Anyway, in a compossible world where marriage wasn't the horribly unjust institution that it is in this world, if I were forced to choose a song I would like played at my wedding, it would be this one, sung by Otis Redding, "The Glory of Love":

      Give a little. Take a little. Let your little heart cry a little. That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

      Y'all know what I'm talking about.

      Tuesday, June 21, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A Song That Is Best Heard Live

      Most of the kinds of music I like-- blues, gospel, country, rock n' roll-- are better heard live.  I don't know if this is true of all genres of music.  I've heard my jazz-loving and classical-loving friends speak of some of their favorite albums as if the recording were absolutely perfect, as if no "live" reproduction could ever do justice to the infinitely and perfectly repeatable production.

      I love to hear live music and I try to get out and do so at every opportunity.  That's easy to do in a city like Memphis, where there is live music every night of the week, much of it "free." (I put "free" in scare-quotes because NO ONE should EVER think that musicians in this town work for free. If they're getting paid at all by the clubs, it's a pittance, so do not ignore the call of their tip buckets!)  There's something about the energy of listening to loud, live music in a small space with other people that feeds my soul.

      Monday, June 20, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 20: A Song You Listen To When You're Angry

      NOTE: I've gotten behind in my posts for the 30 Day Song Challenge, so the next few days are going to be short and sweet, so I can get caught back up.

      If I choose to listen to music when I'm angry, more often than not I'm looking for some kind of cathartic release, rather than searching for a way to amp myself up further. Anger is something that ought to be discharged as soon and as nonviolently as possible.

      My pick for today is a fairly peppy song, so it might seem like a counterintuitive selection, but the lyrics are where it's at, really.  You held me down, but I got up. Get ready 'cause I've had enough. I see it all, I see it now.
      'Cause I am the champion and you're gonna hear me roar.

      Here it is,Katy Perry's "Roar":

      Sunday, June 19, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19: A Song That Bar Bands Should Stop Playing

      For the most part, bar band songs become "bar band songs" in the first place because they're the sort that people can hear over and over again without tiring of them. So I don't really have a beef with most bar band songs.  I wish that Beale Street bands didn't play "Sweet Home Alabama" so frequently, for what I hope are obvious reasons, and there are a few Elvis songs I could stand to hear less often, but other than those I really don't mind hearing the same stuff over and over.

      Since I must choose one, though, I'm going with Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," which is not one of my favorite songs to begin with, which is played too often and which has that unfortunate la-la-tee-dah-ing at the end that I find super-annoying.  Here it is:

      For the record, I really like Van Morrison quite a bit.  "Brown Eyed Girl" is just a little too chipper-cheesy for my tastes, and it's gotten more insufferable over the years. I'd be fine if bar bands just stopped playing it altogether, but since that is unlikely, I suppose it serves as a good excuse to go to the bathroom during a show.

      Click here to return to the "anchor page" for #30DaySongChallenge2016 with the full list of this year's picks

      Saturday, June 18, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 18: A Song That Every Bar Band Should Know

      I'd give roughly 10 to 1 odds that you don't know who that guy is in the picture to the left.

      That's Rupert Holmes (born David Goldstein), British composer, singer-songwriter, musician, playwright, and novelist. He won two Tony Awards for his musical Drood and has released no fewer than 16 albums over the course of his lifetime (the most recent in 2005).

      For our purposes today, however, Rupert Holmes is notable for penning the super-cheesy but deliciously addictive song that I think every bar band should know. When you're picking among "bar-band cover songs," the very best are always going to be super-cheesy and deliciously addictive in my book, and Holmes' is one of the best.

      And, if you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape, you're going to loooooove this.

      Friday, June 17, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 17: A Song You Hear Often On The Radio

      A little more than a year ago, Memphis got a second classic hip-hop radio station when Cumulus switched the format of WKIM from talk radio to "100% Throwback." For the first week or so that WKIM ("The Vibe") was on air, I listened to it nonstop and, since then, it remains one of the pre-set stations programmed into my car radio.  I listen to NPR every morning and evening at home for the news, but I rarely ever listen to the radio anywhere else other than my car, so to pick a song that I "hear often on the radio" means (for me, anyway) that I'm basically picking from the regular WKIM rotation.

      Lucky for me, there's a wealth of awesomeness to choose from there.

      I'm at the age now where I can be non-ironically nostalgic about "throwback" stuff.  And since the birth of what we now call "classic" hip-hop pretty much coincides with my own entry into the world, stations like WKIM are right up my alley.

      Thursday, June 16, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 16: A Song You Used To Love But Now Hate

      The vault of go-to stories that, in one way or another, capture something of what we understand to be the American experience is both deep and diverse.  There are the Horatio Alger-esque "bootstraps" stories. There are "The New Colossus" stories of immigrants, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. There are the "underdog" stories of athletes and artists, scrappy young Davids who come from behind and, against all odds, with hustle and heart alone, defeat Goliaths. There are a thousand different stories of justice won, justice delayed, and justice denied, each as representative of these United States as the other.

      And then there are the one-hit wonders.  A truly American story.

      We joke about one-hit wonders, but I imagine it must be an incredibly deflating, demoralizing, and disheartening experience for those poor artists who manage to feel the contours of their dream realized, only to have it slip every so quickly from their grasp.  Pop music and pop music audiences are fickle creatures.  They love you one day, hate you the next, and there is often neither rhyme nor reason to be found in their affections.

      Wednesday, June 15, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 15: The Theme Song To Your Life

      It seems like bad juju to pick the theme song to your life before you've finished living it, but oh well.

      [*throws salt over shoulder*]

      I miss the days when television gave us real theme songs, by which I mean songs with words, not the sonic mood-setters typical of so many popular programs now. (Listen: Breaking Bad, Game of ThronesMad Men)  Maybe everyone thinks this, but I think a very good case can me made for my childhood years being the Golden Age for great TV theme songs. Whatever happened to them, anyway? Remember The Greatest American Hero? The JeffersonsThe Facts of LifeCheersDiff'rent StrokesGimme A BreakThe Brady Bunch?  Theme songs have been around since the beginning of television, of course, but they were really perfected in 70's and 80's television. Then, it seems like people just gave up on them sometime in the late 90's.  Weird.

      Tuesday, June 14, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 14: A Song No One Would Expect You To Love

      As I've grown older, I've become far less confident in my ability to correctly predict what other people think. That seems counterintuitive to me, since one would expect that more years of experience-- more interpersonal "data points"-- would make it easier to recognize patterns and improve one's predictive capabilities.  Not so in my experience.  Rather, people just seem more unpredictable, more idiosyncratic, more mysterious.

      Today's is a difficult prompt, because it requires me to step outside of myself and try to think about what others think about what I think about music. Others know that I think a lot about music, so what I really have to consider is what others think about my tastes, my prejudices and biases, even my own image of myself as a music-lover. Meta-meta post here, for sure.

      Of course, no one who has read my music posts over the years would expect me to love a Celtic song, or death-metal song, or an experimental jazz song, all of which fall within genres of music that I don't like and don't listen to.  I won't be upsetting those expectations today.  And even though there are specific artists/bands within my preferred genres about whom I have made my dislike clear-- Taylor Swift, The Doors, etc-- it would be a stretch to say that no one would expect me to love at least one of their songs.

      Monday, June 13, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 13: A Song That Is A Guilty Pleasure

      Oh man, seriously, I love ABBA soooooo much. I once said that if I were ever to get a tattoo, I would have "Super Trouper" tattooed on my shoulder. For the record, no tats here. My skin remains as clean as the driven snow. I kind of wish I did feel guilty about my ridiculously unrestrained ABBA fandom, but I don't. ABBA was not only one of the most iconic bands of the disco era, but also one of the best.

      [Insert very awkward break here.]

      I began writing this post a couple of days ago and, when I came back to finish it, the world had changed.

      Wikipedia describes "disco" as a musical genre that "had its roots in clubs that catered to African-American, gay, psychedelic and other communities" in NYC and Philly in the late 60's and early 70's. I think a lot of people make fun of disco, or count disco as a "guilty" pleasure, in part because of its association with queer people and queer places.  But disco remains, and persists, as one of the most joyous, most exuberant, most life- and love-affirming musical genres ever.  I'm reminded of this on what is a tragically sad day today.  Early yesterday morning, more than a hundred people were wounded or killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in United States history. No doubt they were dancing together, living together,loving together, laughing together, and listening to disco together at some point that night, before their joy was transformed into a nightmare for all of us.  The pulse of LGBTQ nightlife has always been 120 beats per minute.

      Sunday, June 12, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 12: A Song From A Band You Hate

      I don't actually "hate" a lot of bands, mostly because I don't really listen to bands that I don't like long enough to log the emotional time it takes to generate real hatred. For today's 30 Day Song Challenge selection, I was going to pick a song by Creed... but then I figured everyone with any kind of musical taste at all hates Creed, so what's the point? So instead I'm picking a band that I've actually put some effort into disliking: The Doors.

      Why it is exactly that I dislike The Doors so much, and Jim Morrison in particular, is kind of a mystery even to me. In general, I'm a fan of a lot of music that is very much like theirs. I like classic rock-n-roll and, when I'm listening with my most unbiased and sympathetic ears, I can hear in The Doors' sound a lot of what I like in some of my favorite bands. There's a little bit of The Who sound, a little bit of The Velvet Underground, a little bit of Cream, and I like all of those bands. So what is it that just turns me off to The Doors?

      Saturday, June 11, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 11: A Song From Your Favorite Band

      My favorite band, The Rolling Stones, has probably appeared more often than any other band or artist in my 30 Day Song Challenge picks over the last several years. Their music sits right in the center of my sweet spot.  It's great "pop,"of course,  but it's messy, sloppy, lazy even. All rock n' roll is formulaic, but the Stones execute that formula like they're always a little high or a little hungover (which they were). There's something about their sound that is always a tad under-practiced and un-polished, with a close-is-good-enough attitude that falls just behind the beat. And I can hear distinctly in the Stones' music all of the ingredients that combined to make the mish-mash genre that we call rock n' roll today: country, blues, jazz, gospel, folk.

      Nothing in the world grooves like Keith Richards' guitar lick on "Beast of Burden." That song is not my pick today, but it is the epitome of the Stones' sound and the Stones' feelJagger asks: Am I hard enough? Am I rough enough? Am I rich enough? In love enough? Of course, the answer is "yes, yes, yes, yes" for the Stones, just as it is for most rock n' rollers. The difference, I think, is that everything about the Stones' music suggests that they need to ask. What I love about the Stones, unlike The Beatles, is that they always sound like the wrong side of the tracks: the speakeasy, the dive bar, the juke joint, the jailhouse. They still, and always, got to scrape that sh*t right off their shoes. That's what rock n' roll is, in my book. If it ain't got something messy to scrape off, then... well, it's just too pretty.

      Friday, June 10, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 10: A Song That Helps You Fall Asleep

      I don't usually listen to music when I'm trying to sleep, mostly because I find it difficult to not actively listen. At the same time, I absolutely cannot abide total silence. When I'm in my office, I always have earbuds in. When I'm at home or in my car, there is always something playing. And so, against all expert medical advice, I tend to sleep with the television on.  (Not that anyone asked, but the TV show that helps me fall asleep is "30 Rock.")

      Paying attention or not paying attention to TV feels more like a choice to me than paying attention (or not) to music.  In fact, I often come home from work at the end of the day, sit down on the couch, and "watch" television for a while just to unwind and re-center myself.  Most times, I forget during the commercial breaks what it is that I am watching. I've explained it like this: I'm not really "watching" TV so much as the TV is just occupying my face while I sort out my thoughts from the day.

      Those idiosyncrasies aside, I take it that what today's prompt is looking for is a song that is relaxing, de-stressing, capable of easing and soothing and maybe even lulling.  And I know just the song for that.

      Thursday, June 09, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 9: A Song That Makes You Want To Dance

      Every person should have a song that makes them involuntarily raise up out of their chair and shout to the entire world "This. Is. My. Sooonnnggg!" whenever somebody punches its magic numbers into a jukebox. There's nothing quite like that feeling of your body beginning to move on its own-- foot tapping, hips swaying, head bobbing, shoulders scrunching up and then dropping back down to the beat, in sync with the groove-- as if your mortal coils were being compelled by the mathematical order and beauty of Nature herself to make itself known as a living, breathing, animate thing.

      Every person should have a song that not only makes them want to dance, but to actually dance.

      Better still, every person should have a song that makes them want to get up and act a fool.  Dancing is a skill and an art form, of course, but there isn't now and never has been a rule that requires that you be a good dancer in order to dance. In fact, I love to see people who "can't dance" throw caution to the wind and cut a rug anyway.  There's just a simple, beautiful, and immensely contagious joy in that.

      Wednesday, June 08, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 8: A Song You Know All The Words To

      I don't really consider it a particular accomplishment to know all the words to a song. In fact, I'd happily give up some of the space currently being used in my brain as song-lyric storage if I could consistently remember how to spell avocado or where I left my keys. The truth is that I know all the words to probably thousands of songs at this point in my life, not to mention also television themes, commercial jingles, and entire musicals.  I could sing all the parts of Pirates of PenzanceJesus Christ Superstar, Rent, et al by myself without missing a word. Oh, and pretty much the entire ABBA corpus as well.

      There aren't many thing funnier than misheard or misremembered lyrics, though.  If you haven't done so already, check out some of the "misheard songs" videos on YouTube, especially this one. Thinking about those common mistakes motivated me to pick a song today that I not only know all the words to, but that I also think has more-difficult-than-most lyrics to hear, to understand, and to remember.

      Lyrics like: Music loud and women warm, I've been kicked around since I've been born.

      Tuesday, June 07, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 7: A Song You Never Tire of Hearing

      I have a terrible habit of taking songs that I love and putting them in regular rotation on my iPod, or using them as the ringtone (or worse, the wake-up alarm tone) on my phone, and it never fails that, over time, I grow very very sick of them.  This is a worse offense than tiring of a good song because it's overplayed on the radio, because in this instance the wrong (and the loss) is self-inflicted.

      I've tried to switch out my ringtones and alarm tones before I tire of them over the last several years... but that's the thing, isn't it?  There's just no determining in advance exactly when that one time you hear a song is going to be the time that you realize you've worn it out.

      All that is to say that I doubt there is a song that I think it would be impossible to tire of hearing, but some definitely have more resilience than others.

      Monday, June 06, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 6: A Song That Reminds You of Home

      Instead of choosing a song that reminds me of Memphis, I've decided instead to pick a song that reminds me of my family home.  In particular, this song reminds me of waking up on Sunday mornings and getting ready for church in my childhood and young-adult years.

      Mine has always been a church-going family. In fact, my father was a preacher for some time in my youth and so I was, and I think I will always remain, a PK. We were Nazarenes, a Protestant Christian denomination on the holiness side of the 19thC Wesleyan realignment. On the positive side, that meant I grew up in a tight-knit congregation of believers in grace, in the power of spiritual healing, and around a lot of amazing music, On the considerably less-positive side, that meant I grew up in a very socially- and politically-conservative world where the "wages of sin" were never metaphorical.

      Sunday, June 05, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 5: A Song That Reminds You of Someone

      Before I reveal my pick for a "song that reminds me of someone," let me say a little bit about the someone in advance. My "someone" is not just one of the best best friends in the whole wild world, not just any grossly-underappreciated poet and philosopher, not just any garden variety wunderkind, not just any old holy-ish-that-guy-is-freakishly-special sort of guy, but a very special sort of all of the above.

      For the record, I'm talking about the one and only Ammon (Ra) Allred, aka, "Ideas Man, Phd." author of the one and only blog that I've ever cried real tears over the demise of and submitted heartfelt petitions for the resurrection of, "The Mostly Moribund Sylings of Ideas Man, PhD." Ammon is the only living writer who I wish I had the luxury of interacting with every day, which I do, but can you wish to have more than what is reasonably permitted for a non-spouse?

      For anyone who does not know him, because those who do know him will no doubt take this as an axiom, Ammon is nothing short of a genius. Insert all the 19th and 20thC critiques of the cult of genius here, sign me up for all of them, and then register my exception for Ammon. Q.E.D.

      When you are lucky enough to know someone like Ammon, and when you're given a #30DayChallenge prompt like today's, here's the quandary: how does one capture in song the genius of a genius?

      Saturday, June 04, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 4: A Song That Makes You Sad

      As I've said many times before on this blog, the four essential ingredients of a great song (in my estimation) are three chords and a sad story.  I think I've always had a particular affection for sad songs, one that has only grown over the years, and my guess is that if I made a top-100 list of my Favorite Songs of All Time, a good 85% of them would qualify as bona fide heartbreakers.

      In fact, I consider myself a connoisseur of sad songs, which may be a strange claim since, technically speaking, "sad songs" is not a "genre." There are, of course, generic sonic and narrative threads that can be traced throughout the majority of sad songs, especially in popular music.  But there are also many distinct and identifiable variations-- whole categories of narrative flavor, emotional bouquet, psychological nuance, affective subtlety, and discrete gradations of need and of desire--  to be found in sad songs. When you spend a lot of time listening closely to sad songs, as I have, you come to develop a palate for those differences, as the sommelier has for wine or the charcutier has for meat.

      Sad songs are my meat and wine, to be sure.

      Friday, June 03, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 3: A Song That Makes You Happy

      For today's pick, I'm returning home to Soulsville, to draw from one of our deepest cultural and musical wells: Stax. The Stax "sound" is the sound that I most closely identify with Memphis, my home, and even the saddest of songs from the Stax vault has always possessed the power to cheer me up. Those horns, that driving rhythm section, that B3 organ, those stories of piety and drunkenness, of romance and infidelity, of justice and injustice, of hopes cautiously cultivated and cruelly shattered: these are the ingredients of Memphis soul music.  And the Stax studio-- an old converted movie theater with sloped floors and an idiosyncratic, practically unreproducible, almost mystical echoey effect-- was the tabernacle of the Memphis sound, a portal to transcendental sonic ratios that structure Nature herself, the earthly dwelling-place of something divine.

      Thursday, June 02, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 2: Your Least Favorite Song

      First, see yesterday's post for my caveat about picking "favorite" and "least favorite" songs.

      The category "least favorite song" is a weird one, since it presumes there is something at least minimally favorable about the pick. It needs to be a song that is not so awful that you actively avoid hearing it, but still awful enough that, when you do hear it, you note to yourself that you probably should avoid it next time. There are entire genres of music that I don't like and don't voluntarily listen to--experimental jazz, death metal, most jam-bandy stuff, any of that godforsaken Celtic noise that Fiona Ritchie punishes us with every week on The Thistle and Shamrock, just to name a few-- so it's hard for any song in those genres to earn enough of my time and attention to rise to the level of a "least favorite." For similar reasons, I didn't want to pick any of the widely-panned, universally-reviled, epically terrible songs (like this one) as my choice for today. We're not just shooting fish in barrels here.

      Wednesday, June 01, 2016

      30 Day Song Challenge, Day 1: Your Favorite Song

      As I've done for the last several years, I'll be posting once a day throughout the month of June for the #30DaySongChallenge. (Here is the link to the "anchor" page for this year's iteration of the Challenge where you can keep up with my daily picks.) There is a prompt for each day, and today's prompt is "Your Favorite Song."

      I'll begin with a caveat: I don't have a Favorite Song of All Time anymore.  It used to be the case that when someone asked me what my "favorite" song was, I could say with relative confidence that it was The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden"-- and that definitely remains among my favorites-- but I no longer think of it as having a singularly privileged status among my many other favorites. As I've gotten older, I've come to think of the "favorite" song designation a little like the "best" friend designation. Songs, like friends, have situation-specific virtues.

      My pick for today, my favorite song right now, is Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" (written and recorded in 1980 for the side-splittingly funny and not-so-subversively feminist film of the same name). Dolly Parton has always been a idol of mine, partly for her gifted-by-God voice and incredible songwriting ability, but more so for her perfection of a uniquely Tennessean flavor of sass. Dolly says "bless your heart," and you understand full well that what she means is "eat sh*t and die," but you just can't help but be besotted anyway.