Archive | October, 2014

Certain Songs: Airborne Toxic Event – “Sometime Around Midnight”

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Album: Airborne Toxic Event.

Year: 2009.

Written in the second person in order to simultaneously minimize and universalize the pain, my first question when I first heard this song – probably on Kevin & Bean’s morning show on KROQ – was “holy shit, how did this guy get access to my journals from the 1980s?”

So, you’re sitting outside of the Oly Tavern writing “poetry” in your “journal” because you really don’t want to go inside because she’s in there. And she’s totally winning the break-up.

Because it literally seems like something that happened to me just about anytime between, oh, 1986 – 1992 at the Blue or the Oly Tavern or Livingstones or somewhere like that, after which I would write out my feelings about whatever was going on in excruciating detail before falling drunkenly to sleep.

But, of course, you’re going to cos you just have to see her, you just have to see her, you just have to see her, you just have to see her. Idiot.

Of course, what my journal entries lacked, and what this song has, is a guitar sound that reminds me of what would result of David Bowie would have made “Heroes” 10 years later with the Edge on guitar instead of Robert Fripp.

 No one is going to believe your official story: you’re going inside to check out the guitar player. But not because you’re interested in what he’s doing, but because you’re worried that’s why she’s inside as well: to check out the guitar player.

Official Video for “Sometime Around Midnight”

My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs: Al Green – “Take Me to The River”

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Album: Al Green Explores Your Mind.

Year: 1974.

In a weird bit of irony, what is probably Al Green’s best-known song (give or take a “Let’s Stay Together”) was never released as a single.Maybe because the lyrical conflation of a troubled love affair and spiritual redemption was not as straightforward as most of his great singles.

But obviously Al knew it was a major song, because it was covered almost instantly by several artists, including Foghat. Foghat!  While Foghat were one of my mid-70s jams, and the album it was on – Night Shift –  was in my life, probably via Craig, the hard-loving-dude who lived across the street from me, I have no memories if their version whatsoever.

Like most white teenagers of the 1970s, I became aware of the song after Talking Heads flattened it out, slowed it down and weirded it up while somehow also scoring a top 30 hit in the process, and didn’t even bother scaring up Al’s version for years.

Which is on me, as he was one of the major soul artists from my youth whose singles didn’t resonate at the time – unlike Stevie Wonder and War, who always killed me – so I really didn’t start exploring his catalog at all until the ‘90s.

At which point, his original version of “Take Me to The River” jumped out at me as the great song it had always been.

But check out this amazing live version – from “Soul Train” in 1975, that builds from the original song into a polyrhythmic workout that may also have influenced David Byrne …

“Take Me to The River” performed live on Soul Train, 1975

My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs: Aimee Mann – “I Should’ve Known”

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Album: Whatever.

Year: 1993.

When Aimee Mann put out her first solo album, Whatever, in 1993, most people only knew her – if they did at all – as the girl with rat tail in the incredibly cheesy video for ‘til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,”  one of the most one-hit of all 1980s one-hit wonders.

Even worse, in the music snob community, she was known as one of those women who would write songs about their ex-boyfriends, kind of a proto-Taylor Swift.

Speaking of which, the whole “I wouldn’t want to date her, cos she might write a song about me” put-down is incredibly sexist. I mean, was there ever a narrative telling 15-year-old girls to not have threesomes with Mick Jagger or Red Lobster waitresses not to bang LL Cool J after work because Mick and LL might write songs about those encounters? No. Double fucking standard.

ANYWAYS, the musical point is that the ’til Tuesday records always seemed very weighted down by 1980s production values,  and there didn’t seem like much hope that a solo album by their lead singer would amount to very much. 

It takes about 30 seconds into “I Should’ve Known”  to dispel that theory, and by the time it gets to the chorus, Aimee Mann has fully reinvented herself as a writer of smart, sophisticated, rock-oriented pop songs..

The proof is how the background singers are singing the ellipses in the chorus as she’s listing the various things she should have known … 

I should’ve known (dot dot dot) it was coming down to this.

I should’ve known (dot dot dot) you’d betray me but without the kiss.

I should’ve known (dot dot dot) the kind of set-up it is.

“I Should’ve Known” Performed Live on the Jools Holland Show, 1993.

My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs: Al Green – “I’m A Ram”

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Album: Al Green Gets Next To You.

Year: 1971.

While he’s best-known for singing ballads so silky smooth you could wear them as nighties, Al Green also kicked out classic Stax soul like the early fucksong “I’m A Ram.”

Over a drumbeat so down and dirty it puts the “FU” into funk, Al just wants you to know two things:

  1. He’s a ram.
  2. He’s gonna get next to you.

Unspoken, but implicit inside every beat, guitar lick and vocal utterance: after getting next to you, Al will then proceed to get over you, get under you and get behind you. And that’s just for starters.

I guess you could call “I’m A Ram” a double entendre, but Al clearly has multiple entendres in mind.

Fan-made Video for “I’m a Ram”

My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs: Against Me! – “Dead Friend”

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Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

Year: 2014.

While the news hook of Transgender Dysphoria Blues was, of course, the coming out of Laura Jane Grace, the musical hook was, well, all the hooks she wrote for the record. Among many other things, it was one of the best punk rock albums – as politics and as music – we’ve had in quite some time. 

And the musical and emotional directness of “Dead Friend” sums up everything that makes this record great.

Writing about dead friends is tricky territory: In “People Who Died,” Jim Carroll couldn’t shake his detached ironic delivery, so snarky teens (like me) found dark humor in “Tommy couldn’t fly, so Tommy died!” Meanwhile,  Lou Reed turned the death of his friend Doc Pomus in to an album-long meditation on the process of dying, and Patterson Hood – the best death song writer we have bar none – often celebrates the lives his characters led, so the dying of AIDS Gregory Dean Smalley couldn’t die now, cos he’s “got another show to do.”

The closest analogy we have to this song is really Ice Cube’s utterly devastating “how strong can you be when you see your pops crying,”  from “Dead Homiez,” but he even can’t resist tying his friend’s death into the larger, violence-ridden world in which he’s living.

But Laura Jane Grace is totally direct: “God damn it,” she sings over chord changes that never get old, “I miss my dead friend.”

“Dead Friend” Performed Live, 2014

My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify

Every “Certain Song” Ever