Category: The Daily Loper

Certain Songs #633: Hum – “Stars”

hum you'd prefer an astronaut Album: You’d Prefer an Astronaut
Year: 1995

A primo slice of math-rock metal all tarted-up as alt-rock, Hum’s “Stars” was as unlikely of a radio hit as you could possibly imagine in the mid-1990s, or pretty much anytime, really.

On the other hand, “Stars” is definitely on the list of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Metal Division. And even in the post-grunge days of the mid-1990s, it still sounded like nothing else on the alt-rock radio stations that played it.

Since they presented as alt-rock — lead singer Matt Talbott had huge-ass glasses, and they had short hair and everyday clothes — they got played on alt-rock radio, despite a sound that owed as much to early Black Sabbath as anything else.

At first, “Stars” is as quiet as a night deep in the country. It’s just a single guitar and the flat affect of singer Matt Talbott telling us what might have happened to Grant Hart’s girl who read all of those books about UFOs:

She thinks she missed the train to Mars
She’s out back counting stars
She thinks she missed the train to Mars
She’s out back counting stars

And suddenly, guitars compressed to the density of white dwarfs crash in and start making like Master of Reality as played by Billy Corgan, and “Stars” just fucking takes off without even once looking back at the damage in its wake.

As “Stars” inexorably moves forward, it adds a new headbangin’ riff here, a new Bonhamy drumbeat there and even drops back down into a semi-quiet part for a bar or two. But despite — or maybe because of — all the crunch and steady momentum, “Stars” never loses the beautiful melody at the heart of the song.

I don’t think I paid as much attention to “Stars” as I might have other songs in the mid-1990s — I don’t think I bought the album or anything, but man, does it sound absolutely amazing today.

Official video for “Stars”

“Stars” performed live on 120 Minutes in 1995

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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Certain Songs #632: Huey Lewis & The News – “Workin’ For a Livin’”

huey lewis picture this Album: Picture This
Year: 1982

While the early days of MTV is usually remembered for focusing on photogenic British acts — and foisting upon the world folks like Duran Duran, Adam Ant & Billy Idol — the truth that they also helped the careers of non-photogenic ugly-ass folks who happened to make clever videos.

Right? So we also had huge hits by Greg Kihn, ZZ Top, Eddie Money and of course, Huey Lewis and the News, whose completely agreeable and totally inoffensive if slightly slicked up bar-band sound somehow battled Prince, Madonna & Bruce Springsteen for chart domination in 1984.

But, of course, before all of that, the were just a band who walked through the door that Bruce Springsteen opened, with ties to Elvis Costello & Dave Edmunds, and got half-Rockpile / half New Wave songs on the radio like “Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)” and the admittedly stellar “Workin’ For a Livin’”

A song defined by the fact that the title contains not one, but two dropped g’s, “Workin’ For a Livin” almost lets you believe that some the litany of dead-end jobs Huey lists are things he actually did at some time, so sincere does he sound.

Also helping: Sean Hopper’s carnival-like organ and Lewis’s long harmonica solo, somehow signifying the working — sorry, I mean the workin’ — man’s blues. And their secret weapon, the harmony singing of the News was also evident throughout the song, especially on the “ooooooh-oh workin’ for a livin’” bridge.

And that harmony singing was the highlight of the one time I saw Huey Lewis & the News live. Tim & I saw them at the Star Palace in March of 1982, while they were still a couple of years from world domination, and thus still playing clubs.

Nearly 35 years later, all I remember is the encore. Which is fine, because it’s probably the only thing I remembered 35 minutes later, as well. It was simplicity itself: a doo-wop acapella version of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.”

It was completely unexpected, and totally blew us away. I don’t know if was something they kept doing as they became huge — probably, since it’s a hell of a show stopper — but I’m glad that a video I just found of a show near the time I saw them verifies my memory.

Professionalism!

Official Video for “Workin’ For a Livin’”

“Chain Gang” performed live in 1982

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #632: Huey Lewis & The News – “Workin’ For a Livin’”

huey lewis picture this Album: Picture This
Year: 1982

While the early days of MTV is usually remembered for focusing on photogenic British acts — and foisting upon the world folks like Duran Duran, Adam Ant & Billy Idol — the truth that they also helped the careers of non-photogenic ugly-ass folks who happened to make clever videos.

Right? So we also had huge hits by Greg Kihn, ZZ Top, Eddie Money and of course, Huey Lewis and the News, whose completely agreeable and totally inoffensive if slightly slicked up bar-band sound somehow battled Prince, Madonna & Bruce Springsteen for chart domination in 1984.

But, of course, before all of that, the were just a band who walked through the door that Bruce Springsteen opened, with ties to Elvis Costello & Dave Edmunds, and got half-Rockpile / half New Wave songs on the radio like “Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)” and the admittedly stellar “Workin’ For a Livin’”

A song defined by the fact that the title contains not one, but two dropped g’s, “Workin’ For a Livin” almost lets you believe that some the litany of dead-end jobs Huey lists are things he actually did at some time, so sincere does he sound.

Also helping: Sean Hopper’s carnival-like organ and Lewis’s long harmonica solo, somehow signifying the working — sorry, I mean the workin’ — man’s blues. And their secret weapon, the harmony singing of the News was also evident throughout the song, especially on the “ooooooh-oh workin’ for a livin’” bridge.

And that harmony singing was the highlight of the one time I saw Huey Lewis & the News live. Tim & I saw them at the Star Palace in March of 1982, while they were still a couple of years from world domination, and thus still playing clubs.

Nearly 35 years later, all I remember is the encore. Which is fine, because it’s probably the only thing I remembered 35 minutes later, as well. It was simplicity itself: a doo-wop acapella version of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.”

It was completely unexpected, and totally blew us away. I don’t know if was something they kept doing as they became huge — probably, since it’s a hell of a show stopper — but I’m glad that a video I just found of a show near the time I saw them verifies my memory.

Professionalism!

Official Video for “Workin’ For a Livin’”

“Chain Gang” performed live in 1982

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #631: Howard Devoto – “Rainy Season”

Howard Devoto+Rainy+Season+524322 Album: Jerky Versions of THE DREAM
Year: 1983

After co-founding and leaving both The Buzzcocks and Magazine, Howard Devoto’s next move was to put out his only solo album, 1983’s Jerky Versions of THE DREAM.

And while, truth be told, most of the album didn’t do all that much for me, I really loved the single, “Rainy Season.”

One huge keyboard-filled metaphor for the pain you feel at the end of a relationship, “Rainy Season” winds its way through darker and darker pathways — at one point he calls his brain a “leaky boat,” — as the chorus gets ever grander.

I am on fire (fire)
And it’s the rainy season
In this desert
You made me create
(You made me create)
I am on fire (fire)
And it’s the rainy season
And you’re like a mirage
I could learn to hate

At first, Devoto sings the chorus all by himself, but by the second time around, a whole chorus of multi-tracked Devotos are joining in, adding a boatload of extra pathos to the pain he is so eloquently expressing.

Also helping to hammer his point home: Dave Formula’s piano, dancing around the lyrics and chorus with precision and dexterity, adding a flourish here and a hook there. To be honest, without that piano, “Rainy Season” is a near-generic New Wave song, but with it, it becomes a great New Wave song.

“Rainy Season”

Official video for “Rainy Season” (bad sound)

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #630: The Housemartins – “The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death”

housemartins people who Album: The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death
Year: 1987

I always got the impression that the people who loved The Housemartins, really really loved The Housemartins, but for all of the buzz & critical acclaim that surrounded their two records, they never really did much for me.

The exception, of course, being the title track from their second album, The Queen is D, sorry, I mean The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death.

OK, that was a cheap shot, and a reference to how The Housemartins were positioned as a Smiths for people who couldn’t stand Morrissey’s antics.

That said, I always the punky speed and snarky chorus of their title track dig at the royal family’s effect on Great Britain.

The people who grinned themselves to death
Smiled so much they failed to take a breath
And even when their kids were starving
They all thought the queen was charming

What makes it for me is the double-time drums on that chorus, as well as the quick horn flourish and the “ahhhhhs.” It was instantly memorable, and I loved the imagery of Paul Heaton’s lyrics, to boot.

Before the chorus is a build-up featuring some stop-time guitar riffs from Stan Cullimore, and nice bass runs from future slim fatboy, Norman Cook.

It all adds up to a pretty essential mid-80s slice of proto-Britpop.

“The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page