Category: The Daily Loper

Certain Songs #599: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy”

hold steady chips ahoy Album: Boys and Girls in America
Year: 2006

“Chips Ahoy” was the first single from “Boys and Girls in America,” and like “The Swish” and “Banging Camp,” Craig Finn is trying to fit all of his words in and around Tad Kubler’s big-ass power chords.

The result is one of those Hold Steady songs that sounds like one of of the rockers from The River had that album been made by a Springsteen influenced not by 1960s frat-rock, but rather, The Clash.

So it’s guitar guitar guitar until Finn comes in.

She put $900 on the fifth horse in the sixth race
I think its name was Chips Ahoy!

At that point, the guitars crash louder, drummer Bobby Drake does a couple of rolls, and for a second, we’re all wondering what happens next.

Came in six lengths ahead,
We spent the whole next week getting high
At first I thought that shit hit on some tip
That she got from some other boy
We were overjoyed

Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!
Whoa-uh-oooooh-ooh-ooh-ha-ho!

And so here’s the thing about “Chips Ahoy!” It’s so permeated by those “whoa-oooooh-ooh-ha-hos,” plus massive guitar chords and organ flourishes, you’d be completely excused if you used all of the upbeat joy they signify to ignore the plaintive chorus.

But then again, good luck ignoring this:

How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t let me touch you?
How am I supposed to know that you’re high
If you won’t even dance?

Later on in the song, Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay have a horse race of their own, trading off solos like they’re Jon Lord & Ritchie Blackmore, but again, it just leads back to the unspoken question posed by the chorus, which is this: why am I even here?

Official Video for “Chips Ahoy!”

“Chips Ahoy!” performed live on Later With Jools Holland

Every Certain Song Ever
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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 #598: The Hold Steady – “Stuck Between Stations”

Hold Steady+Stuck+Between+Stations+-+Clear+399660 Album: Boys and Girls in America
Year: 2006

Welcome to my favorite album of this century.

Actually, (and yes, I’m “actually”ing myself), welcome to my favorite album since Nevermind & Achtung Baby!, which makes Boys and Girls in America my favorite album of the past quarter-century.

And if I could somehow prorate the age I was when this album came out against the age I was when I first discovered all of the albums I would otherwise put into my all-time top 20, it would definitely be in the conversation.

On Boys and Girls in America, their sound thickened. If Franz Nicolay’s keyboards were used for color and flavor on Separation Sunday, now they were an integral part of a thick stew.

It’s all right there in the opening of the first song on the album, “Stuck Between Stations,” which opens with a guitar stab that is almost instantly countered by a rolling piano and a kick drum build into the song proper, at which point Craig Finn essays his thesis statement for the entire album.

There are nights when I think
That Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
They have such a sad time together

It’s a classic rock ‘n’ roll subject, of course. The classic rock ‘n’ roll subject really, but Finn infuses his tales of young love and lust with a specificity that resonates beyond the individual people he’s writing about.

She was a really cool kisser
And she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian
She was a damn good dancer
But she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend
He likes the warm feeling
But he’s tired of all the dehydration
Most nights are crystal clear
But tonight it’s like he’s stuck between stations

On the radio

In fact, it resonates beyond generations. I mean, in the age of digital tuners, getting stuck between stations is a near-impossibility, and yet anybody who hears this song knows exactly what he’s on about. And it also helps that Nicolay’s backing vocals come in just perfectly throughout.

And the stinging guitar that Tad Kubler brings in after the chorus doesn’t hurt, either.

There was that night that we thought
John Berryman could fly
But he didn’t, so he died
She said “You’re pretty good with words,
But words won’t save your life”
And they didn’t, so he died

I didn’t know who John Berryman was, but I sure got the Jim Carroll reference, and either way, that verse was funny and poignant at the same time, and has always killed me, maybe because I’m always worried about whether or not I’m going to need my words to save my life, as well.

It’s only a guess, but the mix of wit and full-bore rock — even during the piano breakdown — that defines “Stuck Between Stations” is probably why it’s probably the consensus favorite Hold Steady song as far as the fanbase is concerned.

It’s not mine, but it is a helluva way to begin a helluva record.

Official Video for “Stuck Between Stations”

“Stuck Between Stations” performed lived on Late Night with David Letterman

“Stuck Between Stations” performed live on Later With Jools Holland

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.)

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Certain Songs #597: The Hold Steady – “How a Resurrection Really Feels”

Hold Steady Separation-Sunday Album: Separation Sunday
Year: 2005

Despite putting out their records in the era of shuffled playlists, The Hold Steady have had a tradition of ending their albums with an epic, multi-part song.

And given that it was concept album, Separation Sunday is no exception, capping off with the haunting “How A Resurrection Really Feels,” which kicks off with a lengthy curlicue guitar riff as Craig Finn lets us know what’s up with one of the major characters, Halluejah, who the kids call Holly.

The priest just kinda laughed
The deacon caught a draft
She crashed into the Easter mass
With her hair done up in broken glass
She was limping left on broken heels
When she said, “Father, can I tell your congregation
How a resurrection really feels?”

And as Holly’s story gets told, augmented by the guitar riff and even some horns, the guitars ebb and flow until the inevitable breakdown and resurrection of the song into something else entirely different.

That’s when Franz Nicolay’s keyboards starts floating through the track like a ticking clock and the backing vocalists start chanting “Walk on back, walk on back,” like a pair of hoodrat Dionne Warwicks who’d only heard her song on the radio that one time.

That’s when Craig Finn ends the album with the perfect mix of the sacred and profane, looking at this woman who’s clearly had a some kind of epiphany and noticing the exact wrong thing.

Hallelujah was a sexy mess
She looked strung out but experienced
So we all got kind of curious …

After that, Tad Kubler comes in with a long guitar solo fighting for space with the chants of “Walk on back” and the horns and the endless tick-tock of the keyboards, and it’s utterly gloriously sexy mess in and of itself, not to mention the perfect way to end this sprawling, ambitious sexy mess of an album.

Separation Sunday was easily my favorite album of 2005, and probably the 2000s, and if you were to ask me in early 2006, I would have said that it was quite possibly the best album of the decade, or at least in the conversation.

One thing I was certain about, there was no way The Hold Steady was going to be able to top it. Until they did.

“How A Resurrection Really Feels” performed live in 2009

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 #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

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 #495: Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

geto boys mind
Album: We Can’t Be Stopped
Year: 1991

The key to Gangsta rap’s massive popularity was, of course, larger-than-life celebrations of the dangers and rewards of the gang-banging lifestyle, as millions of teenagers who would freeze from fear from actually having live any of these scenarios got off pretending they were as hard as the guys in the songs.

Kinda like superhero comics. In fact, somebody should chart the rise of the popularity of superhero comics vs. the popularity of gangsta rap. No black superheros? Have you ever heard “Midnight” by Ice-T? That’s some Batman-level shit right there.

Anyways, my problem was that I was slightly older, so while I appreciated the reportage, the violence and misogyny always made me uneasy. So I mostly gravitated to songs that looked at the life from different angles — the devastating “Dead Homiez;” the exhilarating “Gotta Lotta Love” and the paranoiac “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”

Rapping over a icy cool Isaac Hayes sample, the Geto Boys spin verse after verse filled with same themes that powered six seasons of The Sopranos — that a life where you fuck people over on a regular basis, a life where you could be killed at any moment — “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” tells stories that could come right out of a session with Dr. Melfi:

Day by day it’s more impossible to cope
I feel like I’m the one that’s doing dope
Can’t keep a steady hand because I’m nervous
Every Sunday morning I’m in service
Playing for forgiveness
And trying to find an exit out of the business
I know the Lord is looking at me
But yet and still it’s hard for me to feel happy
I often drift while I drive
Havin fatal thoughts of suicide
BANG and get it over with
And then I’m worry-free, but that’s bullshit

In the end, Bushwick Bill is down on his knees pounding the concrete while hallucinating a beatdown, and the song just fades to black, with no relief in sight.

And man, what if David Chase thought to score that last scene of The Sopranos to “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” instead of that fucking Journey song? Maybe it would have been too on the nose — as we see all of those folks at the diner who might or might not be ready to kill him — but it would be kind of cool to see how that scene would play.

That said, Tony Soprano wouldn’t be caught dead listening to this song,

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