“John Brown” makes a fitting Memorial Day song, one to come after we sweep up from the parades and put away the speakers’ microphones, to remind of us of the deeply personal sacrifice made when our young go off to fight. And a song to make us think before asking one more soldier to pick up a weapon overseas.
Posts Tagged ‘Song of the Day’
Early next month, a group of lawyers will gather at Fordham Law School for a symposium on Bob Dylan and the Law. There’s a certain irony to this confab since Dylan’s so deeply wary of all institutions, especially powerful ones that wield the law. In Dylan’s songs, the legal system does not meet out justice; instead, it becomes a corrupt, often blind instrument of oppression designed to prop up the powerful and the wealthy. At the same time, a conference on Dylan and the law makes sense since it is a recurring theme in his songs ad appropriate as with each passing day corporate interests seem to gain at the expense of the individual.
Our connections to individual songs can be intensely personal. A song might be no more than white noise to one person and yet to another it can be like a punch to the chest that stops the heart and snatches the breath. So it is for me with Steve Forbert’s “Going Down to Laurel.” Released in late 1978, I had been living in Ireland at the time and don’t remember hearing it until the summer of 1979 when I returned to the States. It was the summer before my senior year of college; much of the music I fed on in high school had grown stale and began giving way to new acts like the Ramones and the Clash that would become new favorites. Here came this bright-eyed folkie, full of verve and fun, an undeniable energy synched with the rhythm of my heart.
You Gotta Sin to Be Saved
Written and performed by Maria McKee
There’s going to be a lot of saving going on cause if you listen to this song, you know there’s a lot of sinning happening. Full of gusto and heart, this raucous song puts forth a clear proposition: someday I may be saved, but before I get there, I’ve got some living to do. Think gospel song only this one marches down a different aisle.
Maria McKee’s voice – full-throated, even full-bodied – makes the case and the carousing band offers the full support with saxes, a Hammond organ, guitars and rousing vocals. No doubting the conviction of McKee’s singing, the song captures the spirit of an amuck Vegas weekend and you want to go along for the sheer fun of it.
The gambit offered is simple enough. McKee turns to her fiancé (“ya been my Romeo ever since we was in school”), reaffirms her love (“”I’ll love you till I die), then lets him know her predicament: “I could never be your bride ‘til I tame my wicked side.” She swaggers, she vamps, but this is no tease; she’s pure lustiness, you can just picture the wicked grin.
Beer and Kisses
Written and Performed by Amy Rigby.
Amy Rigby traces the arch of romance in a tightly crafted 3:41 seconds from when “we loved like it was something new” to “It’s sad how we both forget/The thing we had for each other/Way back when we first met.” “Beer and Kisses” is a pop-song for grown-ups, wry and subtly structured lyrics knitted to a winsome melody.
The ex-punk singer living in the East Village turns out this country-tinged duet with John Wesley Harding as if they are the second coming of Tammy Wynette and George Jones. The tale opens in the first glimmers of new love, the couple meeting in the supermarket and though boy-meets girl has reoccurred forever, Rigby knows that for those inside the love, it’s like a new world. Thus the lines:
We loved like it was something new
From day one we could not be parted
You had me and honey I had you
In recording Diary of a Mod Housewife, Rigby says she wanted to “balance being a mother and a wife and still being a rocker at heart.” She hits the target in this song: no subordination here, two equals madly in love.
All My Ex’s Live in Texas
Performed by George Strait
Written by Sanger D. Shafer and Linda J. Shafer
There are plenty of downhearted songs about past loves, but not this gem from George Strait. It’s as breezy, graceful and fun as a spring day on the porch with a cold beer. Everything works together to create a gem of a country song: the well-honed craftsmanship of the songwriting, the consummate musicianship that skips the flash in favor of playing in service to the tune and George Strait’s honeyed and laconic voice that fits the song so well.
This track provides another example of how George Strait finds popularity in the too-often derivative and bland contemporary country music market while keeping true to his country music touchstones and country-swing roots. You can hear Bob Wills, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams loud and clear in his music. Strait has the knack for picking songs right for his voice and style and his performances all contain an organic integrity: the pedal steel and fiddle open this song not because of some formula, but because they are absolutely perfect for opening the song.
Play “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and you know you’re in the hands of a master when Strait sings the opening chorus with its irresistible hook:
Originally released on the soundtrack for the movie Singles, you can also find it on Besterberg: The Best of Paul Westerberg. You can see/hear the official video here. Click here for a good live version. Here’s another live version.
Paul Westerberg’s first effort after the demise of The Replacements, “Dyslexic Heart” is a nearly pure pop rendition of boy meets girl and boys winds up confused as hell. Of course, no pop is pure after you run it through the blender that is Paul Westerberg. We get a sweet harmonica, clever lyrics, fun puns, a hook almost good enough to have you humming it, rhythms that will have you tapping your foot, a few smart alack shots and a brilliant title phrase all spun together in a shiny concoction replete with waves of nanana.
Performed by the Pogues with help from Kirsty MacColl. You can hear the recorded version here. You can hear live versions here, here and here. Here’s a live version with Sinead O’Connor singing the female part (not a great recording).
A sad tale saved from pure sentimentality by some gritty lines and gutty singing, the song opens on a snowy Christmas Eve in the New York City drunk tank. A mournful piano plays in the background. An old man declares it will be his last (“won’t see another one”), then breaks into a version of “The Rare Old Mountain Dew,” an old time Irish ballad (click here for a version by the Dubliners). Here’s our Irish boy stuck in jail on Christmas Eve a long way from home. The combination of the drink, the old man’s singing and the Christmas holiday send the singer into reverie thinking about his love.
I Killed Sally’s Lover
The Avett Brothers From Live, Vol. II You can hear a live version here, here and here, .
You’re in a beer-soaked, sweaty North Carolina bar, three guys on the stage and wham: One-Two-Three-Four, guitars, banjo and upright base blast off like the amuck off-spring of speed metal and bluegrass, think Appalachian Ramones.
In one breath, we get the whole story: “Somebody get my shot got/Somebody get my blade/Sally’s been laying with another man/And he’s sleeping in my place.” No qualms, no equivocating, the singer relishes the moment, “Gonna shoot him sure as rain/You can run as fast you want to boy/I’ll kill you just the same.” They play with such reckless abandon, such joy. No moaning in a corner over betrayed love, no deep thoughts; it’s a song making lust tangible: “You can try to hide all you want boy/There ain’t nowhere to go.”