FULL DISCLOSURE: I started writing this blog on 7/25/14. Believe it or not some of my favorites have changed between then and now (8/9/14). I’m going to leave the two songs I’ve written about already (Pantera and Jamiroquai) because I did a lot of research to fully articulate my opinion with images and video. A couple of songs have since been swapped though. System of a Down’s song “Sugar” has been swapped with Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” 311’s song “Hive” has been replaced with Neko Case’s “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” On to the critiques!
I think these songs and musicians are incredible. They move me in a way that I can’t quite describe – but I will do my best. Everyone has a band or a song that makes them uncontrollably tap their toe. Entire playlists have been made dedicated to this very phenomenon. I write this in case there is ever a point in my life where my friends choose to make a podcast containing songs they know I love. That’s already happened once and it was a tribute executed to perfection. Without further ado, here are the songs that make me say, “Yep!”
1. Pantera “This Love”
I include this version for two reasons. 1. It has lyrics, and 2. It’s the full song. I guess making the video for the six and a half minute version from the album was unacceptable. Ok, whatever. Cutting out the two minutes to shorten the length is a foolish decision in my opinion. It cuts out the best part of the song! At 3:01 when Phil screams, “No more head trips!” I fully enjoy what comes next. The guitar solo is incredible and the drums! Man, I love how they fill the rests with ultra-snappy snare hits. Throughout this song the guitar has a beautiful tone. I like how it goes from clean and dark to ultra-distorted and manic. I remember playing this song on a cruise I went on. I was a teenager at the time and we were allowed to play songs from CDs (those were the days!) we brought with us. No one dug this song, but me. It was so cool to hear it thumping through the fully legit dance floor speakers. Can you guess who was the only one on the dance floor flinging themselves about for the entire length of the song? I’ll give you three guesses, but the first two don’t count. My one criticism of this song is the way it ends. It’s nice if you listen to it only once or as part of the album, but if you want to listen to it a lot and put it on a playlist, the slow fade out at the end gets boring.
2. Jack White “Black Bat Licorice”
Believe it or not, I used to not like Jack White or his band, The White Stripes. But, boy oh boy did I change my tune when I heard Ball and a Biscuit. I didn’t like The White Stripes because they didn’t have a bass player. Meg’s drumming isn’t the best, but I’ve come to accept that she is uniquely qualified to play with such a disarmingly talented man as Jack. The song above – from his new solo album, Lazaretto – stands out to me. It has a really good beat, and as usual, Jack’s lyrics are incredible.
I like lyrics that help me learn something. This song is full of that. Here are a couple of examples.
1. “…she’s built for speed like a black castrum doloris”
Do you know what a black castrum doloris is? I didn’t until I looked it up. Apparently it’s latin for “castle of grief.” Wikipedia says, “These are structures and decorations sheltering or accompanying the catafalque or bier that signify the prestige or high estate of the deceased.” Below is a picture of an example.
2. “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust”
Roman hypocaust? What the heck is that? A hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) was an ancient Roman system of underfloor heating, used to heat houses with hot air.
3. “She writes letters like a Jack Chick comic”
I know my comics pretty well, but I’ve never heard of Jack Chick. Wikipedia says:
“Jack Thomas Chick (born April 13, 1924) is an American publisher, writer, and comic book artist of evangelical fundamentalist Christian tracts and comic books. His comics have been described by Los Angeles magazine as “equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing.”
4. “I mean, she’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular”
From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
- of or relating to an uncle
- suggestive of an uncle especially in kindness or geniality
5. Finally, what the heck is Black Bat Licorice? I could only find this image.
I guess it’s some kind of candy? I don’t know. The Google search is dominated by the song at this point. If anyone knows what it is, please let me know.
3. Jamiroquai “Cosmic Girl”
This song is just downright funky! If you’re not tapping your toe or feeling a small groove in your tummy, then I’m afraid you’re doing it wrong. This video is a little cheesy. I would have liked to see some dancing of a metaphorical “cosmic girl.” Why are there no girls in the video? I don’t get it. The cars are ok. I will forgive the lack of creativity in the video because the song is so cool. I hope you will understand.
4. Neko Case “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”
Neko has a truly beautiful voice. When I listen to this song in headphones, it sounds like she has a digital echo/delay on some of her vocals. She does not. That is an actual person accompanying her who has the perfect pitch ability to harmonize with her. I’ve seen her perform live and was blown away by how much their voices harmonize. They harmonize even when they talk! It’s like their voices are a glove and a hand and they fit each other perfectly.
Neko explains the story behind the song on NPR. It’s a haunting story. But it’s real. And it’s poignant. And I love her for that. She explains, “I wrote the song, I sang it into my phone recorder. I tried it with music, but it just felt better a capella.” I agree, Neko Case. That’s why you’re on my list.
5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness
This video is really cool. It’s very minimalist and artistic. I love the colors. They’re muted and bold at the same time. It was her performance on SNL that really made her stick out in my mind though. Her choreography (if it can be called that) is super minimalist too. When she and her female Moog player both glance to the left in unison between “People turn the TV on / it looks just like a window…” and “…Yeah!” I’m completely moved. So moved in fact that I can’t help but do the same thing when I’m listening to this song in my head phones. I’m going to see her play a free concert at Prospect Park. I’m really looking forward to it.
6. Madonna – Hung Up
Say what you want about Madonna. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like her. I don’t understand why. I’ve never asked them why, but I get the sense that because of her omni-presence, people just want her to go away. Or because she’s old. Really? Are you going to be as fit as she is when you’re 50? Please don’t diss her for being a star. Sure she’s been out of the spotlight recently (she did release an album in 2012, but I think it fell flat). For the last 30 years she’s given the world a piece of herself. Oh and she’s also given us all a reason to let loose and dance. The opening rooftop shot in this video looks like an homage to the photo shoot she did with Richard Corman in 1983 before she became the person we know today. I had the privilege of making a video about Richard’s encounter with Madonna last year. Richard is a very humble man and is incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph a woman before she became an icon.
This song has some particular memories attached to it for me. This song is on her album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, which came out in 2005. I was living in Delaware at the time. I took an adventure up to New York City with a friend. Her picture was everywhere! I remember going to Times Square and seeing the image below.
My time in New York City was spent weaving in out of trains, hotels and people. It culminated in a party that was behind a door that did not bespeak what I was to behold behind it. Oh the fantastical things I saw! A burlesque dancing duo on a small stage no bigger than a box, a bathroom with urinals plastered to the wall in funny positions, and young people of all backgrounds. While outside on the roof I saw a man scale a building and draw graffiti art on a neighboring building. I danced the night away to some very interesting tunes. I lost track of time. Suddenly, the curtains were drawn and there was light pouring in! I checked my watch. 6:30am. Whoa! I made my way down to the street and hopped in a cab with some fellow party goers. When we got to my stop, I tried to pay, but realized I didn’t have cash. All that was in my pocket were a couple of broken cigarettes (not being a smoker, I have no clue as to how those got in there) which I offered in earnest to my compatriots. They said, “don’t worry about it man. Just get in there and get some water and sleep.” I’m thankful for their generosity and for taking it easy on my small Midwestern lamb of a self. To summarize, this song encapsulates that weekend.
7. Skrillex – Stranger
This video features some really talented dancers interpreting the beats in a very unique way. Skrillex’s first full-length album, “Recess,” is a solid musical work. Rolling Stone magazine says he’s finally worth paying attention to. I couldn’t agree more. His sound is truly unique. I used to believe that true musicians are defined by being able to play an instrument, not being able to twist knobs and press buttons. My opinion has changed. Skrillex composes beautiful songs – often on piano – before layering all kinds of bass and other sounds into the arrangement. Below is an example of a woman covering one of his most famous songs.
If he doesn’t compose his songs this way, they certainly are worth seeing covered by a pianist. Wow! Just think of this the next time you here the actual song. The big change here is the massive bass drop. I think it sounds like, “Lance OH MY GOD!” I told my friend Lance about this. He agrees, but still doesn’t care for the song.
8. Lily Allen – Fuck You
I recently put a few more songs on my phone and Miss Lily Allen was one of the artists who made the cut. I’m a big fan of her first album so I was delighted to hear her second album too. This song really resonates with me. It’s clever and there’s no way it will be played on the radio. The fact that an artist made a song knowing that indicates to me that she made the song for herself and her live audiences, not for radio play. That’s a special move these days and one that deserves recognition. It has a great message about people who are stuck on the wrong side of history. This video is very clever too. I was laughing for a lot of it.
9. Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats
I love this song. I bought this album when it first came out in 1997. I remember rocking out to it in my ’91 Camaro. I was into Prodigy as well. I think being into this type of electronic music prepped for my interest in Skrillex. This song is perfect for being on the playlist that I listen to when I run or work out at the gym.
10. Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo
I’ll end on a light note. I’ve been listening to lots of music like this lately. It’s peaceful and easy on the ears.
Thanks for reading!