Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Happy birthday, Elvis Costello!

My Top 25 Elvis Costello Lyrics

So why am I still an Elvis Costello fan, thirty-seven years after that fateful day when I first heard This Year's Model?  (I still owe you, Craig.)

Because I'm a lyrics girl -- and this guy's lyrics still wriggle inside my brain pan as few others do. 

Puns? yeah, he's a punster supreme. But it's more than puns; it's nuance, and allusiveness, and a novelist's nose for character conflict. Every one of these tracks is a finely tuned short story, for those of us willing to devote a morsel of imagination to filling in the blanks.

Oh, and yeah, he gets a pretty solid musical groove on too.

So here are the lyrics; click on links to see previous posts about these songs. (I TOLD you this guy runs deep with me.)  And if you're curious, I'm sure there are YouTube videos of all of these. C'mon, peeps, do I have to do all the work?


And though the passion still flutters and flickers, it never got into our knickers – "Just About Glad" (Brutal Youth 1994)

Don’t get smart or sarcastic He snaps back just like elastic Spare us the theatrics and the verbal gymnastics We break wise guys just like matchsticks.  – "The Loved Ones" (Imperial Bedroom 1982)

I wish that I could push a button and talk in the past and not the present tense And watch this hurting feeling disappear like it was common sense. – "Brilliant Mistake" (King of America 1985)

You either shut up or get cut out, they don’t want to hear about it, it’s only inches on the reel to reel, and radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetize the way that you feel – "Radio, Radio" (This Year’s Model 1978)

Why do you talk such stupid nonsense, when my mind could rest much easier?  Instead of all this dumb dumb insolence I would be happier with amnesia – "Riot Act" (Get Happy! 1980)

Let me get this straight -- Did I hallucinate this fine and helpless feeling? – "When Did I Stop Dreaming" (North 2003)

I was down upon one knee, stroking her vanity -- "Big Boys" (Armed Forces 1979)

I woke up and one of us was crying. – "I Want You" (Blood & Chocolate 1986)
Just look at me, I’m having the time of my life, or something quite like it. – "London’s Brilliant Parade" (Brutal Youth 1994)

Charged with insults and flattery Her body moves with malice Do you have to be so cruel to be callous? "Beyond Belief" (Imperial Bedroom 1982)
So you knock the kids about a bit because they’ve got your name -- "Little Palaces" (King of America 1985)
I can’t stand it when it goes to reel to reel, too real too real, I can’t stand when I get those punch lines you can feel – "B Movie " (Get Happy! 1980)

In a perfect world where everyone was equal, I’d still own the film rights and be working on a sequel – "Every Day I Write the Book" (Punch the Clock 1983)

Your mouth is made up but your mind is undone. – "Accidents Will Happen" (Armed Forces 1979)

I’ll build a bonfire of my dreams and burn a broken effigy of me and you -- "Indoor Fireworks" (King of America 1985)

I’m in a foxhole, I’m down in the trench, I’d be a hero but I can’t stand the stench – "Opportunity" (Get Happy! 1980)
I want to chop off your head and watch it roll into a basket. – "Senior Service" (Armed Forces 1979)

I don’t know if you’ve been loving somebody, I only know it isn’t mine"Alison" (My Aim Is True 1977)

And you know what I do, when the light outside changes from red to blue"Motel Matches" (Get Happy! 1980)

She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake – "Watching the Detectives" (My Aim Is True 1977) 
You can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already – "Hand In Hand" (This Year’s Model 1978)

But it’s easier to say “I love you,” than “yours sincerely,” I suppose -- "Big Sister’s Clothes" (Trust 1981)
You lack lust, you’re so lackluster, is that all the strength you can muster? – "Possession" (Get Happy! 1980)

Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor, you’ve got to cut it out – "Lipstick Vogue" (This Year’s Model 1978)\


I don’t wanna be your lover, I just want to be your victim – "The Beat" (This Year’s Model 1978)
And yours?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Sitting in the Midday Sun" /
The Kinks

Okay, MINOR Kinks track. Preservation Part 1 if you want to be precise. An album that was delivered to me at college, because I was the de facto college newspaper music reviewer in 1973 and that was the record album that they were desperately trying to sell.

And, oh, by the way,  I had already been converted to an insane Kinks fan, so of COURSE I was going to review this album, and review it well.

 But -- let me go on record with this -- in the 42 intervening years I have seen absolutely no reason to alter my critical assessment.

The Kinks' resident genius Ray Davies adopts in this album the wistful persona of The Tramp (a character who inexplicably fades from view in Preservation Part 2,  an album which has its own glories.) I'll confess it here: I like Preservation Part 1 more than Preservation Part 2. And perhaps it's because the Everyman figure of the Tramp gets lost in PP2.  We need that Everyman perspective to help us negotiate through the property struggles of Preservation Part 2, as the real estate developers (hello, reality check: WHO ELSE WOULD BASE A WHOLE ROCK OPERA ON REAL ESTATE NEGOTIATIONS?) scheme to destroy communities.
And after all, it's the Tramp who sings "Sitting in the Midday Sun." It's a brilliant antithesis to the Kinks's huge hit "Sunny Afternoon," where the singer is ostensibly scaling things back, but he's still
got the yacht, the stately home, et cetera. In "Sitting in the Midday Sun," he has totally let go, meditating upon the "currant bun" (Cockney rhyming slang for "sun"), giving up on all the rest.
There's an almost Beach Boys groove going on, "with no particular purpose or purpose / For sitting in the midday sun." There's the background singers, the twee organ, the whole sense of a track waiting for the resident genius to sign off.
And the resident genius is Ray Davies. Which, basically, tells you all you need to know.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Late Night Shuffle

Lately, the playlists I've been concocting for my iTunes library have been more about mood than era, genre, or theme. (Sample titles: Trippy, Mellow, Groove, Upbeat and Laid-back.) Sometimes you just want a certain sound, a certain slant of light.

Take my new playlist, Late Night, for example. I know exactly what I mean by that term: haunting, reflective, disassociated.  Whether you're high or just bone-weary, you're not entirely in your sensible daytime mind. And there are certain tracks that perfectly nail that frame of mind.

So, herewith, a curated shuffle from that playlist, for your late-night listening pleasure. Click on the blue titles to see YouTube versions of the songs, if you don't know them.

1. "Billy's Blues" -- Laura Nyro
From More Than a New Discovery (1967)
Oh, Lord, the hours I spent in my teenage bedroom mooning over -- well, I won't say who, but Laura Nyro was my enabler then, and I can never resist the moody urban soul-inflected sound of her music. "Billy's blue / With his head hanging to / His shoes" -- and I'm right there with him.

2. "Somewhere Friday Night" -- The Turtles
From Turtle Soup (1969)
Okay, I'll admit I have this album in my library specifically because Ray Davies of the Kinks produced this album. But I truly loved the Turtles, back in the day -- their song "Happy Together" scored high on my 100 Favorite Singles list -- and who could fail to love this jazzy, trippy track? As it morphs restlessly from major to minor keys, insisting "there's something wrong here" -- stylish paranoia indeed.

3. "Not Cause I Wanted To" -- Bonnie Raitt
From Slipstream (2012)
As I've mentioned before, this recent Bonnie Raitt album is a magnificent example of #MusicforGrownups. I love how Bonnie's grown into the rasp in her voice, as the songwriting underscores her rueful world-weary persona. Deconstructing the end of a long-term relationship -- a late-night exercise invariably served with a side of regret.

4. "Something About What Happens When We Talk" -- Lucinda Williams
From Lucinda Williams (1998)
I'll admit it -- I'm jealous about the way male rock fans swoon over Lucinda Williams.  I sincerely wish she wasn't so good.  But she IS that good, and sometimes even I can't resist her grit-edged voice and her truth-telling lyrics. Here she's kicking the tires on a relationship that could go one way or the other -- and why is it that I'm willing her to take that leap?

5. "Out in the Parking Lot" -- Guy Clark
From Workbench Songs (2006)
"Sitting on a fender / Of someone else's truck / Drinking Old Crow whiskey / Hot Seven-Up..." How's that for scene setting? West Texas's singer-songwriter Guy Clark is a national treasure, and a storyteller par excellence; let me count the ways..

6. "Endless Sleep" -- Nick Lowe
From Jesus of Cool (1977)
Actually, this didn't make it on the album; it's a bonus track on the recent re-release of my idol Nick's seminal 1977 album. I can kinda see why this woeful low-fi track, with its intimate match-strike intro, whispery mike-kissing vocals, and misery-dogged lyrics  -- "When you're walking in the street / Spoiling for a fight / Hoping for a miracle / And there's no miracle in sight" -- didn't make it onto this masterwork of pop deconstruction. But late at night, isn't this just where we want to schlump around?

7. "I'm in the Mood Again" -- Elvis Costello
From North (2003)
Ah, Nick's old partner in crime, Elvis Costello, indulging his jazz side on this idiosyncratic 2003 album. You can't blame him, besotted as he was with his new wife jazz pianist-singer Diana Krall. But I have to say, he makes it work, in this stylish ode to the City That Never Sleeps.

8. "Superstar" -- The Carpenters
From Carpenters (1971)
Did I say "haunting"? This brilliant track is haunting on SO many levels, as I explain here.

9. "Walking After Midnight" -- Patsy Cline
From Patsy Cline Showcase (1961)
Probably the best late-night song ever. Forget the jaunty beat; this is an ode to doggone lonesomeness, with Patsy's trademark heart-on-her-sleeve wistfulness. I love how this 1961 re-recording of her 1957 hit foregrounds her amazing voice; yeah, the added background singers throw in a note of cheese, but hey, it was 1961.

10. "It's Getting To Be Evening" -- Charles Brown with Johnny and Shuggie Otis
From Great Rhythm and Blues Oldies Vol. 2 (1974)
R&B royalty indeed. The great singer Charles Brown, bandleader Johnny Otis, and his prodigy son guitarist Shuggie Otis, coming together for this laidback, boozy, sexy stroll through the wee small hours.  This track absolutely defies you to be in a hurry. Where else could you possibly be going at this time of night?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

A "Summer" Shuffle

Lazing on a sunny afternoon, no energy for a full post.  A shuffle, then, from a playlist I put together, titled -- such originality! -- Summer. Click on the song titles to see videos . . . . 

1. "Master Blaster (Jammin')" -- Stevie Wonder
From Hotter Than July (1980)
A little funk, a little reggae, and you've got this jubilant #1 soul hit from 1980.  First track, side two, of Stevie's best-selling LP in the UK.  "Everyone's feeling pretty / It's hotter than July / Though the world's full of problems / They couldn't touch us even if they tried." Stevie wrote this ecstatic anthem to celebrate the peace agreement signed in April 1980 to end 15 years of civil war in Zimbabwe. True, this pact put the controversial Robert Mugabe into office, where he's still entrenched, despite economic failures and a shaky human rights record. But the effervescent mood of this song endures, jammin' until the break of dawn.

2. "Summer Skin" -- Death Cab for Cutie
From Plans (2005)
Ah, the summer romance fated to die after Labor Day -- a pop song staple, and Death Cab gives it a particularly haunting treatment, all minor key and reverb and weltschmerz. From the "squeaky swings" to the lovers peeling their freckled sunburns, we know this love won't last. But how delicious to revel in its evanescence . . . .

3. "Number Every Summer" -- Jon Lindsay
From Escape From Plaza-Midwood (2010)
A suburban kid's summer, nostalgically recalled by one of my favorite indie artists -- if you don't know his stuff you should. I love the sound effects of pool splashes and kids shouting, and the dense production quality, as if swimming in a vat of Coppertone. So evocative.

4. "Fourth of July" -- Dave Alvin
From King of California (1994)
More melancholy scene-setting, this time from ace California roots-rocker Dave Alvin. "On the stairs I smoke a / Cigarette alone / Mexican kids are shooting / Firecrackers below." In the throes of a dying marriage, they've forgotten it's supposed to be a holiday; would it make a difference?

5. "Jamming" -- Bob Marley and the Wailers
From Exodus (1977)
No question that this reggae classic song inspired Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" (see No. 1 above) -- Stevie's lyrics even mention that Marley's on the radio.  In Rasta slang, "jammin'" means smoking ganja, which is more than just getting high -- it's a religious act, invoking Jah and Mount Zion et cetera. No pot on hand? This grooving track delivers a pretty effective contact high of its own.

6. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" -- Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
A little more world beat, bouncy and syncopated, with a bracing dose of post-modern irony.  Who else but these Ivy League hipsters would rhyme Louis Vuitton and Benetton with reggaeton?

7. "California Sun" -- Los Straitjacket with Dave Alvin
From Sing Along With Los Straitjackets (2001)
At last, some uncomplicated sun and fun.  Here's our pal Dave again, singing this vintage surf guitar classic (the Rivieras, 1964) with the instrumental trio Los Straitjackets, known for their goofy luchador head masks.

8. "Watermelon Dream" -- Guy Clark
From Old Friends (1988)
Who needs a beach for summer fun?  Guy Clark invites us to a laidback Texas backyard party -- watermelon slices, peach ice cream, roman candles, and a porch swing. Sink into it.

9. "Beautiful Texas Sunshine" -- Doug Sahm's Tex Mex Trip
From Groover's Paradise (2008)
And while we're in Texas, here's the irrepressible Doug Sahm (remember the Sir Douglas Quintet?), sauntering through a twangy ode to the hill country and the girl he left back home.

10. "Long Hot Summer's Coming On" -- Black 47
From Bankers and Gangsters (2010)
Forget the country -- we're back in the steamy urban summer, courtesy of Black 47's Larry Kirwan, honorary president of the Irish Republic of New York City.  And -- here's a nifty coincidence -- Kirwan sets this song in the summer of 1980, same as our first song. Dig all the topical references, to arsonist Gasoline Gomez, CBGB's founder Hilly Kristal, rocker Tom Verlaine, rock critic Lester Bangs. Hot and gritty, yes, but a summer to remember.