Wednesday, November 27, 2019

"Thanksgiving Day"/ Ray Davies

I'd like to think that Ray Davies did this on purpose -- sat down and thought, "What holiday doesn't yet have too many songs written about it?" And when he realized how few Thanksgiving songs there are, he decided to write one, hoping for that late November airplay.

I'm not much of a radio listener, so I don't know whether his stratagem worked. But I do know that this has become my go-to song for the Thursday before Black Friday.

But trust Ray Davies not to slack off, to keep at it until that song had some meat on its bones. And of course, as he homed in on the holiday, he just couldn't help himself: Instead of going all sentimental, which would have been the obvious easy choice, instead he made it about loners and misfits -- the universe Ray understands best -- struggling to find their home against all odds.  The feast they find isn't Hallmark-perfect -- no Martha Stewart perfection, no Instagram fantasy -- but it's what they need.

If you want to know more, here's what I wrote about this song a few years ago.

But maybe it's enough just to listen. Having just come back from a four-day Kinks trip to London (of which more soon), for now I'm happy to let his songs simply melt into my consciousness.  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"Keep It To Yourself"

Amy Rigby/Marti Jones

Well, here's a tale. I was in the gym the other day, dialing up my Latin Groove playlist to accompany my stationary bike ride, when this song cycled up (no pun intended). I thought to myself, "Oh, hello, I never noticed before how sly this song is, pairing that langorous bossa nova beat with such deliciously nasty female snark. This just has to be Amy Rigby, right?" So I fumbled with the damn iPod holster, dropped it, accidentally fast-forwarded, yadda yadda yadda, only to finally read on the playlist that this was a track by the lovely Marti Jones, from her delectable 2014 album You're Not the Bossa Me. 

Which, by the way, I highly recommend.* 

But I digress. As it happens, I downloaded my version of You're Not the Bossa Me, and my music library therefore doesn't show composer info. (GRRRrrr....). No biggie, I guess, to the kids. But it kept nagging me. I knew that Marti's album came to my attention in the first place because the wonderful songwriter Bill DeMain had co-written some tracks on it, and I began to suspect he'd had a hand in this track, too. I just had to know.

And when I reached out to Bill, he confirmed that, yes, he'd co-written "Keep It to Yourself" . . . with none other than Amy Rigby. 

Go figure.

 Amy's version, a demo track, only appeared on her 2002 anthology album 18 Again -- and I'll confess, I have that album, I've got that track in my library, I should have recognized it immediately. Mea culpa. But the good news is that this made me appreciate this wicked little song all over again.

The premise is dead simple, laid down in verse one. She's got a new boyfriend -- a good one this time -- and, to prove his fealty, he's tilting at her windmills. "You say you'd like to kill the man who broke my heart," she starts out, sounding oh so modest, dismissing the idea. ("Me I'm trying so hard to forgive...")

But then comes the about face, the pivot point: Almost shyly (there's the gift of the bossa nova), she just kinda sorta mentions, "But here's his address / Here's his picture / Here's the make and model of his car." Nothing like fingering a perp. And she off-handedly supplies additional info, "He works until four-thirty / Then he hangs out at the topless bar." And with a rueful duck of the head, she adds, "With a girl on each arm / If he should come to harm -- "  The bossa beat kicks in for a pregnant pause pause, before she exhales, "Just keep it to yourself...."

I won't give away any more of the plot -- it unspools like Double Indemnity. It's a perfect storm of wit, snark, and musical style, and it makes me laugh every single time I hear it. No matter who sings it.

 * As you might be able to guess from that title, everything on this album has a bossa nova beat. Latin music 101: Bossa nova was a late 1950s-early1960s reinvention of samba, making things smoother, more chic, more palatable to PanAm sophisticates. It made samba ripe for crossover, and in the early 60s lots of UK and US artists tested the bossa nova waters -- see the Kinks "No Return" or the Beatles' version of "Till There Was You").

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Drive, She Said

"Undun" / Guess Who

Sometimes, you know, you're just in a car, styling down a highway, long trip, looking for an audio groove that'll match your driving groove. And then this thing dials up and it's such a trifecta of sounds: jazzy, mellow, yet anguished. And you tune in and think -- damn, that's one fine track.

She's Come Undun 

I realize that I have no sense of who Guess Who "is" -- Wikipedia confuses me with all the iterations of this band, with its constantly changing personnel. Some names I recognize -- Randy Bachman, who wrote this song (later to be part of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, not that I know their songs any better), and Burton Cummings, who was Guess Who's front man on this 1969 track. But after them it was a rotating cast that never seemed to add up to much.
And maybe because the talent was always changing, their sound was all over the place, at least from the few singles I knew. "These Eyes" sounds a bit like "Undun," but "American Woman"? "No Sugar Tonight"? Or how about their later semi-hit "Clap for the Wolfman"?

Not sure why this should matter -- shouldn't we admire bands with variety and range? But for this band, it feels as if the center doesn't hold.

Yet on this one track, all the stars must have been aligned. I love the flowing samba line of the verses, then how it pivots into something darker (almost a jazz tango) in the abrupt syncopations of the chorus: "It's too late/ She's gone too far/ She's lost the sun" -- hold it, hold it, that wicked pause . . . . and then, diving back into the verse, "She's come undun." Shout out, by the way, to the percussion, which underscores all this, tripping lightly in the verses, then laying down whiplashes in the chorus. And dig that flute solo in the break -- Cummings, apparently, who knew?

I like, too, how the verses deepen. At first, the girl seems reckless, shooting too high, going off course. But in verse three, we learn it's not her fault: "She wanted truth and all she got was lies." It's quite possible the songwriters just ran out of convenient tropes, but for me, that verse rescues the song. The girl's no longer at fault, the world is.

This song is full of questions, which is one of the things I love about it. Yeah, I know, that could just be sloppy songwriting, but as a listener I'm hooked. Who's singing this song, and what's his relation to the girl? (If he's a boyfriend, he's an ex, I imagine, regretting that he couldn't save her. It's just as likely a brother or a friend.) What is this "sun" she's lost? (Her sanity? Her faith? [Bachman was a Mormon].)

And most important, what does "undun" mean? As a spelling person, for years I was bugged by this song title (HOW HARD WOULD IT HAVE BEEN TO SPELL IT "UNDONE"?!) and I still can't quite buy into the deliberate misspelling. But that obscures the question: Is this about a runaway, a bad acid trip, a nervous breakdown, a suicide? The darkness of the choruses, plus Cummings' heartfelt wail on the last "She's come undun" makes me fear the worst.

I've been listening to this song for (on and off) 50 years and I still haven't solved it. Which is a good thing.