EML’s Favorite Songs – “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” by Morris Stoloff

One of my favorite songs from the 1950s is “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” by composer Morris Stoloff. Stoloff served as music director at Columbia Pictures from 1936 to 1962, and was subsequently tapped by Frank Sinatra to be music director of his label Reprise Records.

The beautiful instrumental piece is actually a medley arranged by Stoloff that combined the popular 1933 song “Moonglow”, written by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Eddie DeLange, with the “Theme from Picnic”, written by George Duning for the 1955 film starring William Holden, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Betty Field, Cliff Robertson, Arthur O’Connell and Susan Strasberg. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic by William Inge, the film was adapted for the screen by Daniel Taradash, and directed by Joshua Logan, who also directed the Broadway production. Stoloff’s piece was used in the film, and later released as a single in early 1956. The song spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Most Played by Jockeys chart that spring (from 1955-57, Billboard had four distinct, and rather childishly-named, pop charts: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys, Most Played in Jukeboxes, and Top 100).

From the 1940s to the early 1980s, instrumentals were quite popular and often released as singles. Beginning with the Big Band era and continuing all the way through to the Rock and Disco eras, numerous instrumentals became big hits. Some of the iconic instrumentals that went to #1 include the Benny Goodman classic “Sing Sing Sing”, Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”, Percy Faith’s “Theme from A Summer Place”, Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions”, Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue”, Hugo Montenegro’s “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”, MFSB’s “T.S.O.P”, Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” and Vangelis’ “Theme from Chariots of Fire”. For me, “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” ranks among the best of them. The cool percussion, jazzy piano keys and stirring orchestral strings are positively sublime.

The song is wonderful all by itself, but what makes it even more significant is the fact that it was used for one of the most important and memorable scenes in Picnic. A rather intoxicated Hal, played by William Holden, dances to the song with his college friend Alan’s girlfriend Madge, played by the devastatingly beautiful Kim Novak, while her younger sister Millie, played by Susan Strasberg, watches with teenage envy as she swigs liquor from a bottle hidden in Hal’s jacket. The also intoxicated middle-aged schoolteacher Rosemary, played by Rosalind Russell in one of her finest performances, and the hapless Howard (Arthur O’Connell) watch from the sidelines. Rosemary stews with bitter jealousy as she watches the younger, more beautiful Madge dance with Hal, who she finds both attractive and repellant. It’s an incredible scene taut with sexual tension and desire, and the sensuous song sets the perfect mood.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas

Though we’re officially only one week into Summer 2021, it’s already turning out to be an exceptionally hot one for a large swath of the U.S., and around the Northern Hemisphere. Temperature records have been shattered in many locations, including here in the Coachella Valley of Southern California where I live. On June 17th, the temperature in Palm Springs reached 123 degrees, setting a new all-time record high for June (after hitting 120 two days earlier). In the normally temperate Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon set a new all-time record high of 108 on June 26th, with Seattle also breaking their all-time record with 102 degrees. Those new records look to be short-lived, as they’re forecast to be broken later today!

(Late update: they were indeed broken on the 27th, as high temperatures reached 112 at the official airport station in Portland, and 104 in Seattle, then broken again on the 28th, with temperatures soaring to an unbelievable 116 in Portland, 117 in Salem and 107 in Seattle!)

These crazy-hot temperatures got me thinking about one of my favorite songs from the 1960s, “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas. Originally formed as the Del-Phis in 1957 by Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, (and briefly renamed The Vels in 1961-62), the act was redubbed Martha & the Vandellas in 1962 after Martha Reeves replaced Williams as lead vocalist (and later to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas as Reeves gained prominence). “Heat Wave” (also known as “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave”) was written by the legendary Motown songwriting team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, who also penned numerous hits for the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops and many others. It was the second hit song they collaborated on with Martha & the Vandellas, following their first hit “Come and Get These Memories”.

“Heat Wave” features a gospel backbeat with jazz overtones, accompanied by Reeves’ brassy doo-wop call and response vocals that came to exemplify the style of music later termed as the “Motown Sound”. The rousing instrumentation was performed by in-house Motown musicians the Funk Brothers. The lyrics compare the intense, burning desires of romantic love to hot temperatures experienced during a heat wave.

Appropriately released in July 1963 – during what is often the hottest part of summer – the single was a breakthrough hit for Martha & the Vandellas, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. It also earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording for 1964, making the Vandellas the first Motown group ever to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

It’s a great song and a timeless classic that’s endured to this day. It was later covered by such artists as Linda Ronstadt (who scored a top five hit with it in 1975), The Jam (in 1979) and Phil Collins (in 2010). The Martha and the Vandellas version was featured in the 1970 film The Boys in the Band, in a scene where several of the characters perform an impromptu line dance to the song. It was also used in the 1976 film Carrie and 1979’s More American Graffiti. And in the 1992 film Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg sings the song as part of her Vegas nightclub act saluting ’60s girl groups.

EML’s Favorite Songs – MADONNA: “Vogue”

I’ve been watching season two of the TV series POSE, a show about New York City’s underground drag ball scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, and the first episode featured the hit song “Vogue” by Madonna. The drag ball scene was primarily a young African-American and Latino LGBTQ underground subculture in which people – many of whom lived together in groups of friends as members of families in “houses” that replaced their own families of origin from which they were often estranged due to their being LGBTQ – competed for trophies and recognition by vogueing, a style of dance that involved walking and posing like fashion models on a runway.

Released in March 1990, “Vogue” became one of Madonna’s biggest hits, topping the charts in over 30 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the U.S., and was the best-selling single in the world in 1990. With “Vogue”, Madonna brought underground vogueing into the mainstream. Vogueing has since become a prominent dance form practiced worldwide, and many performers, including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, have followed Madonna’s footsteps by adopting the dance style and incorporating it into their music videos and performances. The song also brought house music into mainstream popular music, as well as reviving the dance music genre a decade after the death of disco.

With its deep house groove and pulsating dance beat, “Vogue” is a wonderful celebratory anthem about escaping one’s problems and enjoying yourself on the dance floor, no matter one’s race, gender or sexual orientation. The music and arrangement were written by producer Shep Pettibone, who had previously worked with Madonna on a number of her songs, and she wrote the lyrics. After completing her work on the Dick Tracy film and soundtrack, Madonna flew to New York and recorded her vocals in a small basement studio on West 56th Street. According to Pettibone, Madonna worked efficiently, rapidly tracking all the verse and chorus vocals in order, and in single takes. He proposed the idea of a rap verse for the middle eight, consisting of namechecking classic film stars and celebrities from Hollywood’s golden age. He and Madonna quickly came up with a list of names, which she immediately recorded. (Wikipedia) The names include Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Gracy Kelly, Jean Harlow, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner and Bette Davis.

“Vogue” was originally intended as the B-side for “Keep It Together”, the final single from Madonna’s album Like a Prayer, but both she and her label Warner Bros. decided it should be released as its own single. And though it had nothing whatsoever to do with Dick Tracy, it was included on the film’s soundtrack album I’m Breathless. I saw the film and liked it well enough to buy the album, but it was mainly because I wanted the song “Vogue”. It’s become my all-time favorite Madonna song – which is saying something, given her remarkable and extensive discography – and also my third-favorite song of the 1990s (after R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”).

The video for “Vogue” was directed by a young David Fincher (who went on to direct such noted films as Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). Shot in black and white, the video was inspired by films and photographs of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, and features Madonna and her dancers vogueing and posing in various choreographed moves. The video has been ranked as one of the greatest of all time by numerous critics and in several polls, and was nominated in nine categories at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, ultimately winning three. Strike a pose!

EML’s Favorite Songs – New Radicals: “You Get What You Give”

It was a nice surprise to see The New Radicals perform their iconic 1998 hit “You Get What You Give” at today’s virtual “Parade Across America”, one of the events celebrating the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The song was one of my favorites of the late 1990s and, even though I was already in my mid 40s when it was released, its uplifting yet culturally rebellious lyrics strongly resonated with me. I also loved it’s exuberant vibe and fantastic melody.

The song also meant a lot to Joe Biden’s son Beau, who considered it an inspirational anthem that gave him strength and solace during his battle with the brain cancer that eventually took his life in 2015. In an article for Entertainment, Tyler Aquilina quoted a passage from President Biden’s 2017 autobiography Promise Me Dad: “During breakfast, Beau would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals. Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most — I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: ‘This whole damn world can fall apart. You’ll be OK, follow your heart.

The Biden inauguration committee invited The New Radicals – who broke up in 1999 just months after “You Get What You Give” was released – to perform less than a week before Inauguration Day. “If there’s one thing on Earth that would possibly make us get the band together, if only for a day, it is the hope that our song could be even the tiniest beacon of light in such a dark time,” band frontman Gregg Alexander said in a statement.

For their Inauguration Day performance, Alexander (wearing an identical hat to the one he wore in the song’s music video), dedicated their performance to Beau Biden and to the new administration, saying in a pre-taped introduction, “When we heard that ‘You Get What You Give’ was a Biden family anthem, we pledged that if Joe won, we’d get together and play our little song, both in memory and in honor of our new president’s patriot son Beau, and also with the prayer of Joe being able to bring our country together again.”

In addition to the song’s special meaning for the Bidens, it also served as future Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff’s (Kamala Harris’ husband) walk-out music during the 2020 campaign.

Wake up kids, we’ve got the dreamer’s disease
Age 14, we got you down on your knees
So polite, we’re busy still saying please

Frienemies, who when you’re down ain’t your friend
Every night we smash their Mercedes-Benz
First we run and then we laugh ’til we cry

But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light, light
You feel your dreams are dying
Hold tight

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give

I’m comin’ home baby
You’re tops, give it to me now

Four A.M. we ran a miracle mile
We’re flat broke but hey we do it in style
The bad rich
God’s flying in for your trial

But when the night is falling
You cannot find your friend (friend)
You feel your tree is breaking just bend

This whole damn world can fall apart
You’ll be OK, follow your heart
You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind
Now say you’re mine

Don’t let go
I feel the music in you
Fly high
What’s real can’t die
You only get what you give
You’re gonna get what you give
(don’t give up)
Just don’t be afraid to live

Health insurance rip off lying
FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they’re multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson,
Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes
Run to your mansions
Come around
We’ll kick your ass in!

Don’t let go
One dance left

The fun video for “You Get What You Give” was filmed in the Staten Island Mall and directed by Evan Bernard. Alexander said he chose this setting because he saw the shopping mall “as a metaphor for society—a fake, controlled environment engineered to encourage spending”. The video shows a band of marauding teenagers, led by Alexander, wreaking havoc in the mall, terrorizing adults and moshing in the food court.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #1: “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

And now we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s, and the song at #1 is the magnificent “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. It’s fitting that the British singer-songwriter would have my #1 song of the 2010s, as her song “Chasing Pavements” was my #100 song of the 2000s. It’s also owing to the fact that Adele is one of the greatest female vocalists of our time, and that “Rolling in the Deep” is a spectacular fucking song!

Released in November 2010, it was the lead single and opening track of her phenomenal second album 21, which is now one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, setting numerous chart and sales records, and topping the album charts in the U.K., U.S., and around the world. It was the top-selling album in the world both in 2011 and 2012, and as I write this at the end of 2020, 21 has spent 495 non-consecutive weeks (that’s nine and a half years!) and counting on the Billboard 200 Album chart. “Rolling in the Deep” was itself named the #1 song of 2011 on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end list, as well as in Canada, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands. Rolling Stone ranked it #8 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the 21st Century”. It also won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Short Form Video.

It’s been well-documented that Adele conceived of and wrote many of the songs on 21 after a painful breakup with her then-boyfriend. She had begun writing and recording songs for the album while still with him, but couldn’t seem to find much inspiration. Then, the day after her break-up, Adele contacted producer Paul Epworth (who’s co-written and produced songs for Foster the People, Florence + the Machine, Mumford & Sons, Bloc Party & Coldplay, among others), wanting to capture her seething emotions in a song. She told London newspaper The Sunday Times: “We’d had a fuming argument the night before … I’d been bubbling. Then I went into the studio and screamed.”

She and Epworth began restructuring a song she’d been working on, rewriting the lyrics and renaming it “Rolling in the Deep”.  The melody and instrumentation evolved as they went along. After trying out various jazz riffs, Adele sang the first verse “There’s a fire, starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark” a cappella, which then inspired Epworth to come up with a melody on his acoustic guitar. They came up with the strong thumping drum beat to mimic her racing heartbeat. (Wikipedia)

Essentially a song of revenge, Adele called “Rolling in the Deep” a “dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune written as a ‘fuck you'” to her ex-lover after his disparaging remarks that she was weak and that her life without him would be “boring and lonely and rubbish.” As the song unfolds, Adele’s emotions, as told through the lyrics, run the gamut from angry: “Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your shit bare / See how I leave with every piece of you / Don’t underestimate the things that I will do“, to defiant: “Baby, I have no story to be told / But I’ve heard one on you and I’m gonna make your head burn / Think of me in the depths of your despair / Make a home down there as mine sure won’t be shared“, to wistful: “We could have had it all / Rolling in the deep / You had my heart inside of your hand / But you played it. You played it, You played it, You played it to the beat.”

The dark and rather surreal video, directed by Sam Brown, shows Adele singing the song while sitting on a chair in an abandoned house. Various scenes show a room filled with hundreds of water-filled glasses vibrating to the beat, a drummer playing his drums under a staircase, and a ghostly figure dancing about a room kicking up white dust, while in yet another room, white china is thrown against an illuminated piece of plywood suspended from the ceiling. Finally, a white model of a city on a large table is set afire by five bursting light bulbs, all of which signify a relationship that’s gone up in flames. In addition to its Grammy for Best Short Form Video, the video also won 2011 MTV Video Music Awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. As of the end of 2020, it’s been viewed more than 1.76 billion times.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #2: “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra

Song #2 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra. I still vividly remember the night in 2013 when the song won the Grammy award for Record of the Year. Prince was presenting the award in that category at the ceremonies that night, and as he opened the envelope to announce the winner, he said “I love this song.” So do I, along with millions of others around the world. It was a massive hit, selling over 12 million copies and reaching #1 in the U.S., UK, Australia and 23 other countries. It was named the #1 song of 2012 on the Billboard Hot 100, Adult Pop and Alternative charts, and was one of the biggest hits of the decade. Not only did it win a Grammy, it also won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) for Single of the Year.

Gotye (born Wouter “Wally” De Backer in Belgium, and now based in Melbourne, Australia) is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has recorded as both a solo artist and with his band The Basics. Kimbra is a singer from New Zealand. “Somebody That I Used to Know” was first released in Australia and New Zealand in July 2011 as the second single from Gotye’s third studio album Making Mirrors, and later released that December in the UK, and in January 2012 in the U.S. The song explores the bitter breakup of a relationship from the perspective of both parties. Gotye laments: “But you didn’t have to cut me off / Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing / And I don’t even need your love / But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough / No you didn’t have to stoop so low / Have your friends collect your records and then change your number / I guess that I don’t need that though / Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”

Musically, it samples the opening guitar riff from Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfa’s instrumental track “Seville”, and builds from there with spooky synths and an array of mesmerizing beats. One of the notable features is the use of xylophone that gives the song an intriguing, almost exotic vibe. Many music critics noted the similarities between the song and works by Sting, Peter Gabriel and Bon Iver.  Jon O’Brien of AllMusic called it an “an oddball break-up song whose stuttering rhythms, reggae hooks, and hushed vocals sound like The Police remixed by The xx.” (Wikipedia) As for me, I remember being dumbstruck when hearing it for the first time, wondering “what is that song!?!” It’s a beautiful and haunting masterpiece.

Then there’s the amazing video, which was directed by Australian artist Natasha Pincus. It shows Gotye singing the song while standing naked against a neutral backdrop. As he sings, his body and the backdrop gradually become covered with paint so that he seems to be part of a painting. My take is that his identity is being swallowed by his surroundings. The camera eventually pans to include Kimbra, who then sings her response to Gotye: “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over / But had me believing it was always something that I’d done / But I don’t wanna live that way / Reading into every word you say / You said that you could let it go and I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know.” As she sings, she becomes separated from the painting, then the paint starts vanishing from her body, signifying her escape from what was left of their relationship. It’s absolutely brilliant!

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #3: “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts

Song #3 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Stressed Out” by twenty øne piløts. It’s the highest-ranking of their six songs on this list (“Tear in My Heart” was #7, “Ride” #19, “Heathens” #61, “Jumpsuit” #67 and “Chlorine” #87), and is also now one of my favorite songs of all time. Released in November 2015 as the fourth single from their spectacular album Blurryface, the song became a massive hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, Mainstream Top 40, Adult Top 40 and Alternative charts, where it spent 12 weeks on top. It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100.

For those who’ve been living under a rock, twenty øne piløts is a duo from Columbus, Ohio consisting of the ridiculously talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. Incorporating a wildly eclectic mix of genres – including hip hop, rap, alternative rock, pop, reggae, ska, psychedelia, electronica, new wave, folk and funk – and employing a vast array of instruments and synth sounds too numerous to mention, they create music that’s complex, innovative, exciting and totally original. With their unique sound, not to mention Joseph’s distinctively quirky vocals, they sound like no other act, and their music is immediately recognizable.

Blurryface is a loose concept album named after a fictional character called Blurryface, who Joseph said “represents all the things that I as an individual, but also everyone around, are insecure about”, namely, our doubts, fears and self-loathing. Joseph wore black paint on his hands and neck during their live shows and music videos for the album, almost apologizing: “Very dramatic, I know, but it helps me get into that character.”

“Stressed Out” was written by Joseph and produced by renowned musician and producer Mike Elizondo, who’s worked with such diverse artists as 50 Cent, Eminem, Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple, Mastodon, and Ry Cooder, among others. Elizondo was a bit perplexed during the song’s production. In an interview with Billboard, he recalled: “At the time I heard the song, I had no idea what Blurryface was, [and I was] kind of scratching my head going, ‘Dude, uh, what’s Blurryface?’” Well, it’s a brilliant alternative rap-rock song about facing the burdens and responsibility of adulthood while longing for the simplicity and safety of one’s childhood, as well as touching on the insecurities of being a musician. I love the droning, deep bass-driven groove, spooky synths, discordant piano keys, Dun’s pounding drums, and Joseph’s monotone vocals that convey the angst and uncertainty expressed in the clever lyrics.

I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang

I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure and I care what people think

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We’re stressed out

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one

It’d be to my brother, ’cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter

My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think
My name’s ‘Blurryface’ and I care what you think

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out (oh)
Wish we could turn back time (oh), to the good old days (oh)
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out

Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
Used to play pretend, used to play pretend, bunny
We used to play pretend, wake up, you need the money
We used to play pretend, give each other different names
We would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away
Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face
Saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.”
Yeah

The delightful video was directed by Mark Eshelman, and filmed primarily at drummer Josh Dun’s childhood home and the surrounding neighborhood in Columbus. It portrays Joseph and Dun as both children at play and young adults grappling with the onset of adulthood, their parents and siblings looking on in bemused disapproval. It’s been streamed more than 2.1 billion times.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #4: “Sweater Weather” by The Neighbourhood

Song #4 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Sweater Weather” by Southern California alternative pop-rock band The Neighbourhood. It’s hard for me to find the right words to fully describe how deeply I love this stunning song. I know I’ve stated this repeatedly in my discussions of several songs on this list, but I fell in love with “Sweater Weather” the instant I first heard it. The song is from their debut album I Love You, and was originally released in March 2012, but, unbelievably, didn’t chart until a year later. It enjoyed huge success on the Billboard Alternative chart during the summer of 2013, spending 11 weeks at #1, and later peaked at #14 on the Hot 100 and #7 on the Mainstream Top 40.

“Sweater Weather” is a hauntingly beautiful love song with a unique melody and arrangement that’s pretty spectacular, especially given that it was one of the first songs The Neighbourhood ever wrote. It was co-written by group members Jesse Rutherford, Zach Abels and Jeremy Freedman. Abels commented on the writing of the song in a 2014 interview with Radio: “One day Jesse was at my house and I was playing guitar. And he said, ‘Hey that’s pretty cool, let me record that.’ And it just so happened to be ‘Sweater Weather.’ When we got done writing the song, when it was all said and done we were like ‘Okay this is pretty good we should keep writing songs.‘” Rutherford added, “I think ‘Sweater Weather’ might’ve been the best song we’d ever written, but I didn’t think it was going to be the best song we’d ever write. It was kind of like getting a Platinum record, like a little tap on the butt. ‘Good job, keep going’.” The song did indeed go Platinum five times over in the U.S., with over 5 million sales and downloads.

Starting off with a sharp, rapid drumbeat and throbbing bass line, the band layers a rich palette of sparkling synths and gorgeous plucked guitars to create a breathtaking, almost ethereal backdrop for lead singer Jesse Rutherford’s incredibly sensual plaintive vocals. I love his voice, which so beautifully captures the fervor of a budding romance as he fervently raps the lyrics: “She knows what I think about / And what I think about / One love, two mouths / One love, one house / No shirt, no blouse / Just us, you find out / Nothing that I wouldn’t wanna tell you about, no / ‘Cause it’s too cold for you here / And now, so let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater.”

Two-thirds into the track, the melody and instrumentals abruptly transition to a languid tempo, highlighted by an achingly beautiful strummed guitar and bassline. Rutherford coos “Woah, woah, woah / Woah, woah, woah, woah…” before repeating the final chorus “‘Cause it’s too cold for you here / And now, so let me hold both your hands in the holes of my sweater.” It’s perfection from beginning to end, firmly planting “Sweater Weather” among my favorite songs of all time.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #5: “Love Me Again” by John Newman

The song at #5 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the magnificent “Love Me Again” by British singer-songwriter and musician John Newman. I was literally stunned the first time I heard this electrifying song, and to this day it still has the power to blow me away. The song was first released in May 2013 as a digital download in Europe, but not until June 30 in the UK and the U.S. Written by Newman and Steve Booker, “Love Me Again” was the lead single from Newman’s debut album Tribute. It was a big hit in the UK and across Europe, reaching the top five in many countries and #1 in Britain, Scotland and Greece. But it had only moderate success in the U.S., where it peaked at #13 on the Billboard Adult Top 40 and only #30 on the Hot 100. The song strongly resonated with me, and spent 4 weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart.

Newman has an arresting powerhouse voice, characterized by a raspy, soulful quality that gives him a distinct sound unlike any other singer I know of. With a raw, unbridled passion rarely heard in other vocalists, he laments over the hurt he’s caused his lover “Know I’ve done wrong / I left your heart torn / Is that what devils do? / Took you so low where only fools go / I shook the angel in you“, then fervently pleads for forgiveness as if his very survival depends upon it: “I need to know now, know now, can you love me again?

The song’s dramatic arrangement and instrumentation are spectacular, with a bold, almost angry piano riff, wailing organ, swirling strings, horns, and some of the fiercest drumbeats I’ve ever heard. After the adrenaline rush induced by the intense instrumentals and vocals, by song’s end I’m completely wiped out. Wow!

The official video produced for the song was directed by Vaughan Arnell, and is based on the classic love story of Romeo and Juliet. Newman is shown performing the song on stage in a club, while a woman, played by French actress Margaux Billard as the Juliet character and carefully watched over by her brother Tibalt, played by Joseph Steyne, flirts with the Romeo figure played by British model Tommy-Lee Winkworth. The video ends in a cliffhanger as they’re hit by a truck while running from the club, their fate unknown until Newman’s follow-up single “Cheating” reveals that they had indeed survived the hit-and-run accident. The violent and abrupt ending nearly ruins the video for me, unfortunately, as I hate violence. I suggest watching/listening to the audio video first – with the volume turned up – to fully appreciate the power and glory of this incredible song. Then watch the official video.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #6: “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

The song at #6 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Feel It Still” by alt-rock band Portugal. The Man. The second of their songs on this list (“Live in the Moment” is #66), “Feel It Still” is one of those songs that virtually everyone loves, thanks to an irresistibly catchy retro melody and driving bass line, that awesome little guitar riff, and lead singer John Gourley’s delightful falsetto. It was the second single from the band’s eighth album Woodstock.

Originally from Wasilla, Alaska and based in Portland, Oregon since 2004, the band’s quirky name has a simple back story. In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Gourley explained “A country is an individual in the world that represents a group of people, so I decided we would name our band after a country and Portugal happened to be the one that popped up. In hindsight, we should’ve named it something to do with Alaska. But you become so burnt out on beluga whales and huskies, you don’t appreciate it the same way.” 

If listening to “Feel It Still” brings a ring of familiarity, it’s because the melody used in the chorus was inspired by The Marvelettes’ 1961 hit “Please Mr. Postman”. The band respectfully (and tactfully) included that song’s original writers in the songwriting credits for “Feel It Still”. The lyrics are filled with meaning, making reference to both personal and sociopolitical themes. For example, the line “In case my baby girl is in need” was inspired by Gourley’s young daughter, while “I been feeling it since 1966 now, Might be over now, but I feel it still” refers to a year of seismic societal and cultural changes, and “It’s time to give a little to the kids in the middle, but, oh until it falls won’t bother me” is a back-handed slap down of Trump’s call for a border wall. It’s a short track, only 2 minutes and 43 seconds long, but packs a real punch.

The song was a massive hit for Portugal. The Man, spending an astonishing 20 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, as well as many weeks at #1 on the Adult Alternative and Adult Pop charts. It also peaked at #4 on the Hot 100. It’s a fantastic song and an instant classic.

Can’t keep my hands to myself
Think I’ll dust ’em off, put ’em back up on the shelf
In case my little baby girl is in need
Am I coming out of left field?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Got another mouth to feed
Leave it with a baby sitter, mama, call the grave digger
Gone with the fallen leaves
Am I coming out of left field?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966, now
Might’ve had your fill, but you feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

We could fight a war for peace
(Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now)
Give in to that easy living
Goodbye to my hopes and dreams
Start flipping for my enemies
We could wait until the walls come down
(Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now)
It’s time to give a little to the
Kids in the middle, but, oh until it falls
Won’t bother me

Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming?
Is it coming back?

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, yeah
Your love is an abyss for my heart to eclipse, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still

Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
I’ve been feeling it since 1966, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now
Let me kick it like it’s 1986, now
Might be over now, but I feel it still
Might’ve had your fill, but I feel it still

The satirical and somewhat humorous video generated a bit of controversy upon its release. Directed by Ian Schwartz, it features Gourley walking through an auto-wrecking yard, along with scenes of a bar fight, a couple having sex in the back of a junked car, and a man setting fire to a newspaper labeled “Info Wars.” InfoWars is the controversial website of the detestable right-wing nut Alex Jones, who rants about bizarre conspiracy theories. Portugal. The Man are unabashed progressive liberals who often speak out publicly about social injustice and politics, and their pointed shot at Jones and his crazy followers predictably got them riled up into a tizzy.