Song of the Day Challenge – Day 13: COLD WAR KIDS – “Complainer”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song that describes you”. Self-reflection can often be a difficult thing to do, but sadly, I have to go with the song “Complainer” by L.A. alt-rock band Cold War Kids. While some of the lyrics don’t exactly describe me or my personality, the title absolutely does. All my life, I’ve been a glass half-empty pessimist and malcontent. I bitch, whine or moan about at least one thing or another on a daily basis, driving those around me nuts for as long as I can remember. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. On the plus side, three things that keep me from being a complete asshole are my inherent kindness, empathy and sense of humor.

Getting back to the music, I’m a big fan of Cold War Kids. My favorite songs from them are “First”, “Love is Mystical”, “So Tied Up” and “Miracle Mile”, and I also love their cover of Rihanna’s “Love On the Brain”.

 

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 12: THE BEATLES – “She Loves You”

Beatles-She-Loves-You

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song from your childhood” and my pick is “She Loves You” by The Beatles. It ranks among their greatest songs, and is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs.

Anyone who was a kid or teenager in the early to mid 1960s remembers the first time they heard a song by The Beatles. They started out playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany in 1960, and in October 1962, their first single “Love Me Do” was released in the UK. “She Loves You” was released in the UK in August 1963, where it became the best-selling single of 1963, and remains to this day the top-selling Beatles single ever in the UK.

Because of contract disputes with their American label Vee-Jay Records, “She Loves You” ended up being released in the U.S. by Swan Records in September 1963. Shockingly, it sold only around 1,000 copies and failed to chart. But after the meteoric success of the Capitol Records release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” launched the so-called “British Invasion” of the American music scene at the end of 1963, “She Loves You” finally entered the Billboard chart in late January 1964, and spent four weeks at #2 behind “I Want to Hold Your Hand” before replacing it at #1 that March.

It’s such a joyful and exhilarating song that resonates with young and old alike. The lyrics are from the perspective of a go-between, who tells a friend that his estranged girlfriend still loves him, and that he needs to apologize to make things right with her:

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you’ve lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
But now she says she knows
You’re not the hurting kind

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad

You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her

Because she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 11: JUDY GARLAND – “The Man That Got Away”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song you wish you could witness live”, and my pick is “The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland. Specifically, it’s her performance of the classic torch song at her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, which many called “the greatest night in show business history”. Truth be told, I would like to have seen her perform any one of a number of her iconic songs at that show, but choose “The Man That Got Away” because of the incredible sense of vulnerability and heartbreak she conveys in her powerfully raw performance that really tears me up. By 1961, Garland had endured many difficulties, heartaches and setbacks in her life and career, and this show was a personal and professional triumph for her.

Judy Garland had a deep and resonant vocal style in the contralto range, characterized by a tremulous, powerful vibralto. Her voice was unparalleled, and in my opinion, she was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century. In a piece he wrote for Turner Classic Movies, biographer Jonathan Riggs commented that Garland had a tendency to imbue her vocals with a seemingly contradictory combination of fragility and resilience that eventually became a signature trademark of hers. “Those who saw her perform live spoke of the experience in almost mystical terms, especially a comeback performance captured on the Grammy-winning Judy at Carnegie Hall, widely considered the greatest night in show business history. Literally giving her life for her art, Garland poured her soul out in every song, achieving immortality of the highest order and recognition as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.”

The recording from that show, which featured a full orchestra conducted by Mort Lindsey, was released as a two-record album Judy at Carnegie Hall in July 1961. The album became a best seller, spending 73 weeks on the Billboard album chart, 13 of them at #1. It won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Album, and Best Album Cover, and has never gone out of print  since its release 59 years ago! In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. (Wikipedia)

Here’s a famous scene from the 1954 version of A Star is Born where an awestruck Norman Maine, played by James Mason, watches Judy as Esther Blodgett perform the song at an after-hours club:

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 10: ABSOFACTO – “Lemon Drop”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s been stuck in your head”, and my pick is the delightful “Lemon Drop” by Absofacto. I love the song, which is currently in the midst of a long run on my Weekly Top 30.

Absofacto is the solo project of singer/songwriter and musician Jonathan Visger. He’s been making music for over 15 years, first as a member of Michigan-based indie rock band Mason Proper, and later as a solo artist, and recently scored his first breakthrough hit with his captivating single “Dissolve”. A sleeper hit, the song was originally released in 2015, but went nowhere. In 2017, he signed with Atlantic Records and released his EP Thousand Peaces. “Dissolve” was included on the EP, then re-released as a single in 2018, but once again failed to gain traction, which is hard to believe as it’s such a great song.

Absofacto

In 2019, the song received renewed interest due to a meme on the music and video-sharing app TikTok, and became a surprise hit. It debuted on the Billboard Alternative chart in June 2019, and after a long, steady climb, reached #1 in January 2020. Absofacto followed up with the single “Rewind” in November 2019, then in March 2020, dropped “Lemon Drop”, along with another song “Python”.

On his Facebook account, Absofacto describes his music as “warped cloud odd dream beat / bubblejam / idyllicrunk / spacebass / twilight zoneout / wavewave“, which pretty well paints an accurate and colorful picture of his cool, synthpop sound. “Lemon Drop” is one of his best tracks, with a breezy, uptempo vibe and infectious dance beat. He uses lots of sweet and spacey synths to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape for his soft, breathy vocals. They have an ethereal, yet seductive quality that makes them utterly enchanting as he sings to a loved one of his ardor. It’s a fresh and modern take on the age-old subject of romance.

Blond camaro, gold leaf, yellow lemon drop
You’re my one and only, just the way you are
Wanna see the world from the front seat of your car
Tell me you ain’t far, tell me you ain’t far 

Follow Absofacto: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Song of the Day Challenge Day 9: PRINCE – “Baby, I’m a Star”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that makes you dance”, and no song commands that I get up on my feet and shake my tail feathers more than “Baby, I’m a Star” by Prince. The song is from his monumental and groundbreaking soundtrack album for his film Purple Rain. Prince originally composed and demoed the song in December 1981, but the version included on Purple Rain was re-recorded with his band The Revolution in August 1983 at a live performance in Minneapolis. Prince later reworked the live recording in the studio, adding overdubs and other refinements to get the track to his liking.

The song is a joyously upbeat dance anthem about pop stardom, and its lyrics describe Prince’s status as a rising star when he wrote it in late 1981: “You might not know it now, baby, but I are — I’m a star. I don’t wanna stop ’til I reach the top.” Starting with a propulsive drumbeat, Prince layered exuberant synthesizers to simulate a horn section, along with funky guitar and driving bass to create a deliriously electrifying groove that aims for the hips and sends us straight to the dance floor. I think it’s one of the hottest dance tunes ever!

Something I never knew until reading about this song was that the opening barely audible and unintelligible lyrics sung by a woman are actually these played backwards:

Like, what the fuck do they know?
All their taste is in their mouth
Really, what the fuck do they know?
Come on, baby
Let’s go crazy!

Song of the Day Challenge Day 8: KESHA – “Tik Tok”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s a guilty pleasure”, and my pick is “Tik Tok” by Kesha (who also identified herself as Ke$ha back then). The catchy ear worm was co-written by Kesha and producers Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, and released in August 2009. It took its time moving up the charts, but once it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that December, it held the top spot for nine straight weeks. It also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, Germany and 10 other countries.

I love the bouncy, electropop dance beat and hilarious bawdy lyrics about partying, getting drunk and having fun. (Ah, how I fondly remember those days!) Kesha later told Esquire that her inspiration for the song came from her own experiences coming home drunk and stumbling after a night out of partying. The opening line “Wake up in the morning feelin’ like P. Diddy” came from a time where she woke up in a big house (on Laurel Canyon in L.A. where the Eagles recorded “Hotel California”) surrounded by all these “beautiful women”, which led her to imagine P. Diddy being in a similar scenario. And he was more than happy to collaborate on the track, providing his vocals where he responds to her opening line with “hey what up girl“. Kesha’s vocals were heavily auto-tuned, but I think they’re perfectly suited for a song like “Tik Tok”.

On a weird level, the song also touches on female empowerment. In the lyrics “And now the dudes are linin’ up ’cause they hear we got swagger / But we kick ’em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger” and later “Boys try to touch my junk, junk / Gonna smack him if he gettin’ too drunk, drunk“, Kesha makes it clear that she and her girls have the upper hand when it comes to guys, and that they’re not gonna give it up to just anyone. OK, I know it’s a stretch, but work with me here!

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 7: “The Crying Game”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song that’s covered by another artist”, and my pick is “The Crying Game” by English singer Boy George (born George Alan O’Dowd and formerly the vocalist of Culture Club). The song was written by English songwriter and producer Geoff Stephens, and originally sung by English pop singer Dave Berry back in 1964. The rather unusual and haunting lead guitar was played by session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, with a very young Jimmy Page providing additional guitar work. Berry’s recording was a sizable hit in Britain, reaching #5 on the UK Singles Chart.

Boy George The Crying Game

The song was later covered by Boy George in 1992, and both his version and the original Dave Berry recording were used in the 1992 Neil Jordan film The Crying Game. Boy George’s version of the song was produced by the Pet Shop Boys and reached #22 on the UK Singles Chart, #15 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and #1 in Canada and Iceland. I much prefer Boy George’s version, not only because he’s a far better vocalist than Berry, but also because of the stunning music arrangement and production by the Pet Shop Boys, who I’ve long been a fan of and whose music I love.

Boy George had a gorgeous soulful and smooth singing voice, and I think his vocals on “The Crying Game” were among his finest ever. He sings in a soft, heartfelt croon, then rises to a breathy falsetto that’s truly sublime. The Pet Shop Boys used a similar twangy guitar to that used in Berry’s version, but backed it with soaring orchestral instrumentals and psychedelic atmospheric synths that give the song an even more haunting ethereal sound. It’s a magnificent track, and one of my favorite songs of the 1990s. Fun fact: I’ve long wanted to sing this to karaoke, but never summoned enough nerve to do it.

I know all there is to know about the crying game
I’ve had my share of the crying game

First there are kisses, then there are sighs
And then before you know where you are
You’re sayin’ goodbye

One day soon I’m gonna tell the moon about the crying game
And if he knows maybe he’ll explain

Why there are heartaches, why there are tears
And what to do to stop feeling blue
When love disappears

I know all there is to know about the crying game
I’ve had my share of the crying game

First there are kisses, then there are sighs
And then before you know where you are
You’re sayin’ goodbye

Don’t want no more of the crying game
Don’t want no more of the crying game
Don’t want no more of the crying game
Don’t want no more of the crying game

 

Here’s the original recording by Dave Berry:

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 6: Sheryl Crow – “All I Wanna Do”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song from the 90s”, and my pick is “All I Wanna Do” by the lovely Sheryl Crow. Released in April 1994, the song was from her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, and was a breakthrough hit that made her an international star. The song was written by Crow, along with Wyn Cooper, David Baerwald, Bill Bottrell and Kevin Gilbert, and remains her biggest US hit. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1994, spending six straight weeks stuck behind “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men. I think it’s far superior to the sappy “I’ll Make Love to You”, but what do I know? At least it reached #1 in Australia and Canada, and won Grammy Awards in 1995 for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

I love its breezy, country pop vibe and lively mix of twang and slide guitars, but to me the highlight of the song are the wonderful and humorous lyrics that tell the little story of her time spent in a dive bar on Santa Monica Boulevard with a patron named Billy, watching people washing their vehicles at a car wash across the street. The lyrics were adapted from Wyn Cooper’s 1987 poem “Fun”, and resulted in Cooper earning considerable royalties, and also helping to promote his book, originally published in a run of only 500 copies, into multiple reprints. (Wikipedia)

Hit it!
This ain’t no disco
It ain’t no country club either
This is LA!

“All I wanna do is have a little fun before I die,”
Says the man next to me out of nowhere
It’s apropos Of nothing
He says his name’s William but I’m sure,
He’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy
And he’s plain ugly to me
And I wonder if he’s ever had a day of fun in his whole life
We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday
In a bar that faces a giant car wash
The good people of the world are washing their cars
On their lunch break, hosing and scrubbing
As best they can in skirts in suits

They drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks
Back to the phone company, the record store too
Well, they’re nothing like Billy and me, cause

All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard

I like a good beer buzz early in the morning
And Billy likes to peel the labels from his bottles of Bud
He shreds them on the bar
Then he lights every match in an oversized pack
Letting each one burn down to his thick fingers
before blowing and crushing them out
And he’s watching the bottles of Bud as they spin on the floor

And a happy couple enters the bar
Dangerously close to one another
The bartender looks up from his want ads

Otherwise the bar is ours,
The day and the night and the car wash too
The matches and the Buds and the clean and dirty cars
The sun and the moon but

All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I’m not the only one 

 

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 5: Rachmaninoff – “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song everyone should listen to at least once in their life”, and my pick is the magnificent classical masterpiece “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Many have heard a famous snippet of the piece, namely the beautiful 18th variation that’s been featured in numerous films, but I’m guessing relatively few know where that variation is actually from, nor have they heard the exquisite 24-minute long work in it’s entirety.

Although I love classical music dating back to the early 1700s by composers such as Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach, my personal favorite period for classical music is the late romantic and post-romantic era lasting generally from 1860-1935, especially by composers like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Maurice Ravel and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Three of my top 10 all-time favorite classical works – “Symphony No. 2 in E Minor”, “Piano Concerto No. 2”, and “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” – are by Rachmaninoff, making him my favorite composer.

He wrote “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” at the age of 61 while in Switzerland during the summer of 1934. It is written for solo piano and symphony orchestra, closely resembling a piano concerto, but in a single movement. Although it’s performed in one stretch without breaks, it can be divided into three sections, corresponding to the three movements of a concerto: variations 1 to 10 correspond to the first movement, variations 11 to 18 are the equivalent of a slow movement, and the remaining variations make a finale.

It boggles my mind that someone could compose such gorgeous melodies, then decide upon just the right types and number of instruments to use to bring those melodies to life. And then the fact that people are able to coax those gorgeous sounds from musical instruments! It’s also amazing that Rachmaninoff could write such a beautiful work given the fact the world was still in the midst of the Great Depression, and that in Germany next door, Adolph Hitler continued to consolidate power and had already begun his 12-year-long reign of terror.

Rachmaninoff played the solo piano part at the piece’s premiere at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 7, 1934 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The very first recording of the piece was also done by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Stokowski conducting and Rachmaninoff playing piano, and released in late 1934 by the RCA Victor Red Seal label.

Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

The slow and stunningly beautiful 18th variation is by far the best known, and is often included on classical music compilations without the rest of the work. It’s based on an inversion of the melody of Paganini’s theme, in which the A minor Paganini theme is literally played “upside down” in D major, with a few other changes. Rachmaninoff himself recognized the appeal of this variation, saying “This one, is for my agent.” (Wikipedia) That variation is arguably one of the most beautiful and moving melodies ever written, and so breathtaking that it brings tears to my eyes.

The 18th variation has also been used in various movie and TV show soundtracks to different degrees, including The Story of Three Loves (1953), Somewhere in Time (1980),
Dead Again (1991), Groundhog Day (1993), Ronin (1998), the 2014 documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, and a 2015 episode of the TV show The Good Wife. But the entire piece is gorgeous, and worth a careful listen.

I’ve included two videos. The first is a beautiful 2018 performance by the German Philharmonie Südwestfalen at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands, conducted by Gerard Oskamp, with the brilliant young pianist Anna Fedorova doing a masterful job playing the challenging piano parts.

This second video is of one of the definitive performances of “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”, by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1970, conducted by André Previn and with piano by the great pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. I have this recording on both vinyl and CD.

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 4: “I Need A Light”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song by a band you wish was still together.” It’s always sad – or at least bittersweet – when a favorite band of ours calls it quits. Rather than choose a song from one of the great bands of the past, such as the Beatles, Doors, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, etc. – as the idea of any of them getting back together is either impossible or preposterous – I thought I would pick a song from a smaller, more-recent band. A handful of bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past 4 1/2 years have later parted ways for one reason or another, and one that hit me hardest was the dissolution in 2018 of Kansas City rock band Run With It.

The band consisted of Miguel Caraballo on lead vocals and guitar, Ben Byard on bass and backing vocals, and Daniel Cole on drums, and they were an engaging trio and excellent musicians who played as a tight unit. They were one of the first bands to follow me on Twitter in late 2015, and also one of the earliest bands I featured on this blog, first in February 2016, then again in April 2017, when I reviewed their excellent EP How to Start a Fire. One of the songs on that EP was “I Need a Light“, a gorgeous, uplifting song of hope. Thankfully, they’ve kept the video for the song on YouTube.

Also thankfully, Miguel is continuing as a solo artist under the name Just the Miguel. What band do you wish was still together, or would you like to see reunite?