Wednesday, August 31, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: A song that reminds you of somewhere (day 6)

I've always loved music and I often marvel at how certain songs become attached to a random moment or place in time — even the mundane moments that have no reason to be memorable. Today's tune, Robert Plant's "I Believe" (which could also fit day 14 — a song some might be surprised that I love), is one of those songs. Whenever I hear its plaintive melodies, I always remember a specific moment when I heard it on the radio in 1993. I was driving home from college (Ole Miss) at the end of a semester after taking my last exam, packing up and hitting the road to Corinth. I was on the twisty snake known as Mississippi Highway 30, somewhere in the edge of or a little east of the Holly Springs National Forest, where the two-lane highway bobs and weaves amongst kudzu-covered northeast Mississippi hills. And the image that's attached is the setting sun beaming through the trees as Plant elegizes his lost son, who died as a young child. "I Believe" has a hypnotic, dreamy quality that sticks with the soul, and the pain that birthed this beauty is evident:

Big fire, on top of the hill
A worthless gesture, and last farewell
Tears from your Mother, from the pits of her soul
Look at your Father, see his blood run cold
Like the wind, you are free
Just a whisper, I hear you, so talk to me

Monday, August 29, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: An obscure song that you love (day 5)

(Note: I'm asking readers to indulge me today as I'm exercising some editorial discretion and replacing "a song that reminds you of someone" with today's alternate category of my choosing.)

The production triumvirate of Stock, Aitken & Waterman was responsible for some pop gems and some awful music in the late '80s. One of their happy accidents was Carol Hitchcock, who got no further than the release of a single, "Get Ready," in 1987. The song hit #56 in the UK and, best I can tell, missed the Billboard Hot 100 entirely. That's a shame, because it's a cracking cover of the Motown classic, with SAW in top form and Hitchcock, whose bald look unfortunately became the most notable thing about her in terms of pop history, pulling off a competent vocal performance. But what I'd like to call your attention to is the single's B-side, Hitchcock's take on "More Than Words Can Say," a SAW ballad that had already appeared on Mel & Kim's SAW-produced album and that would also go on to be butchered by Hazell Dean as her B-side to "Love Pains." The Mel & Kim version sounds like a weak Rick Astley album cut — in other words, chintzy. Judging by the few comments on the YouTube video below, however, I may be in the minority in believing Hitchcock pulled off the definitive version of this track, thanks to a convincing vocal and a rare moment of restraint on the part of SAW, who approach the ballad with a delicate touch, playing up the guitar riffs and setting aside the dance track. This effective song could have been something in the right time and place — I can easily imagine an established chanteuse like Laura Branigan singing it and Casey Kasem counting it down.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: A song that makes you sad (day 4)

Alanis Morrissette regained my attention in a big way with 2008's Flavors of Entanglement, which was partly inspired by the end of a relationship. This wrenching ballad, which serves as a companion piece to the equally brilliant single "Not As We," mourns the moment that Alanis has to lay down her torch for the one she loves. What really gets me is how it memorializes love in the small details, the things that she will remember when she is alone and that will cause a tear to slip down her cheek:

I miss your smell and your style
And your pure abiding way
Miss your approach to life
And your body in my bed
Miss your take on anything
And the music you would play

It admittedly has Morrissette's perhaps overly familiar lyrical structure involving a list of things, but I think it's one of her finest moments as a songwriter.

Monday, August 22, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: A song that makes you happy (day 3)

There are songs you like, and then there are songs that make you feel something. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "(Forever) Live and Die," a #19 hit in 1986, has always been one of those for me. And despite lyrics about "why you make me want to cry," it does give me a happy feeling, because there's just something powerfully evocative in that lovely synth and brass production (props to Stephen Hague) and those ascending vocal harmonies. The feeling it evokes is also tinged with nostalgia, although the only thing it really reminds me of is standing at the door waiting for the school bus while the song played on VH1 in the background. I didn't own the song until many years later when I got an OMD compilation; I had no idea what the name of the song was, in fact, although the tune had stuck with me through the years. I particularly like the dreamy, lilting intro, and the brassy instrumental bridge. It all somehow combines to feel like a perfect autumn day spent on a carnival ride, holding hands with the one you love.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: Your least favorite song (day 2)

As with choosing a favorite, there are so many possibilities, and I strongly considered Warrant's "Cherry Pie" and Nickelback's "Photograph" before settling on "One Sweet Day," Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's record-holder for most weeks at number one (16) on the Billboard Hot 100. Given the song's earnest sentiment, this may seem cold, but I truly hated this inescapable, overwrought treacle from the first time I heard it. My animosity towards it also reflects my loathing of that time in mid-90s radio, when R&B had taken over and every chart-topper seemed to be there for 10 weeks or more; it was as if radio decided we would only listen to about 40 songs per year. I have equal loathing for Boys II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" and "End of the Road." Before I'm accused of being a hater, it should be noted that both artists have songs that I do like, and Mariah hovers just outside the top 50 on my artist chart.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

30-Day Song Challenge: Your favorite song (day 1)

Seriously, how do you pick just one? I could spend a year whittling it down to a short list of possibilities. So, I've chosen one of the standout songs, "Alive," from my favorite album of last year, Goldfrapp's Head First. It's a little more sunny and positive than the typical 'frapp tune, and it's arguably the best example of the album's brilliant melding of synthy '80s pop sounds into their modern, elegant dance music. The cheeky video complements the upbeat vibe with an odd mix of vampires, zombies and '80s workout video; you wouldn't be surprised to see Olivia Newton John suddenly pop out, dressed in the spandex from her "Physical" video.

With this post, I'm kicking off the 30-Day Song Challenge, which has been a popular Facebook meme. I'm rarely on Facebook, so I didn't stumble across it until checking out Daft Monk's blog, where he's just wrapped up the challenge. Check out his answers for a good read. I'm already well intrigued by how these deceptively simple categories make you stop and consider the music that defines you. One caveat for my list — I do plan to swap out a handful of the categories for something I think is more interesting; there are a few of them for which I simply don't have an answer.


2.5 out of 5

The extent to which this movie got generally favorable reviews suggests that our collective craving for a thoughtful, frightening movie has gone unsatiated of late. Competently and stylishly executed, Insidious certainly is better than the typical horror abomination of the week such as Darkness Falls, which I had the misfortune of watching on satellite a few nights ago, but it doesn't earn a spot on the top shelf, either. The trailer gave away the movie's best line — "It's not the house that's haunted" — and this plot centering on a troubled child is definitely not staking out original territory. In fact, I couldn't help thinking of Poltergeist, given that both have a child trapped in another realm, a paranormal investigation team that comes in to assist, and a rescue attempt by one of the parents. It doesn't help that we have a villian that looks like a Sith lord lost from the set of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace; with Saw director James Wan at the helm, it isn't surprising that subtletly gets lost. The best part of the movie is the fairly brief appearance of the paranormal investigators led by Lin Shaye, who brings a certain gravitas, even if she is no Tangina. A couple of bumbling and bickering assistants provide some comic relief, but, by this point, the movie is trending more silly than unsettling.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Erasure's forthcoming album art

I've long been a fan of Erasure's sleeve art as well as their music, with some rare exceptions, such as the uninspired, cheap-looking artwork for the Other People's Songs campaign. It got a big dodgy again for the last album, Light at the End of the World; I remember someone commenting that it looked like a Zale's jewelry circular. And now, the artwork for Tomorrow's World, which looks like a fairy's heart exploded butterflies, is leaving me cold. Based on sculpture by Kate MacDowell, it looks like something that would be on the cover of a 12-year-old girl's diary. I'm not feeling it, but at least buzz is good for the Frankmusic-produced album.