365 Day Song Challenge: Day 7 – “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)”

Day 7: A song that wrenches your heart out from sadness

“Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” — Jim Croce*

D Minor may be the saddest of all keys (shame on you if you don’t know the reference) but a song doesn’t have to be written in Dm to rip your heart out.

Jim Croce had a career that was incredibly short, but very successful. He released his first solo album in April 1972 and died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973. In that short time, he released two albums (and recorded another that was released posthumously in December 1973) and scored two #1 singles.

He’s classed primarily as a folk singer, I guess, but elements of other genres obviously influence his music. For example, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”is hardly what I would call a folk song. So I guess I would call him a “singer-songwriter” and leave it at that. You should, too.

While he could belt out a foot-stomper, he had a knack for the ballad, as well, which is where the undeserved “folk singer” pigeonhole comes in. Today’s song (which, incidentally, appears to be in the key of G, but I’m open to corrections) is an example of one of those ballads.

It’s amazing, but in three short verses (and I mean short: they’re only four lines each) with a matching number of chorus refrains, the narrator goes from hopeful, standing tall, confident he’s overcome the heartache of a love who betrayed him to once again heartbroken and beaten. You can feel him getting a little more sad and desperate in each verse, as he relates the events to the unheard operator, and your heart breaks along with him. If you can get to the last verse where he quietly tells the operator “you can keep the dime” without feeling some heartache, you’re in desperate need of an emotional overhaul.

This, and the other songs on his Photographs & MemoriesGreatest Hits album, is some of the earliest music I can remember. I recall listening to it in the living room of our house in Willoughby, Ohio. We moved away from there in June of 1977, so I was no more than six at the time.

It was actually an 8-Track tape (and kids, if you don’t remember cassettes, you really won’t remember 8-Tracks). I can still picture it, partly because its plastic housing (at least the copy we had) wasn’t the typical black or white, but a brownish color more in line with the album cover art.

It was also notable because it was one of the extremely rare places where the musical tastes of my brother and my mother intersected. It was my brother’s tape, but my mom played it far more often. I still enjoy it to this day, and recommend you check it out.

Incidentally, Croce died when his chartered plane crashed during takeoff while traveling from one tour stop to another. He was a talent who was taken far too early. Hopefully, he’s not forgotten.

* Another in a long series of changes I made from my original list. My original selection was “You Can Finally Meet My Mom” by Train. Which still rips my heart out, but its recitation of celebrities that have passed on before mentioning the narrator’s lost mother is overall a little cheesy, even if the last line of each verse gets me every time.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 6 – “Ça Plane Pour Moi”

Day 6: A song from an Artist you discovered from a TV show

“Ça Plane Pour Moi” — Plastic Bertrand

Have you ever had your significant other say to you “You’ve got to see this!” and you get a little worried? That happens to me a lot, because I never know if it’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing that I’m about to see.

The details are a bit fuzzy on how we got on the topic, but suffice to say, one day my girlfriend (now wife) Laura out of the blue says “Oh! You gotta see this. It woke me up out of a dead sleep.” I’m thinking explosions or gore or something. So she flips on the TiVo and goes to The Late Late Show listing. Now I’m curious, because I’m not sure what Colin Ferguson could have done to elicit such excitement.

The recording starts and the picture is filled with Christina Perri singing her ballad “Home.” Nice, but not exactly earth-shattering. I give Laura a look that obviously says “You’re out of your gourd.”

“No, no!,” she says. “That was the end of Letterman.” The credits roll, and The Late Show is done.

So now the screen is filled with… Well. I can’t explain it. So I’ve included the video below. But before you watch it, see if your thought timeline matches mine:

0:00 – 0:06: “WTF?”
0:07 – 0:16: “Okay, this is weird.”
0:17 – 0:26: “This is weird but funny.”
0:27 – 0:29: “I am now laughing so hard and loud that I can’t hear… oh crap, I peed my pants…”
0:30 – 0:45: “This is really weird but really funny.”
0:46 – 0:47: “There they are again! This is hilarious! Oh crap, again? I’m too young for Depends…”

At this point I vaguely remember Laura saying she loved the song, me responding that I’d never heard it before, and continuing to watch with some combination of the “WTF?” and “This is hilarious!” modes noted above.

All right, I’ll let you watch it now so you figure out what the hell I’m talking about:

The “performance” bears repeated views because there’s just a lot going on. Some of my favorite things are the rabbit and crocodile (as you may have guessed), the menacing punk-rocker face Colin Ferguson makes during the “guitar solo” from 1:09 to 1:26, and the general chaos ( and Ferguson’s dancing) from 1:43 to about the 2 minute mark.

After we decided we were never ever deleting that from the TiVo (we still have it some 30 months later) she told me how she remembered it growing up. However, I do not remember it at all. I honestly don’t think I’d ever heard it before that moment. But I love it. And I don’t know if it’s the fact that the skit just cracks me up so much or the pseudo-punk catchiness of the song or something else, but it’s now among my favorites. I can’t help but smile when I think of it. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to writing this post because it’s just so much damn fun. I hope you like it, too.

Interesting aside: “Plastic Bertrand” did not actually sing the vocal. It was actually an uncredited “Milli Vanilli” moment by the record’s producer. So there you have it.

I am the king of the divan!

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 5 – “Domino”

Day 5: A song that you quote to people

“Domino” — Genesis

For those of you who only know the Genesis of “Invisible Touch” and “I Can’t Dance,” it may come as a surprise to you that the band started as a Progressive Rock outfit, with Peter Gabriel as lead singer, specializing in very long songs. Their longest, “Supper’s Ready” is a nearly 23 minute opus broken up in to seven parts. (Stay tuned, for “Supper’s Ready” will get its own mention later.)

Gabriel left, Phil Collins took over as lead singer, and as the 80s dawned, Genesis adapted, (or as some people will undoubtedly say—incorrectly, in my view—”sold out”) and shorter, more radio-friendly songs became the norm, paving the way for the massive success of the singles I mentioned earlier as well as a string of Top 5 albums.

Thankfully, they didn’t completely abandon the long song. Even their most commercial album, 1986’s Invisible Touch, contained two songs that clocked in at over 8 minutes: “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” (also released as a 4+ minute single) and “Domino”, another officially two-part (but more like three-part) suite clocking in at roughly 10:45.

The song deals, broadly, with cause and effect (thus “Domino”), but lyricist Tony Banks took the opportunity to throw a jab in with this lyric:

Well now you never did see such a terrible thing,
As was seen last night on the TV.
Maybe if we’re lucky they will show it again,
Such a terrible thing to see.

I love the subtle tongue-in-cheek element, and, while written almost thirty years ago, these lines are even more relevant today when you consider our current always-online, YouTube-obsessed culture:

“Oh man, did you hear about the guy who crashed into a pole and it ripped his face off! I think he died!”
“That’s horrible!”
“Yeah, you want to see the video? I’ve already watched it twelve times! It’s so cool. Let me get my phone!”

And no, I will not give you the link.

Admit it, you can’t tell if that happened or I made it up, can you? Can you?

Okay, I made it up, but I bet you can easily come up with a real-life analog. Get a life people! Less YouTube, more Genesis. There, I said it.

I could go on and on about this song, as I think it’s a great one with lots of musical changes and nuances, as well as being part of one of my favorite live moments at a concert, but I’ll spare you.

For now.

So… What song do you quote to people?

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 4 – “I’m Falling”

Day 4: A song you like from a movie soundtrack

“I’m Falling” — The Comsat Angels*

I can hear you already: “Who the hell are The Comsat Angels, and what movie is this from, anyway?”

By now, my somewhat warped sense of humor should be coming through, and I’m proud to say that it was influenced by the movie Real Genius. This 1985 movie starred Val Kilmer, and was wedged between his roles in Top Secret! and Top Gun. It’s a brilliantly funny movie that bombed in theaters, but became something of a cult classic later. Maybe if they called it Top Genius it would have gotten more attention and box office?

The 80s had its share of college-themed comedies. Animal House (yes, I know, actually the 70s but I lump it into this category anyway), Revenge of the Nerds, and this film among them. While Animal House was over the top, and Revenge of the Nerds caricaturish and completely implausible (see this video for a more likely version of events), Real Genius, although a farce, was more in line with the people I knew. Weird and awkward, yes, but not wearing pocket protectors and ties. (Well, everyone in my high school wore ties, but that’s a different story.) It would hit even closer to home when I went to college. I knew people like this.

Comsat Angels – “I’m Falling”

Powered by www.Mp3Olimp.net

Admittedly, I’m a geek, so the fact that Real Genius handled smart people as people and not stereotypes was refreshing. And they were funny. For instance:

Chris Knight: Kent puts his name on his license plate.
Mitch: My mom does the same thing to my underwear.
Chris Knight: Your mom puts license plates in your underwear? How do you sit?
Mitch: You know, um, something strange happened to me this morning…
Chris Knight: Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?
Mitch: No…
Chris Knight: Why am I the only one who has that dream?

It is an 80s movie, so it does have the requisite montage sequence, during which “I’m Falling” played. This particular montage was about people “cracking down” and all the various activities that take place as they gear up towards the end of the year, including one guy just completely losing it and screaming while everyone in the room simply continues to study as if nothing is going on.

No, I’d never heard of this band before, and before the movie, had never heard the song, but it has a vibe to it that fit the scene perfectly, at least in my opinion. And after you watch a movie several dozen times (I’m not joking) the songs seem to stick in your head a bit.

Alas, no soundtrack album for Real Genius was ever released, so getting the music is an exercise in research and hard work. (I started looking for the songs on Napster! Remember Napster? I guess it didn’t turn out to be the downfall of modern civilization.) But with some perseverance it can be done. Heck, as you can see I couldn’t even find a mainstream link to this song to include in the post.

In that vein, at some point I had also found and downloaded an album by The Comsat Angels. “How was it?” you ask? Well, let’s just say that “I’m Falling” is the only Comsat Angels on my iPod right now and leave it at that, shall we?

Oh and one last quote, which I often repeat:

Professor Hathaway: You still run?
Chris Knight: Only when chased.
* This is another instance where the song I’m writing about is not the song that I chose the first time around. That was “Think” by Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers. Great song; great movie. But this song seems to gel with the movie more than “Think” which is more of a performance piece in that film.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 3 – “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me”

Day 3: A song you listened to as a kid, that you thought made you cool. Real Cool.

“It’s Still  Rock & Roll To Me” — Billy Joel*

Most people I talk to of my generation have “roller skating songs.” That is, songs that they relate to going around and around at the roller rink ad nauseum while a “DJ” played the latest tunes. And of course “The Limbo.” When typed out like that, the concept just sounds silly, so I suspect there’s some sort of Manchurian Candidate-style hypnosis going on from the constant circles that firmly ingrains these songs into your head and makes you think “Roller Skating! All right!” Some sort of covert roller skating rink manager plot to make you want to come back or something. I dunno.

As you may have guessed “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” is one of my roller skating songs. I can’t hear it without thinking of “Magic River”, the local rink, where I heard it too many times to count. At the time, (and at that age, which for me is 8 to about 11) roller skating was cool. Hanging out at the rink was cool. And I seemed to spend a lot of time there, even though it probably wasn’t as much as I remember. Video games (in their very early stages), bad snack bar food, and friends. What more could you ask for, right?

I was really just starting to pay attention to music that didn’t come from my parents when this song was released. My brother, who is a pretty big music junkie himself, had what seemed to be every album ever released. Billy Joel’s Glass Houses was among them. So like a good little hypnosis subject, I promptly had him put the first side (which culminated with today’s subject song) on a cheap cassette. I can’t tell you how many times I played that tape on my cheap tape player. Ah! The good old days. (I seem to be regressing, because this is both pre-Power Wagon and pre-boom box)

I was never cooler, really. The teen years come along and social strata change. What (and who) are cool at age 10 aren’t necessarily cool when you’re 12 or 14 or in high school. Luckily, things change again when you become an adult and the cool factor isn’t just about the clothes you wear or the car you drive. Well, not as much anyway, depending on the circles you run in.

Years later, I would remember that early tape and think “I really should have had my brother tape both sides.” And  then one day I bought Glass Houses and discovered that (with the exception of “All For Leyna”) um… no, I did the right thing. I mean, c’mon Billy, “C’Etait Toi”? WTF?

But, y’know, it’s funny, to this day I start to listen to the album, get to “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” and the next thing I know, it’s three hours later and I’m wearing roller skates…

“Every limbo boy and girl, all around the limbo world…”

* This is one instance where the song I’m writing about is not the song that I chose the first time around. That was “Run, Runaway” by Slade, which, while a good song, was more of a grasp for something than this one.