365 Day Song Challenge: Day 78 – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

Day 78: A favorite song with a color in the title.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadI couldn’t quite figure out if I should do “Yellow Submarine” or this song today. (Although, apparently, inclusion of the word “yellow” was required no matter what.) “Yellow Submarine” and I have a long history dating back almost 35 years. But in the end “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” won out.

Maybe because it’s less silly. Maybe it because I have fond memories of listening to it. Maybe it’s just been on my mind. The 40th anniversary of the album was last year, and I read just recently that Island Records (Elton’s current label) is re-releasing it. And of course, they aren’t just re-releasing it. They’re remastering it (again) and to cash in to the greatest extent, it will be available in something like 62 different packaging options. Regular Edition, Deluxe Edition, Super Deluxe Edition, Super-Duper Mega Ultimate Deluxe Edition. (That last one is rare and very hard to find.) You get the picture.

But, I can’t blame people for being capitalists.

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Anyway, I may have before mentioned that prior to my student exchange to Australia I taped a whole slew of albums to take with me. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one of them. I’d been aware of the album for quite a while (and had varying levels of familiarity with some of the songs, like the title track, “Bennie And The Jets,” and “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”), but I’d never really listened to the album as a whole. Well, albums really, since it was released as a double. (I had, though, always been fascinated by its cover. It has to be one of the best album packages ever.)

Once I started listening to this album, I couldn’t stop. And although I love the album as a whole, there’s a lot to be said for the title track. It uses the Oz story to describe a love affair gone sour, where the once-attractive trappings of “the good life” is no longer preferable to the more boring “Kansas.” Elton’s melancholy, understated music and longing vocal is befitting Bernie Taupin’s sad lyric.

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough
Back to the howlin’ old owl in the woods
Huntin’ the horny-back toad
Oh I finally decided my future lies
beyond the yellow brick road.

Before the discovery of the Abacab and Genesis albums, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was well on its way to becoming the soundtrack for that trip. It’s far and away my favorite Elton John album (and I have a lot of them). The songwriting duo were at their peak and the breadth of musical styles on the album is amazing. Nearly every song is a gem (although to be honest “Bennie And The Jets” has never been one of my favorites). Maybe one of these days I’ll talk about “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the amazing suite that starts the album off. (And also has a Genesis connection. Imagine that!)

To my knowledge, Elton doesn’t sing this one anymore. After his throat surgery in 1987, he cut way back on the falsettos and really high notes. And lord knows this one has some high notes. But it’s a shame. It really is a pretty song.

For the record, you didn’t read that picture sleeve above incorrectly. The B-side was, indeed, “Screw You.” However, Elton’s US record company at the time, MCA, thought the title was a little too risky, so they named it “Young Man’s Blues” for US release instead. Which is ironic, because if anyone remembers MCA’s packaging in the early days of CDs, you’d have thought “Screw You” was their theme song. “Ha! You paid full price. You get nothing! Screw you!”

So, yes, I will be a schmuck and buy the re-released album. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it all over again.

And if you don’t like it, then Young Man’s Blues.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 77 – “I Know There’s Something Going On”

Day 77: A song you like with a female vocalist.

“I Know There’s Something Going On” – Frida

I Know There's Something Going OnIt’s funny how you can have a lot to say about a song you hate, but very little to say about a song you really like.

This is one of those cases. I don’t have a story to go with this song, per se, so what I do have is more along the lines of trivia and observations.

“Frida” for those who aren’t in the know, is actually singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad. This might normally mean nothing, but Anni-Frid is, in turn, one of the “A”s in ABBA. (For those that don’t know, each of the letters in “ABBA” stands for the first name of one of the four members. I could name all the others, but I wouldn’t want to show off. Okay, I can’t name all the others.)

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The song (and the album Something Going On from whence it came) was produced by Phil Collins and came on the heels of his unexpected success with his debut album Face Value and a little single called “In The Air Tonight.” (I’m not kidding. It may seems unbelievable now, but no one expected Phil’s solo stuff to do much of anything at the beginning.) He also played drums on the song, giving it his trademark gated drum sound.

To me, right from the get-go, the drums infuse the song with a bit of a sinister feel. The rest of the instrumentation does nothing to change that. And, I suppose if you’re writing a song about someone sneaking around doing naughty things, that’s kind of what you’re going for. Even Frida’s vocals seems less angry than it does accusatory, which still all plays into the mood.

I think the song is well done.

And that’s all I got.

I have no specific memory associated with the song; no story. I like the song quite a bit, and it’s not just because of the Phil Collins connection. (I liked it long before I even knew who Phil Collins was.) It’s a good song to listen to loud, thanks to the driving drumbeat. But an anecdote that does not make.

Tomorrow will be better. I promise. Okay, I can’t promise.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 76 – “Rio”

Day 76: A song by a band/artist you used to dislike but you have come to respect for their talent or hard work.

“Rio” – Duran Duran

RioI went out for the football team to prove that I’m a man;
I guess I shouldn’t tell them that I like Duran Duran.
                                   —”Grade 9″ – Barenaked Ladies

In some ways, Duran Duran in the early 80s were like Justin Bieber (without the idiocy) and One Direction (without the Taylor Swift drama) are today. They were good-looking, the girls all swooned over them and they were on the cover of every teeny-bopper magazine. Because of that, they had a harder time being taken seriously, I think. Sure, they had lots of Top-40 success, but no self-respecting “rock” guy could like them. Scratch that, guys in general simply could not like them.

I was a “rock” guy, and I know I wouldn’t have admitted to liking Duran Duran, even if I did. It was a moot point, though. Of course I didn’t like them, I wasn’t a pre-pubescent girl.

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But I’ve got a secret… Come closer so I can whisper… Make sure no one’s listening… The problem was, despite my denials, I really did like “Rio” and a lot of the other singles. There, I said it.

Yes, any time the “Rio” video came on, I’d watch it. It was my guilty pleasure. And it was so damn catchy!

So, let’s be honest: “Rio” was (and is) a very well-done pop song. And while we’re being honest, let’s admit that there’s really nothing wrong with a pop song. No, it may not be cool to like it if you’re a “rock” guy, the music may not be “epic” or complex, but there’s a craft to writing (and recording) a well-done, successful pop song. (And by “successful” I don’t necessarily mean a “hit” but rather a good representation of the genre.) There are some really talented guys out there in “pop” bands. To be sure there are many more mediocre ones who have to rely on producers to make them sound good. But let’s not forget that The Beatles started life as a pop band.

If you listen to songs like “Hungry Like The Wolf” and “Girls On Film” it’s pretty obvious that “Rio” wasn’t a fluke. So where Duran Duran differ from Bieber and One Direction is that they’re actually good musicians. And they wrote their own music (and I mean really wrote it, not this “co-written with <insert slick producer name here>,” which means someone hummed a melody or threw a lyric line in and got credit). These guys were all talented.

As a keyboard guy, I can’t finish the post without mentioning my admiration for Nick Rhodes. “Rio” is one good example, but “Save A Prayer” is a textbook example of how the right keyboard sound (or sounds) can set the tone for an entire song. You can’t listen to these songs and tell me that Nick Rhodes is not ridiculously creative. Yes, he goes way overboard with the makeup (for crying out loud, Nick, you’re in your 50s, you can stop with the eye-liner and eye shadow), but he knows how to get a sound.

So, I’m sure there were a lot of guys out there who, like me, secretly did like Duran Duran, even if their music collection wouldn’t have hinted at it. Barenaked Ladies nailed this one.

As much as we tried in 1983, their talent can’t be denied. But you didn’t hear it from me…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 75 – “Ah! Leah!”

Day 75: Your favorite song beginning with the letter A.

“Ah! Leah!” – Donnie Iris

donnie-iris-ah-leah-mca-4There was a time in the not-long-distant past where you couldn’t just go to Google or Shazam and instantly find out what a song was or who it was by. Back in the day when you heard a song on the radio that you didn’t know, you had to hope that the DJ would actually tell you.

The problem, of course, was that the DJ’s sucked and they would only ever tell you what the last song was. Of course, that was always the song you already knew, the one that had been all over the radio for months.

That was “Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, wrapping up 24 in a row commercial free on WSCK. Now it’s time for another 3 hours of uninterrupted music. We’ll kick it off with “Jump” from Van Halen.

Wait! What about that song right before “Dancing In The Dark” that I’ve never heard? The one that sounds like it could be The Scorpions, but probably isn’t? That was good. Tell me what it was! I said tell… me… what… it… was.

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But they never listened.

Such was the case with “Ah! Leah!” I had heard it a reasonable number times on the radio—although not a ridiculous number of times—and never knew any of the words. I couldn’t even tell what it was they were singing when they harmonized in the chorus. (Which, in retrospect was very understandable. The lyrics were complex and cryptic. Who could ever expect to decipher them? You know the ones I mean: “Ah! Leah!” Oh, shaddap. What do you know, anyway?)

Anyway, it wasn’t until the mid-aughts (’00s) when I finally learned what the song was, thanks to two designers I worked with. They worked in their own little room, which they liked to keep very dim, and they always had music on back there, courtesy of iTunes Radio. I happened to be there checking up on the status of some projects when “Ah! Leah!” came on. I immediately went over to see what (and who) it was. When I read the title, it all immediately made sense.

It didn’t take me very long to acquire it. And once I got it, I played it a lot. Perhaps it was because it’s such a good song. Perhaps it’s because, right around that same time, the company hired a girl named Leah and every time I passed her, it made me think of the song. Either way, it’s become a favorite. (It currently resides at #4 on my most-played list.) I like it for its layered backing vocals, its bass line, and the impassioned lead vocals of Donnie Iris. From what I hear, it’s written about his ex-wife (who—get this—was named—wait for it—Leah”) and… well… the lyrics pretty much sum up the story. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Great physical relationship. Not-so-great everything else relationship.)

Thankfully the days of being in the dark are over. It’s easy now to find out who a song is almost instantly. In fact, there’s a song on right now that I like.

What is it? Wait. Find my phone! Open it!
Damn it, I mistyped my passcode. Gah! I did it again!
Now open Shazam… Come on. Connect! Damn it! The song is over.
It would be so much simpler if there was just some guy who could tell me what it was…

Ah! Technology!

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 74 – “Hung Up”

Day 74: The song that you most recently downloaded.

“Hung Up” – Madonna

Hung UpI’m a little embarrassed about this one. Had I thought ahead, I probably could have rigged it so that my most recent download was a much cooler song, like “Stairway To Heaven” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or even “We Built This City.” But no, it’s this song by Madonna.

And it’s not even “Boy-Toy”-era Madonna when there might have been a shred of credibility about it. No, it’s “Converted-to-Kabbalah, suddenly-talks-with-a-British-accent, adopting-babies-from-countries-you-never-heard-of”-era Madonna.

What’s even worse? “Hung Up” samples an Abba song. Now, I like me a bit of Abba, but the song that she sampled isn’t even a very good one. It’s not “Waterloo” or “Take A Chance On Me” or something reasonably listenable, it’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).”

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This song is the bastard child of the Greatest Hits family. You know what I mean: the song they recorded for the Greatest Hits album just so there would be something new on it, hoping it actually becomes a hit so that they don’t look like idiots. (Oddly enough, while it was a hit seemingly everywhere else in the world, it did not chart in the US. Which obviously means I’m right. Or something.) Late-era Madonna sampling a questionable Abba song has to drop the whole thing down into the middle reaches of credibility at best. Doesn’t it?

Now, having said all that, the sample that Madonna chose is, in my opinion, better suited to her song than to Abba’s original. Overall, “Hung Up” is a better song than “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” But the whole affair is still embarrassing. So why did I download it?

It’s Marisa’s fault.

Marisa used to be the Saturday morning spin instructor at the Y. (I wish she was still the Saturday morning spin instructor, but that’s a different story.) And she used to use “Hung Up.” A lot.

And it was a killer.

And I hated it.

When she moved on to greener pastures, I decided I would spin at home instead for various reasons (read: the new instructor sucks).

Now, I rode 3698.5 miles last year for charity. During that time, I started making my own spinning mixes. I finished that ride on December 30. Since December 30th, I have been on my bike exactly… none times. (Bad Joe! BAD JOE!) But the callouses on my butt have finally healed (and the ice cream is catching up with me) so it’s time to get back on.

And that means I need mixes. And, much to my surprise (and chagrin), I missed “Hung Up.” So, I needed to get it. The rest is history. History I would have preferred remain private. But there it is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take this opportunity to spin up a much cooler song.

We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll…