365 Day Song Challenge: Day 101 – “Superman”

Day 101: Song that you air guitar to every time you hear it.

“Superman” – R.E.M.

SupermanI’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t pick something more obvious. AC/DC perhaps. Led Zeppelin perhaps. Boston perhaps.

Oh sure, I can rock out on the air guitar to “You Shook Me All Night Long,” or “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” or “More Than A Feeling” with the best of them. (All right, maybe not the best, but certainly among at least the 85th percentile.) So why pick a little-known song by R.E.M.?

Well, for one, I was told there were no right or wrong answers.

Two, you should know by now I’m nothing if not a little contrary. Plus, those others just seemed to be so stereotypical and obvious. I wanted to think a little harder. I thought about “Touch And Go” by The Cars, but I have other plans for that song. So I was pretty psyched when I remembered “Superman.”

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Here’s the story. Back around the time I was trying to sing “Learning To Fly,” I was also trying to teach myself “Superman.”

But let me back up a step. Somewhere along the line, I figured out how to play the two chords that get repeated in the introduction to the song.

But let me back up another step. Somewhere along the line, Pete had bought an I.R.S. (Records) sampler called These People Are Nuts! that included “Superman.” For whatever reason, I immediately got hooked on it. The song, not the album. (For the curious, These People Are Nuts! is patchy, too patchy to get hooked on—for me anyway. But there are some really good songs on it. And some good , but bizarre songs, such as the ever-popular “Checking Out The Checkout Girl.”* And then some songs that are just bizarre.)

At the time, I wasn’t really into early R.E.M. very much, despite being in college. (In those days, it seemed like every college student had to love early R.E.M. Like it was some sort of rite of passage. I hear it was a requirement for graduation at the University of Georgia.) Sure, I had Eponymous (File under grain.) but not much more. And “Superman” wasn’t even on Eponymous (which, if you don’t know, was an early compilation of their “best” songs and a couple rarities from the I.R.S. years, before they signed with Warner Brothers for major dollars). So it really was that obscure compilation album that led me to the song.

Anyway, back (forward?) to those opening chords. I actually discovered them by accident. I can’t remember what I was trying to play, but I went from an E to an E7 (which I didn’t actually know was an E7 at the time) and eureka! When I hit it, I recognized it immediately as the chords from “Superman.” I’d nailed it.

Now back (forward?) again to me trying to teach myself the song. Once I got the opening, I thought, “how hard can the rest be?” so from then on I tried to figure out the rest. As it turns out, the answer to my question was “hard.” I could never seem to get the right inversions of the chords for the rest of the song. (We didn’t have instant Internet access to guitar tabs in those days, and I was never more than a novice guitar player anyway.) I mean, come on, an Asus7 chord? Didn’t you hear me say I was a novice?

So, despite my never being able to actually learn to play the song, when it comes on, I find I must play air guitar to it. I’ve done it for so long, now I do it subconsciously. Even if it’s just the intro.

Because, boy, I nailed those two opening chords.

* Yes, Pete, I know this will now be stuck in your head for another two days. You’re welcome.


365 Day Song Challenge: Day 100 – “Hand In My Pocket”

Day 100: A song by a female singer you think does not have a very good voice.

“Hand In My Pocket” – Alanis Morissette


100 days and still going strong(ish). Woo hoo!

The summer of 1995 saw the emergence of a new, then-unknown artist (at least in the US). Her new single “You Oughta Know” was getting play on alternative and college radio. It was an aggressive, nasty song aimed at a former lover; this artist was pissed off, and she wasn’t afraid to let you know it.

That artist, of course, was Alanis Morissette, and while it might seem odd to think, when I first heard “You Oughta Know,” no one knew who she was. That lasted about four days, because then she exploded. (Her popularity, that is, she didn’t actually explode.) When the dust settled, she had sold 16 million copies of Jagged Little Pill in the US alone. It was obvious that her angst-laden songs struck a chord with people (mostly people of my generation, Generation X, who were entering “the real world” and were feeling their own angst and aggression).

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The problem? While she was making very relatable music, her voice wasn’t really the greatest. In fact, it could be downright screechy. But I guess 16 million of us overlooked that and bought the album anyway. It seemed the thing to do at the time.

That summer, shortly after this explosion, I went on a week-long vacation to the beach with some college friends. It turned out to be sort of a “last hurrah” of college life before we all went our separate ways and became adults. (Well, I’m assuming the rest of them did, I’m still waiting for it to happen to me.) We spent that week doing what you’d expect: we went to the beach, read, drank, watched TV, partied, joked around, drank, wrote down quotes, drank, and generally had a good time. We also made fried spaghetti at my friend Ray’s insistence, but that’s another story. Did I mention we did a little drinking?

Music was important in one way or another to all of us who shared the house that week, so there was always something playing, even if some of us didn’t remember what it was the next morning. As a result, we ended up with a soundtrack of sorts for the week. (I’m not kidding, we made a “mix tape”—which later became a “mix CD”—toward the end of the week, where each song had been either playing at a “seminal” moment, or had just been played enough times during the week to approach ubiquity.)

Despite Alanis’s vocal limitations, “Hand In My Pocket” made it on the soundtrack. (Other contemporary songs that made it were “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler, “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews Band, and “Lump” by Presidents Of The United States of America.)

We decided on “Hand In My Pocket” rather than the more pervasive (at least at that time) “You Oughta Know” simply because we could relate to the former. I don’t think any of us at the beach house were carrying around the type of vitriol that spawned the latter.

Fast forward to today. Even now (as I did then), I think “Hand In My Pocket” is the better song. Better vibe. I’ve always loved the bass sound they managed to get on it. (It just occurred to me that Alanis plays harmonica on it, too. No matter, it would never have truly been in the running for the harmonica challenge.) I also think “Hand In My Pocket” holds up better than almost anything else on the album. (Don’t believe me? Listen to the opening track “All I Really Want” and tell me it doesn’t sound dated.) I guess no one ever said that everything on a mega-selling album remains a classic.

I mentioned we wrote down quotes. We basically logged anything that made us laugh. On that note, I will leave you with a related quote from when that tape was being compiled:

Joe: How long is “Hand In My Pocket?”
Marc: Usually about five minutes.

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 99 – “Get Up”

Day 99: A song you would love to put in a movie.

“Get Up” – Mike + The Mechanics

GetUpFor as long as I’ve known this song, I’ve always wanted to put it in a movie. I’m not sure what originally made me think that way, but I guess the opening notes always evoked images of the sun rising over a city. And it went from there (as you’ll find out). I just think it lends itself to the opening scenes of a movie. And since I’m the Academy-Award winning director of a dozen films, I should know.

What’s that? I’m not? Oh. Well, then maybe this is my big break.

I should probably address the song itself before I describe the whole movie thing to you. “Get Up” opens Mike + The Mechanics’ third album Word Of Mouth. You probably never heard of either the album or the song. And that’s because this was the album where Atlantic Records decided they no longer gave a crap about Mike + The Mechanics, despite the millions that “The Living Years” had made for them a scant four years previous.

It was 1991, and everything was Grunge, Hip-Hop, or some sort of House/Dance/Europop thing. To be honest, the album didn’t fit what was “in,” so the record company simply didn’t (couldn’t?) promote it. I remember seeing many, many, many copies in the bargain bin during my pore-over-the-CD-bins-looking-for-gems phase. I’ll admit it: That killed a teeny little part of me each and every time.

To be honest, it’s not that great of an album. It’s probably my least favorite of theirs, at least until Rewired, but that one hardly counts because by then it was just Mike Rutherford and Paul Carrack. Word Of Mouth is not awful, it’s just very… blah. Nothing really stands out, except perhaps the title track.

But back to the song and the movie.

I should mention that this song has already been in a movie: 1993’s Rookie Of The Year. However, I didn’t know that until about 12 seconds ago and I’ve never seen the movie anyway. But at least someone in Hollywood has some taste. No matter what, I can pretty much guarantee they didn’t use it in the way I have always envisioned, anyway.

So, to help you along, here’s a snippet of the beginning of the song, which is the  important part from my directorial point of view.

0:00 – 0:09: Time-lapse photography of the sun rising over a city skyline.
0:09 – 0:18: Time-lapse photography of traffic moving, stop and go, through the city streets.
0:18 – 0:20: Shot of a subway car arriving gliding into the station.
0:20 – 0:25: Shots of people, many dressed for work, walking the sidewalks.
0:25 – 0:26: (As Paul Young says “Get Up!”) A shot of our protagonist looking at his/her watch.
0:26 – 0:35 (and beyond): Various establishing shots of an office, cubicles, etc.

And so on. Can you see it? Can you picture it in your head like I can? No? I’m just a lunatic? Okay, fine.

I have no idea what this movie is about. It’s set in an office, obviously, but beyond that, I haven’t got a clue. Perhaps there’s a script floating around inside me where this happens. Perhaps not. But anyway, I’ve always thought that would be a cool visual. Maybe it’s just me.

But an Academy Award-winning director has to start somewhere…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 98 – “Holiday Road”

Day 98: Your favorite song by a band/artist whose name begins with “B”.

“Holiday Road” – Lindsey Buckingham

HolidayRoadI found out long ago it’s a long way down the holiday road.

It was probably 1984. I didn’t see National Lampoon’s Vacation in the theater, but thanks to HBO or Cinemax, or one of the other movie channels, I was exposed to the movie early on. (And many other things I shouldn’t have been exposed to. Some my parents knew about; most they did not.)

Right from the beginning, one of the things I liked about it was its theme song, “Holiday Road.” I liked its beat. I liked its vibe. I liked its simplicity. And I really liked the barking dogs at the end. They made me laugh.

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But for some reason, I didn’t think much about getting it at the time. I wasn’t even sure who it was, honestly (and I didn’t think to look at the credits). I seem to remember thinking it was by Gary “US” Bonds, for some unknown reason. (Sorry, Lindsey.)

I was probably a junior in high school when I watched the movie again. And that’s when the song really took hold. I was hooked and I needed to find it.

That’s also when I got the big ol’ middle finger from the music industry. I looked. And looked. And looked some more. You know what I found? Nothing. It was like every teenage boy’s nightmare. “Like” had turned to “love” and the object of my affections didn’t love me back.

Apparently, a soundtrack album was released, but I’d never seen a copy of it. It appears there was also a single release (as evidenced by the picture above), but I’d never found one of those, either. Not to be deterred, I kept on looking when it occurred to me.

And then something miraculous happened: I found Napster. There were choirs of angels. And beams of bright light. Dogs and cats slept together. Men and women slept together. It was beautiful. (Incidentally, the dogs and cats did not sleep together in the same way that the men and women did. Which is how it remained beautiful.)

Some of you may have heard of Napster. It basically allowed you to share music via the Internet with people you didn’t know. Free! It was the beginning of the end of the music industry as we knew it. And in 2000, it was very popular. Well, with most people it was. People like Lars Ulrich weren’t all that fond of it. But, then, not many people are fond of him, so I guess it all evens out in the end.

As soon as I discovered Napster, I put together a short list of the songs I’d been unsuccessfully seeking out for a long time, without success, for a very long time. “Holiday Road” was high on that list. It may have been number one. And although I do remember having some difficulty tracking down a good version, I found it relatively quickly. As much as I fret about digital music in general, it does have some advantages.

I proceeded to enjoy “Holiday Road” many times. And I still do.

Napster is gone now. After the lawsuits it was a shadow of its former self long before it merged with Rhapsody. The beams of light are gone. The choirs of angels silent.

Men and women are still sleeping together, though. I can’t figure that one out…

Take a ride on the West Coast kick…

365 Day Song Challenge: Day 97 – “The Ballad Of Earl Grey And Chamomile”

Day 97: A song that you like, in part, because the title is so good.

“The Ballad Of Earl Grey And Chamomile” – dada

dadaThis. Was. Painful.

I had this song in mind for this post already back when I wrote about dada last time. But as the time grew nearer, I began to doubt my choice.My self-imposed criterion was to pick something that was a good song, but not a great song; a song where the title sort of pushed it over the threshold.

As I explained to Laura when she suggested “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”: That song would still be great if with was named “Aloysius.” (All right, I said “Bob” at the time, but Aloysius makes the point better, I think. Oh, no, wait! Eugene! That’s the one.)

So, the plan was to pick a song that I like, but where the name gave it added likability. I think “The Ballad Of Earl Grey And Chamomile” fits that bill.

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The song’s lyrics tell the story of a somewhat mismatched couple and how they hit it off (that means they had sex). They were different, but sort of the same. Like the two titular teas. But, can you look at that title and not want to know just a little bit more about the song? I say no. So that’s why it’s my choice.

It’s a perfectly good song with an intriguing name. There are a ton of other ones out there, and, like posts that have come before, I’m sure I’ll find a better one in about an hour and kick myself for not picking it.

But, it really was a game-time decision. And the game was delayed in order to have more time to make the decision. (It was killing me.) In the end, I figured I’d go with my gut, because otherwise it would be June and I’d still be stressing over it. But it gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the other songs I thought about briefly, as well. (And gave me some good fodder for future posts.)

So, without further ado, an abridged list of other candidates, in reverse alphabetical order just to be weird:

As I mentioned, the list really could go on and on. And that’s why it was becoming just ridiculous. Eventually you have to draw a line in the sand, fish or cut bait, or any of myriad clichés. So that’s what I did.

By the way, my apologies to anyone named Aloysius or Eugene. Not because I might have offended you, but because you have an unfortunate name.