Thursday, March 26, 2009
Well, I wrote about the top ten songs I felt were always going to be considered "cool", no matter what your musical tastes are. Now I'm starting the list of songs so thoroughly uncool they will never be considered cool, even if Jimi Hendrix rises from the grave to perform it. There's only five right now because, well, the thought of these songs kind of drives me up the wall. Here goes:
Number 5-Que Sera Sera; Doris Day. Now I really don't have a problem with much of what Doris Day used to sing. She had a fantastic voice, and she certainly earned her spurs during years of singing with big bands, as a solo artist, and in trying to turn on Rock Hudson in assorted movies. This song, however, is one of those grating little earwigs of a song that slowly burrows into your head without you knowing it's happening. I think it turns from a mildly charming tune into a cloying mess when the tinkley chimes accompany Doris as she sings "now I have children of my own...". Apparently Doris herself didn't like this song, and was eternally disppointed that it became her "theme song". Sorry Doris...Que Sera Sera!
Number 4-Hot Diggity (Dog Diggity); Perry Como. Heres' another artist I have no general disagreement with. Perry had a nice, laid back voice, and wore some pretty "cool" (in an uncool way) sweaters, His song "Catch a Falling Star" is a pleasant, singable anthem that offends pretty much no-one. However, with "Hot diggity" Perry produced a "love song" that invokes images more closely related to an unsuccessful beer hall putsch than to feelings of tender affection. Throw in lyrics like "Never dreamed anybody could kiss thattaway, Bring me bliss thattaway, what a kiss thattaway" kind of makes me wonder what way Perry's talking about. Add the fact that it was used so successfully in an old Oscar Meyer hot dog commercial, and you have the ultimate "weenie" of a song.
Number 3-It's a Small World; Disney Wow. Here's a tune that expresses a kind and wonderful universal truth in a way that, rather than inspiring international brotherhood, just makes you want to hit your neighbor with a stick. It's a small world and a pretty small song, featuring that punchy chorus "its a small world after all its a small world after all its a small world after all its a small, small world" This is, of course, the theme to the one Disneyland/world/Euro ride that NOBODY actually wants to go on. Tickets please!!
Number 2- Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows; Lesley Gore. Lesley Gore probably deserves her own wing of any uncool song museum. In addition to the ultimate pity party "It's My Party", and the bloody revenge song "It's Judy's turn to cry", Lesley brought us the song that is so perky and sugary it needs a warning label for diabetics. Of course, the lyrics continually remind the listener that "my life is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows...thats how this refrain goes". Yes Lesley, we KNOW! Believe it or not, Lesley sang this little ditty on one of those teenage romance movies of the sixties (sorry I forget the title), but instead of groovin' at the beach, the teenagers (including Tommy Kirk!) were on a bus to a ski resort. Lesley got up wand warbled this sone to bring rockin' good times to the rest of the bus! As Lesley said: "So come on. Join In. Everybody". Resistance is futile.
And my Number 1 uncoolest song ever: Let the Sun Shine In: Pebbles & Bamm Bamm.. The Flintstones is one of those iconic cartoons that pretty much everyone growing up in North America has been exposed to since it's inception back in the sixties. Most people know it started as a prime time TV series, long before The Simpsons and assorted clones make prime time animation a fact of life. Like any series, the first few seasons were the best. Even though the animation was limited, the stories and gags were hilarious and the show was loaded with veteran voice talent. THEN the rot started to creep in, in the form of Fred and Wilma's "adorable" child Pebbles. Pebbles looked like a large fat Tinkerbell, and her primary roll was to coo and gurgle at Fred, and occasionally ruin his bowling night. Pebbles was soon joined by Bamm Bamm, a super strong foundling baby cared for be the Flintstone's neighbors, the Rubbles. Pebbles and Bamm Bamm had mercifully short screen time, except for one incredibly painful episode where, in an extended dream sequence, Fred dreams they become singing stars. Of course the song is "Let the Sun Shine In". Not the cool 5th Dimension song, but a smarmy little epic that reminds us "smilers never lose and frowners never win" to an irritating little diaper rash of a melody. To make the matters worse, the song is performed at least three times, with Pebbles blowing kisses to her fans!! To this soiled diaper of a song I say "congratulations" on being the uncolest song ever!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Ok, this is something that can be debated forever, and goodness knows I'm no music expert, but I wanted to put together a list of the top 10 songs that are so cool they transcend their genre. I was actually kind of suprised by the great artists I personally love that didn't make this list, but remember- a song doesn't just have to be great to make this list, it has to be great no matter what your tastes may lean towards. In reverse countdown order, here we go!
10-Jailhouse Rock-Elvis Presley. I'm not really an Elvis fan, but this one is so timeless it has to be here. Elvis in his prime, full of his sneering Memphis bravado that shocked a generation of parents and delighted their kids! The opening bars grab a hold of you and don't let go until you've danced with that wooden chair. Elvis rocks!
9-Mack the Knife-Bobby Darrin. Only the man who oozed more cocktail lounge charm than Sinatra could turn a song about a killer into into the swinginest anthem to murder ever crooned baby! A simple turn that builds to a magnificent crescendo-so good Bobby had to do it twice. Look out ol' Mackie's back!
8-These Boots Were Made for Walkin'-Nancy Sinatra. OK I know a lot of people will disagree with this one, especially due to the fact hat I didn't include any of her more talented dad's songs on this list! But look at it this way-here's a perfect boppin' little sixties sexual revolution anthem, dressed up in miniskirt and white latex boots, telling the guy who was "lyin' when he shoulda bin truthin" that he wasn't going to get away with it, and that's just fine by Nancy! Include a classic burn (what he knows you aint' had time to learn!!) and that's all she wrote. Ok boots...start walkin'
7- Like a Rollin' Stone-Bob Dylan. From one sixties revolution to another, but this time it's the terrible hangover after the party. Dylan wasn't much of a singer by most criteria, yet he created an anthem of disillusionment and regret that rocks, rather than whines and brings you down. How does it feel? Pretty good, Bob!
6- Crying-Roy Orbison. This is one of those songs that I thought was ridiculously corny when I was a kid, and can't get enough of now. Roy's voice is simply unmatched, and the rawness and honesty of his heartbreak just about knocks you off your feet. Nothing beats that climax at the end when his voice hits the stratosphere! (personal note, I thought the duet he did of Crying with k.d. lang could have been both his and her best work ever!)
5-A Hard Day's Night-The Beatles. From Lennon's first mysterious chord to Ringo's off the cuff slang of having a "Hard Day's Night", this one just drives-drives-drives then drives some more. If youthful exhuberance and sassiness can be distilled into a song, this would be the result. There's no way you can stand still with this one playing-put on your romeo boots and go!
4-Ring of Fire-Johnny Cash. Only the man in black and his incredible pipes makes what is esentially a love song into a trip to a Faustian underworld! The concept of "love is pain/pain is love" in an old one and usually handled with agonizing earnestness by lesser artists. Johnny not only pulls it off, but produces a toe-tapping great song that makes you believe this guy had been there and back again-and he had!
3-Midnight Hour-Wilson Pickett. Can one man define Soul in a single song? Maybe Wilson Pickett did with this power anthem to love and passion. Pickett's raspy promises of love that comes "tumblin' down" are backed by that incredible horn solo after the second verse. I defy anyone to not bop when that brass starts to testify!
2-Moondance-Van Morrison. Cool. Dreamy. Incredibly "sexy" in a way that overused word truly deserves. Moondance quite simply creates a mood and feel that is as much colour as it is sound. They say that some people have such heightened senses that they can literally "taste colour" or "smell sound". Moondace does that. Fantabulous!
And my number 1 trans-genre song:
Fever-Peggy Lee. What can you say about a song that is deceptively simple (just Peggy's smokey voice, a bass, a drum and lots of snapping fingers) and yet perfectly evokes the universal "fever" of desire that we have all felt. And this isn't just some tawdry plea to grunt and sweat in a broom closet somewhere (Brittany???), it's a sultry journey through a noble lineage of desire through the ages, culimating with the amazing Peggy Lee. Where Moondance is cool restful azure, Fever is boiling crimson and enjoys it. Peggy Lee. Fever. Just none better.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Yesterday AGF (Awesome Girl Friend) and I were driving back from a trip to one our favorite used book stores (Nerman's-check it out if you're ever in town) on a gorgeous early spring day. This city has a number of interesting individuals, some of them described in this blog (anyone remember "flying guy"? He was a man we saw running up and down the street with his arms back in a classic "delta wing" formation, zooming up and down the street and having the time of his life. Well today I'm adding "Mr. Guns"
As I said, we were driving home when a car passed us on the driver's side. There was a young guy (early 20's) in the back seat, wearing no shirt (or any discernable clothes of any kind), with his right arm filling the open window. Mr. Guns was happily flexing his arm for the general interest and amusement of anyone who cared to take a gander. Mr. Guns didn't appear to be in "bad" shape physically, but he could hardly be described as "muscle bound". Add to this, at the end of a long winter his complexion was white and pasty as the belly of a fish, you had a sight guaranteed to inspire and thrill the passer-by.
Mr. Guns- a true sign of spring.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
A couple of weeks ago the AGF and I were watching an interview piece with a Toronto area music critic. He has written a book called something like "Where is the Love" after he started to ponder the following topic. He and his music-critic buddies all universally reviled the music of Celine Dion, but this guy decided to sit down and try to figure out why exactly he felt this way. He listened to some of Ms. Dion's music, attended a concert, and basically enveloped himself in that special cosmos where Celine is the sun and her fans are merely orbiting bits of grateful space debris.
What this critic decided was that he hated Celine's music because it stood against everything he felt music should stand for. Real music, he felt, was topical, insightful, hard hitting, and most of all, rebelious! Real music set itself up against the "mainstream" and proudly spat in it's eye! Har Har!! Take that oppresive mainstream, what with your personal hygiene an all!
Then the author did something I didn't expect. He began to ponder what actually constitutes the "mainstream" nowadays. Is it Celine Dion? If so, why is she so universally reviled by "mainstream" music critics? Then the author voiced something I have suspected for a long time now. The rebels ARE the mainstream!
Musicians who consider themselves outsiders have always defined themselves as standing against the "conformist, strait-laced establishment". They have aquired a sort of mythology about how their music created, and continues to create, an "awakening" in society, freeing people from their "shackles". The problem is, all those societal constraints they railed against don't really exist any more as part of "mainstream" values and ethics. Musical rebels have always recited the creed "no-one tells me what to say, no-one tells me what to do, don't bug me about my hair". Well guess what rebels...those are the mainstream values and ethics. It's no longer socially acceptable to tell someone else that they shouldn't whack their privates with a 2x6 piece of spruce and call it "art", shouldn't tatoo a picture of an orangutan's keister on their face, shouldn't run around with their gitch (or, if you prefer, gotch, or in rare circumstances, "gonch") on their heads, because that would be "judging" someone, which would definitely harsh their buzz. That "conformist establishment" musicians like to fight against is a straw man. WE are living in rock n' roll paradise!
Of course the upside of this, is that Celine Dion and her fans are now REBELS! THEY'RE not going to be told not to dress conservatively, not to get regular haircuts or not to play their Yahtzee! They won't be forced into giving up their "meat" and "potatoes", their poly-rayon blends or their salad spinners. No, these brave outsiders are going to continue to flaunt the conventions of "the man", whether he likes it or not. Take THAT, Marilyn Manson!
So today, I'd like to salute these brave and inspirational outsiders. They have even convinced me to break from conformity, and avoid becoming yet another conformist! I won't shave my head, grow a goatee and get a barb wire tatoo on my arm! Sure, it'll make me stand out and be "different", but sometimes you just have to be a rebel.