Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Six (?) Best Songs That Would Be Really Great If They Didn't Have That One Part In Them. (SemiDaily List!)

I think the title pretty much explains this one, doesn't it?

I love music as much as the next guy, unless the next guy hates music, in which case I love music a lot more than the next guy, and what's his deal, anyway? I can understand not being crazy about music, not caring about it one way or the other, really, not thinking much about it, but hating music? Really? Lighten up, next guy?

What really bugs me about music, though, aside from the lingering feeling that the Next Guy has issues that he needs to address, are when people take a perfectly good song and throw something into it that just wrecks the song, that derails it and leaves you scratching your head and thinking "What's going on there?" It's like they're trying to ruin the song.

It's hard to explain, so let me jump into the list and begin with an example of a really great song that just falls apart at one point and then tries to pull itself back together. Here's song number one on this list,

1. Englishman In New York, Sting.

What's Great About This Song: 99% of it. The chamber-music, quiet quality of it embodies what many people associate with the English, or, as they're sometimes called, "the British," but it's not I'm a Britishman In New York, so I'm going with English. Also, correct me if I'm wrong*


but aren't Englishmen specifically from England, while you could be British and from, say, Wales, because it's a part of Great Britain?**

**I think.

It's quiet, civilized, proper, and moves along briskly, just like the English.

What Goes Wrong: Drum solo at 2:36; Did Sting owe his drummer a favor? Is that supposed to poetically illustrate the cognitive dissonance***

***I can use big words, too, you know.

of an Englishman living in New York? Because it doesn't work. It's the equivalent of someone suddenly smacking you in the back of the head during a discussion of poetry, and then going back to what they were saying. You can't shake it off and it lingers with you the rest of the song, turning a nice little musical number into an annoying piece of work. And even if that was the point, it's a stupid point to make; we can gather that an Englishman in New York might find the experience somewhat unsettling without being rabbit punched, Sting. A true poet does it with his words. W.H. Auden didn't come over to people's houses and beat them about the neck with J. Alfred Prufrock's love song.

Get what I'm talking about? See if number two helps clarify the point.

2. You Dress Up For Armageddon, The Hives.

What's Great About This Song: Most of it. I'm off again/on again about The Hives' particular kind of garage/grunge rock; The White Stripes did it better and The Strokes were hipper, but The Hives can still put together a good song when they try hard enough. Armageddon has a sort of early-Green Day Hitchin' A Ride beat to it with just enough clashy-guitars and shaggy shouted choruses to enjoy this song that appears to be about a guy who's turning down a (possibly crossdressing?) Goth because of their differences. It's got a good beat and you can dance to it, but I don't recommend doing that in your car, because you should be driving.

What Went Wrong: Quiet part with a pause beginning about 2:15, and ending with "But I disagree." The actual lyrics are:

Who is the man with the microphone?
Today he is here but tomorrow he is gone

But I disagree

And not only does the tone of the song shift for just a few seconds to a quiet, creepy kind of thing, but those lyrics make no sense in the context of the rest of the song -- even if I'm wrong about what the song's about.***

***I'm not.
Is it a newsbreak? Is the quieter tone meant to emphasize the raucous nature of the rest of the song? Either way, it's annoying and makes me less likely to listen to the song when it comes up on shuffle.

2A.: Well Alright The Hives:

What's Great About It: When I first posted this on a Sunday morning, I was going off memory rather than my usual written-down-over-time lists, and later on that morning, after a walking on a treadmill for a while -- the spot I typically get my best ideas -- I remembered this song, and how much I liked the stomp-and-rock feel of it, until...

What Went Wrong: ... at 1:40 they slow it down to mope about for a bit, and I don't get why they felt the need to do that, because while that might work on some songs, on this one, it doesn't at all. It's like that moment at a dinner party when the conversation's been going well and the talk is lively and then one member of a couple says something kind of mean about another couple that hints at a fight which occurred on the way over and which is clearly going to be continued after the party, and everyone tries to ignore it, but things never really get back their verve.

Now on to one that really hurts:

3. Modern Love, by David Bowie:

What's Great About This Song: Almost... almost... everything. I love this song, which should be a part of every person's musical library. Even Next Guy's. It is, to put it simply, The greatest rock song ever recorded. Even with the flaw. And I've said that since it came out. For over 20 years, I have listed, at the top of the Greatest Rock Songs Ever, two songs:

1. Modern Love, and
2. Faith, by George Michael.

Three-through-infinity have changed, but positions 1 and 2 never changed. So it's very hard for me to say

What Went Wrong: It's that sax solo. At about 1:45, the sax solo comes in and takes front and center, and I... hate ... it. I grit my teeth through it and try to rationalize it: Oh, it was the 80s; everybody had a sax solo. Clarence Clemons even had a hit record. But it makes it so hard to love this song. It's like when Brett Favre started sexting, or when Obama gave up being president and began counting the days until he could go back to Chicago. You really really want to forgive them, but the best you can do is try to look the other way.

Especially when he lets the sax guy do it again at the end of the song. On to song number 4:

4. Folding Chair, Regina Spektor.

What's Great About This Song: Ever since I first discovered her song Fidelity I have been a diehard Regina Spektor fan, and I have a whole special playlist on my iPod for her songs -- the only artist to merit such a position. And Folding Chair is among the best of them: the hopeful upbeat manner of the song jibing perfectly with the lyrics to create an optimistic but still somehow realistic view of a relationship that's just beginning.

What Went Wrong: Really, Regina? You had to sound like a dolphin? Do you know how hard it is to get people to listen to a song after that happens? I know you were trying to be playful, but it comes off as amazingly lame. When, in writing the song, you inserted [Make dolphin sounds here] you ought to have chuckled and then hired help to follow you around to ever avoid thinking that again.

Also, you really sound more like a seal.

Speaking of people misjudging their singing:

5. Dearest, Buddy Holly:

What's Great About This Song: Not only is this song kind of ahead of its time for the 50s -- it seems oddly out-of-place with what I imagine I know about that era -- but the Juno soundtrack was the only lasting good effect of Diablo Cody's short-lived Hollywood career, and this was on it. It's a sweet, kind of dreamlike ode to someone the singer is in love with; the whole song feels like it should be set to a montage of people romping in the summer sunlight. George Lucas should've used it for Anakin and Padme's love interlude on Naboo.

What Went Wrong: At 1:10, Buddy kind of turns from a guy in love to an overly-breathy stalkerish serial killer, mumbling scarily I love you... I love you... into the microphone. Listen to it carefully, and then imagine hearing that over the phone late at night. And oh my god, the call is coming from inside your house!

6. All My Friends, LCD Soundsystem.

What's Great About This Song: I don't really get LCD Soundsystem. I picked up this album after The New Yorker wrote an article about how they record in rooms lined with aluminum foil and quoted the lead singer (?) as follows:

“LCD live was set up to be an argument about what’s wrong with bands and why bands should be better,” Murphy said. “Nobody onstage can hear anything the audience doesn’t hear. No click tracks, no guides… If it’s an organic sound, it absolutely cannot be put on a sampler… No sunglasses. No rocking out… No pretending you’re cool.

So I wanted to see what that was about, because pretending is about as close to cool as I can get. I then picked up the album that had All My Friends on it and I really liked the song -- the driving beat, the lyrics about where your friends are and being nostalgic and lost in adult life, the repetition of the piano chords...

What Went Wrong: The repetition of the piano chords... the repetition of the piano chords... this song goes on for seven minutes. That is a long time to basically hear the same two notes over and over, and it deters me from listening to the song at all, for the same reason I don't like hourlong TV shows: I feel it might be too much of a commitment from me. When the song comes on, I think "Am I up for this right now? Am I ready to be this intensely committed?" and the answer is usually no and I skip ahead to Convoy. Cut that song in half and I'd consider moving it higher on the playlist. As it is, I can't always promise I'm going to devote 7 minutes of my life -- that's nearly 0.000000001% -- to this song, and that, in turn, makes me even less likely to go listen to other LCD Soundsystem songs, because I expect they, too, might end up being kind of needy and clingy and keep talking to me forever and not let me get on with my life.

So congratulations, LCD Soundsystem: You made a song that exactly mirrors what I was like in seventh grade.

Read more Best Of Musics here.

Read more SemiDaily Lists here.

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