Friday, September 26, 2014

Some days there are just some songs you have to hear...

As I've no doubt said here before, I love lists.

When The Book of Lists, by David Wllechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace, came out in 1977, I was in bliss. I'd been making lists of my own - favorite movies, favorite books, favorite tv shows, favorite songs and albums - for a long time by that time, and I was so happy to see that someone else enjoyed making them.

Granted, some of the lists in the book and those that followed it were, um, unusual, and some of those lists got the book banned from some libraries. They also produced something called The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, that I imagine also produced some complaints. That was a book that was essentially a list in and of itself, broken into several different categores.

All of which has very little to do with today's post, except that I've been list making-making again and decided that, to make sure that it wasn't a complete waste of time, I would share with all of you. I was going to call the list "My Favorite Songs...Today", but that isn't quite accurate, so instead I'm going to call it "The Songs I Really, Really, Really Need to Hear Today". Which means that some of them might be repeats, because I've got several songs in my life right now that I've been needing to hear on a fairly regular basis.

That is certainly true of "Forever", by The Beach Boys. Yes, I know, I've been obsessed with the band for the past few weeks. But this song has struck me in the most forceful way, and it amazes me that although it was on the band's album "Sunflower", which was recorded in early 1969 and released in 1970, I did not discover it until, what, three weeks ago or so. It was written by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson. The song has been called "timeless" and compared to some of the best of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's ballads, which isn't exactly faint praise.

This is a mostly a capella version of the song, on which Dennis Wilson sings lead. Right at the end, someone gets really silly (and I've seen people debate online whether that last note is Brian Wilson or Carl Wilson getting creative), but this is really a lovely, lovely performance of the song, which is quickly becoming my favorite song:

Love songs come in all moods and flavors. Another one of my favorite love songs, and favorite songs without qualification, has a completely different mood than "Forever", which is quiet and sweet and meditative. The Turtles' "Happy Together" (which I'm sure I also must have shared at some point, possibly not very long ago), which is just plain, well, happy. This is another song that I really need to hear today, and on as many days as possible, really. This song is deeply embedded in popular culture, having appeared in at least 20 films over the years, as well as in a number of television episodes. It has been covered by many other artists (including by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, performing later as Flo and Eddie) and is the 44th most performed song in the US in the 20th century

This lip-synched performance, from "The Ed Sullivan Show", is really badly synched, but I like this particular video for its excellent example of the by-play between Volman and lead singer Kaylan, which was sort of a trademark of Turtles' performances:

And there is "Love Hurts", which could have equally well been called "Love Sucks". But, since just about everybody goes through a "love sucks" sort of experience at least once in their lives, this could be considered the universal love song. It has been covered by just about everybody, it seems, since Boudleaux Bryan wrote it. It was first recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960 (and released in 1961). The list of cover versions on the song's entry on Wikipedia runs to over fifty, starting with Roy Orbison (in March 1961), and including The Who, Nazarath (which was the first version I ever heard), Cher (twice), Journey, Heart, Don McLean, and Rod Stewart, to name just a few.

This is my favorite version of the song, recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris for Parsons' album "Grievous Angel" in 1974. Parsons had just the right voice to convey the pain and ache of love gone wrong:

Another favorite love song of the melancholy variety is "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away". This song, which appeared in the movie "Help!" and on the soundtrack album in 1965, was credited as a Lennon/McCartney composition but was actually written by John Lennon alone. Like "Love Hurts" it deals with love gone wrong, but takes a more bitter tone. And Lennon's rendition of his song is brilliant, but my favorite version comes from The Beach Boys. Their cover appeared on the 1965 album "Beach Boys Party!", which was released late in the year as a collection mostly of covers meant for Christmas. Again, as with "Forever", the band's drummer, Dennis Wilson, sings lead, lending just the right inflections in his voice to make you believe what he is singing. Basically, on this song Wilson out-Lennon's Lennon, which is quite an accomplishment.

This is not the album version of The Beach Boys' cover of the song, but the audio of a live performance at Michigan State on October 22, 1966:

Speaking of John Lennon (and getting away from love songs), I also have a huge need to hear "Working Class Hero" today. This song is on Lennon's first album after The Beatles broke up, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band", recorded in 1970 and released in the US in 1971 but not in the UK until 1975. It is a very stripped down song, just Lennon's voice and his guitar. It's the first song I ever heard with the word "fuck" (well, "fucking", actually) in it, and for that reason it was banned by some radio stations and the manager of one station that did play it was charged and faced prison time for letting it on the air, but the charges were ultimately dropped. In Australia, the offending word was cut from the version of the album marketed there and from the lyrics sheet that came with the album. But it's a good song, and here it is, obscenities intact:

But, it seems like I can't get away from the love songs today, and especially the melancholy ones. Like this one,, "Spanish Moss", by Gordon Lightfoot. I love Lightfoot's music, and this may well be my favorite of his love ballads, if not his whole catalog of songs. It appears on his album "Summertime Dream", from 1976. It's a very cinematic song, and I've always been able to feel a whole story in there that goes beyond the actual lyrics. And speaking of lyrics, this song has one of my favorite lines in all of popular music. I mean really, "...kisses mixed with moonshine and red clay" is just, well, really sexy (which is a word I don't like because it is overused and misused so much, but it is the only word I can find that is appropriate to how I think of this line):

I can only introduce the next song I needed to hear today by saying that the first time I ever heard it, on the radio, back in 1987, when it first came out, I was speechless for about 10 minutes. It's that good, lyrically and musically. By Gary Moore, it is from the album "Wild Frontier". I didn't catch the name of the song or artist that day, and I spent a good two or three days listening to the radio whenever I could, hoping they would play it again and actually say who it was or what the name of the song those pre-google and pre-YouTube days, that's what you had to do sometimes, to find out enough about a song to get your hands on it. And, in fact, I guess I should say that this is "Over the Hills and Far Away", not to be confused by the song of the same title by Led Zeppelin. Because it is totally not the same song:

There are more on the list of songs that I need to hear today, but this has gone one long enough for one post, so I'll stop at one more. It's a love song, too, of the "I love you but I can never have you because somebody else got there first" variety. This was my favorite song when I was in the 8th grade, and I still love it now, all these years later, as much as I did then. This is The Grass Roots and "Midnight Confessions". I suppose it should be one of my guilty pleasures, but I feel no guilt about it at all:

As I said, I could go on doing this, probably all night. But I have other things I should be doing. The amazing thing is that I haven't fallen down the rabbit hole I could have, going through and listening to everything I found along the way while I was putting this together, other songs, some of which I haven't thought about in a long time, that made me think, "Oh, I need to hear that, too." Sometimes my willpower amazes me. Other times, it just fails me, but it's working at the moment.

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