Tag Archives: songs

On Karaoke (Repost)

Yesterday I took a number of well-loved rock classics and murdered them, gangland execution style. Yes, I was playing Rock Band again. No-one can say I’m a particularly gifted singer, but when playing Rock Band I alway choose to be the vocalist. This is mainly because I struggle with all of the instruments and get frustrated with them, and while I’m not a natural singer, I can enjoy it more than constantly pressing the wrong button on a plastic guitar. My juhachiban is probably another rock anthem from the seventies, Born to Run. No-one can say I’m not down with the dad-rock.

By this point, anyone who’s heard one of my public performances is asking themselves why I’m talking about this. Thing is, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mike Yaconelli talks lately, and in one of them he said something that’s stuck with me; I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like “You ask a little kid if they can sing, they say ‘Yeah, sure I can!’. Ask a teenager and they say ‘Well, yeah, but….’. Ask an adult and they say ‘No.’ What happened?”

It’s the same with dancing; by no objective criteria am I a good dancer, but what does it matter? It doesn’t, so why am I so embarassed by it? Part of it is that I’m a born introvert and I’m not very physically expressive, and I don’t have too much of a problem with that – it’s who I am, live with it. But another part of it, far darker and more oppressive, is that I’m simply scared and embarassed, and it’s stupid because I’m 33 and no-one really cares whether or not I’m a good singer or dancer, but it’s that little voice deep inside, isn’t it?

So you know what? I’m proud there are videos online of me singing the most random version of Accidentally in Love ever recorded. I can laugh at it and heck, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Cos like I said at the time, if you’re going down… Then go down in flames.

I still owe Bruce Springsteen an apology though.

Blogging My iPod: An exercise in futility

20110831-115749.jpgSo I’m suffering a case of blogger’s block again. Never fear – I have a plan! Thanks to my fancy new smartphone I’m carrying around a good chunk of my music collection, and therefore I can use the song titles as inspiration. Genius, right?! Let’s go!

Hits Shuffle.

JCB Song
So. JCBs. They’re big. Big and yellow. Big, yellow and noisy. Yes.

Crickets chirp, hits Shuffle again.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
Okay. The sidewinder is a… Is it a missile? I think it’s a missile. Either that or a minor Transformer. Let me check… No, it’s a snake or a plane. Snake on a plane?

Hits Shuffle again, in an attempt to hide his ignorance

Birdhouse in your Soul
This is an awesome song. Possibly about the ineffable nature of the human soul. Or maybe a birdhouse.

Hits Shuffle, hoping for something easier.

Jump

Hits Shuffle without even trying.

The Rising
Okay, this would be great if it wasn’t the basis for a post on the 10th anniversary of September 11. Next!

Hits Shuffle. Repeatedly.

Anyway You Want It
Well, I’ve been singing for five minutes but I haven’t actually written anything. This ain’t getting my blig blogged.

Wait, blig blogged? What does that even mean?! Stupid typos typed on stupid elfen iphone keypads with stupid sausage fingers…

Tries to hit Shuffle, misses, tries again.

The Group Who Couldn’t Say
I’m sitting here, an uninspired, sausage-fingered, musically illiterate, failed blogger, and now my iPod thinks I’m in the mood for abstract. Great. Because what you really want on a Wednesday is an enigma.

Hits Shuffle for the last time. This has to be the moment of truth. Gimme some sugar baby!

Salty Dog
I give up.

Hits Kindle app; battery runs ou

Some Joyful Musical Awesomeness for Thursday

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I’m feeling a bit under the weather and need cheering up, so here’s some musical awesomeness to brighten up your day:

A unique cover of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ (starring Bill Bailey, who is a personification of joyful musical awesomeness…)

Musicians from around the world unite to sing ‘Stand By Me’.

You’ve seen this before, but how can you not love the Muppets singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’? (Also Ode to Joy.)

Dedicated to my friend Sudge and little baby Clark: Live orchestra playing the Superman theme

…And for my lovely Helen, here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing a live version of Summertime in concert in Berlin.

The Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall

And finally, A whole town sings American Pie. This is fantastic.

Hope you’re all singing!

Throw Roses in the Rain: Why I love ‘Thunder Road’

Photograph by Jon Sullivan

I’m not young any more, at least not in the teenage sense, and I’m not from small-town America. I wasn’t raised with a crackly second-hand radio playing oldies in the background, I was never fated to take a soul-destroying job with the town’s only real employer, and I never really had a dream in which a Chevy was the archetype of freedom and escape. Maybe all those things are particular to the States, a mythic landscape of cars and jukeboxes and highways stretching far into the horizon, where you escape under cover of night, driving away from your destiny past strange roadside attractions and travelling salesmen selling snake oil and lightning rods.

It’s a storybook world, of course, and one that’s fairly alien to me, coming from the UK and driving a Vauxhall Corsa. But it’s somehow attractive, and may explain, at least partly, why my favourite song is my favourite song.

Thunder Road was released in 1975, the opening track of Springsteen’s Born to Run album. Now, I’m one of those people who likes music but has no pretensions of being a fan; I can’t recite liner notes, I don’t have an opinion on the vinyl vs CD vs MP3 debate. But some songs just stick with me; Thunder Road, the story of an anonymous suitor trying to convince his girlfriend to leave town with him, is one of them. A big part of that is because it’s so evocative, the first few lines describing familiar sounds (doors slamming, Roy Orbison’s Only the Lonely playing on the radio) and enchanted sights (“Like a vision she dance across the porch…”) before presenting a dystopian future for the two of them – worn down by a town that doesn’t give a damn about their dreams or achievements. There’s a way out, but they have to leave, now, because tonight is their last chance, the sort of night where time conspires to stand still just long enough for Mary to be serenaded into a better future than she’d ever find in this deadbeat town.

It was announced earlier today that Clarence Clemons, the E-Street Band’s saxophonist and the guy responsible for the solo on Thunder Road has suffered a stroke. Thoughts, prayers and best wishes go out to the Big Man, and I guess it was that news that inspired this post. The song starts with a piano and harmonica, gradually building and becoming more insistant, and by the time the sax kicks in you’re just about ready to case the Promised Land yourself.

(Then again, I also love Badly Drawn Boy’s cover version, which somehow makes it all sound more British – to me, the narrator is a teenager on a Council estate somewhere, trying to win back his girlfriend by the use of a second-hand Casio keyboard and a car with the P-Plates still attached. It’s smaller and less epic but the story still works.)

Ultimately the song is about hope, and maybe even redemption: no matter your circumstances, there’s an escape route. Life can be better, tomorrow can be different, you’ve just got to cut loose the things that are holding you back. It’s late, but you can still make it if you run. That’s a powerful message, one I guess we all need to hear at various times, when we’re feeling lost, trapped, worn down.

There’s a follow-up song, less hopeful, called The Promise. I must have heard it but I’m avoiding a re-listen. I don’t want to know what happens next; I don’t need to know that, one day, Mary and the song’s narrator will be struggling with divorce or redundancy or cancer. Sure, that’s reality, happily ever afters are often left behind in the dust, and yet…

For me Thunder Road ends with them driving away forever, streetlights giving way to stars, car always moving through that liminal zone between the edge of town and the open road, happy endings forever up for grabs. And I’ll look out the window tonight, offer up a prayer for the Big Man and wonder if, somewhere out there in a small town a continent away, Mary is standing on her doorstep, deciding whether to stay or go.

I hope she gets in the car.

Update 19 June 2011 – it was announced today that Clarence Clemons has passed away. Rest in peace.)

 

The song that got you into music – Follow-up post

So, in my last post I asked about the songs that inspired people’s love of music. I got some good replies – Guns n Roses, Queen, Weezer – and so, I guess the time has come to share the song that made me hear music in a different way.

I’d like to say it was something that people who write clever articles about rock music would find credible. My favourite song is Springsteen’s Thunder Road, and critics respect that – it represents the American Dream and the repressiveness of small town life. You can get an essay or three out of that.

Unfortunately that isn’t the song that got me listening to music. That was Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.

Haha! No it wasn’t! Although that was the only time anyone’s used the word ‘haha’ in connection with Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.

No, the song that made me truly hear music was…

I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) by Meat Loaf.

I don’t apologise for that, even though some readers are now rolling their eyes. It’s a fantastic song, mainly because it’s big and over-the-top and epic. As its writer Jim Steinman once said (I think, I’m working from memory hear, sorry Jim), “There’s nothing wrong with going over the top, that’s how you get to see what’s on the other side.”

I admit I’m not a huge music Fan-with-a-capital-F – I like songs more than I like albums, and rather than appreciate music, I react to it, which means I’m easily manipulated by a key change or a clever turn of phrase.

So one night, when I was a lot younger, I was listening to a local radio station when Anything For Love came on. And it got me. It’s hard to explain how, but it was a similar experience to Terry Pratchett’s first listen to another Meat Loaf song: “I was driving down the motorway when Bat Out of Hell came on the radio,” he says, “And when it had finished I was considerably further down the motorway with no idea how I got there.” I know how he felt.

I guess it’s about music as a soundtrack, as an experience, as something that provokes a reaction, and outside of each composition’s individual, objective merits are moments when a song hits you and you just react. It’s a bit of a primal reaction, and regardless of rock snobbery, it’s kinda cool.

And it means I know what Meat won’t do for love…