Rhonda Vincent: Bananaphone
[purchase Country Goes Raffi - it's amazingly awesome!]
Seriously: this song isn't as bad as you think it is.
Sure, it's made for kids. It's plenty silly, enough to have staying power as viral meme in the digital world. It's got such a high catchiness quotient, it's prone to get stuck in the brain for days.
But so what if it's an earworm: it's also so infectiously fun, you can't help but sing along once you know the words.
And check out that jazz drum intro, the jaunty piano riffs, the clarinet. It would make a wonderfully playful song to play over the credits for a Woody-Allen-meets-Elmo flick, if there could ever be such a thing.
Rhonda Vincent's swingin' countrygrass take kicks it, too. And in the end, doesn't good coverage say what it needs to about the innate soundness of a song?
So let yourself go: try 'em both, and then try to get the damn thing out of your head. I'll be over here, dancing around the living room with the five year old, laughing my head off.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Kim Richey: Hello Old Friend
Our theme this week lends itself to contemplation of technological change. I’m not the first to mention it, but the fact is that the telephone and its use have changed drastically in my lifetime. Hello Old Friend brings this to mind in a different way than most of the songs so far this week. The narrator gets a call out of the blue from an old friend. The conversation is awkward at first. The conventional pleasantries hide the fact that they are not sure what to say to one another. Eventually, they find just a small piece of common ground, and it is enough. So what does this have to do with changing technology? The song dates from 1999, and I can’t imagine anyone making a call like that today. Now, you would just send a friend request on Facebook, and hope that the other person would eventually post something you wanted to respond to. Something has been gained, but something has also been lost.
I am on something of a Kim Richey kick lately. I just reviewed her latest album, Wreck Your Wheels, on my blog Oliver di Place. That got me thinking of this song, and I’m glad this theme came along so I could share it.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Bob Dylan & The Band: Long Distance Operator
Jim Croce: Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)
Roman Reese: Come in Operator
Bert's post got me thinking about the now obsolete job of the telephone operator. Odds are that my daughter, who is now three months old will never have the experience of picking up a phone and simply dialing the switchboard operator for assistance with making a call. Heck, I'm 32, and I don't think I've ever done it either.
My grandfather worked 30 years for AT&T. When he started working for the phone company, the switchboard operator was an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle. Now his great-granddaughter will likely have no idea the job ever existed. Maybe he can tell her about it someday.
The first two songs here are fairly classic. The third is a more recent track from former Knoxvillian (now in the DC area) Roman Reese about a more metaphorical phone call. In it, the singer is sending up a prayer, and God is working the switchboard.
White Stripes: Hello Operator
Hoyt Axton: Telephone Booth
Brian Setzer: Pennsylvania 6-5000
Drive-By Truckers: George Jones Talkin' Cell Phone Blues
This week's theme got me thinking about how greatly telephones have changed in the last few decades. Years ago operator assisted long distance calls were common. So were phone booths and letter prefixes. Land line hard wire telephones have becoming increasingly scarce with over 285 million American mobile subscribers.That's about 91 percent of the total population of the United States. Some 24.5 percent of U.S. households have also dumped their landlines which translates to about 52 million mobile-only subscribers. Worldwide, mobile subscriptions have reached 4.6 billion! Quite the distance we've traveled since Alexander Graham Bell said to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson in another room, "Mr.Watson, come here, I want to see you."
Aretha Franklin: Call Me
Al Green: Call Me (Come Back Home)
I'm back from 3 weeks in Europe; didja miss me? I missed SMM, especially Discovery Week, which I watched from afar (and great, great job, everyone!) Every day I wrote a post in my head about a discovery of mine, which I'd change by the next day. I mean, where would I even begin? With my very first 45 record that I listened to over and over on my little kiddie record player at the tender age of 4? That would be The Andrews Sisters "Sugar in the Morning" (and if I could ever get hold of that single, I'd be over the moon!) Or would I write about my most recent discovery, NICO Touches the Walls, a group I'm exploring right this very moment after hearing "THE BUNGY" last week? Because I've been around for a long time, you could say I'm spoiled for choice. And while I may not know you well or even at all, I can pretty much say for certainty that all of you are the same – music moves you and your life. The song may not remain the same but music is important. Do you find yourself at a loss for words when you find yourself fervently proselytizing about some special song or group, only to be told that your listener "doesn't really pay attention to music at all." I'm left guppying in amazement.
Therefore, I'm going to sneak in a bit of discovery for my "Call Me" songs.
I grew up in suburban Detroit (aka The Motor City – Motown) in the '60s, which means I listened to a whole lot of soul music at a tender age on WKNR (Keener 13) and CKLW (which, okay, was technically a Canadian station, but it was just across the river). One of my favorite singers then and now is Aretha Franklin, a Detroit native.
Aretha wrote "Call Me" in 1970 as a slow piano-backed ballad, which is backed with the famous session musicians, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. She pleads with her lover to keep in touch during their upcoming separation, but expresses confidence that love will carry them through. And you get the feeling it will.
Another powerful soul singer expresses the same sentiment in a song of (nearly) the same name. Al Green's 1973 hit implies that his upcoming separation may be permanent and perhaps their love isn't quite so solid, but he urges his lover to "come back home" if the going gets rough.
I was reminded of the staying power of this tune when I heard it Tuesday while shopping at my local Ross, a store that plays some pretty good music and isn't afraid to turn it up, either. I know you notice ambient music, too, admit it. You're the person next to me in the elevator who knows I'm not some crazy woman laughing at nothing - I'm just chuckling at the incongruity of that Muzaked version of "White Wedding."
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Lou Reed: New York Telephone Conversation
It seems that a lot of telephone talking (judging by what I overhear on the bus, anyway) deals with "who has" "who did" "...did not!" "...better not!", and all that same stripe of gossip.
Lou Reed nails that wearying, spot-on, during the set up of New York Telephone Conversation.
Getting woke up, and deciding whether to answer... is much easier now, what with caller ID, no?
Deciding to answer and finding out it is nothing important, just idle chatter and gossip. No more easier then than now, no?
But then Lou spins it. curing the emotional bend of too-much-talking into what every person who has been in love has ever wanted to hear:
"For I know this night will kill me if I can't be with you."
Bill Morrissey and Greg Brown: Memphis, Tennessee
In 1993, Greg Brown and Bill Morrissey were big names in folk music, so the news that they had done an album together was big news. Friend of Mine has some traditional songs, songs by folk artists old a new, and some ringers, like this one, originally by Chuck Berry. But try finding more versions of this song. There are simply too many. Memphis, Tennessee has been done in country, punk, rockabilly, and rock versions. Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, and Sammy Kershaw have all done it. So this is a song that has become part of the culture. That’s because Chuck Berry expressed something universal here, the yearning of a father who has been separated from his daughter. So Memphis, Tennessee has become part of the culture and has a universal theme. Maybe that means that it is a folk song after all. And maybe it’s really not so surprising that Brown and Morrissey recorded it.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Blondie: Hanging On The Telephone
The Nerves: Hanging On The Telephone
L7: Hanging On The Telephone
Most folks know where this week's theme title came from. But less seem familiar with Blondie's "other" phone-themed song, an earlier, popular cover of an obscure song by Jack Lee's short-lived US West Coast power pop trio The Nerves, which sped up the song a la punk and gave Blondie their third top 10 song on the UK charts (Trivia note: their first chart-topper, the previous year's Denis, was also a cover). By the time all-American all-girl thrashpunk band L7's even faster cover found it's way to the Jerky Boys Movie soundtrack in 1995, the song was already starting to fade from the national consciousness - tellingly, L7 and The Nerves were both from Los Angeles - and until Cat Power revived the song for a Cingular commercial in 2006, it hadn't really stuck in mine, either.
But despite my affinity for all things sweet, I think sticking with the punk evolution is a better way to appreciate this one, in the end. The opening ring is cute, and the drum-beat rich and just frantic enough in all three versions here today. Blondie's harmonies are sweet, and typical of the sound that brought the American New Wave to the forefront of popular music in my own formative years, and lead singer Debbie Harry has a great tone here. But I mostly like this tune for the room it opens up for the guitars - something you can hear in every incarnation.
Chantal Kreviazuk: Until We Die
I'm not a phone person myself, in fact I'd say it's my least favorite way of communicating, but I can still understand the sentiment behind this beautiful love song by Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk. "Until We Die" was featured on her album "Colours Moving and Still", which was released in 1999, the same year she married her boyfriend, Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida.
As one could imagine, two successful musicians with extensive touring schedules would have to deal with a lot of time apart. If this song tells us anything, it says that their conversations during those times away were a little bit of heaven and made them realize how much they were meant to be together. I've had a history of spending long periods of time away from the one I love, and I know how sometimes just hearing their voice is the most comforting and wonderful thing.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Monster: Don't Answer The Phone
Hearing of this week's theme I couldn't help but think that with the crazy cell phones people have these days "connecting via telephone" could mean virtually anything. Having a phone with which you can only make calls is as antiquated as using a Walkman.
Not that I would know anything about these fancy gadgets, I didn't even own a cell phone until last year at the ripe age of 28. And I didn't even buy it myself, it was a birthday present from friends who were sick of never being able to get hold of me. It was ultimately a present for themselves more than for me, as I only use when someone calls me.
To paraphrase Leonard Shelby in Christopher Nolan's Memento: "I'm not too good on the phone, I prefer to look people in the eye when I talk to them." So just to be subversive I'll contribute a song about not communicating via telephone. Let's all take our lead from Monster:
Don't answer the phone!
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Shelby Lynne: Telephone
Sometimes it can be hard to end a relationship. You know it’s over, but you can’t quite take the action that would make it official, as if doing so would constitute a personal failure. At such a time, you might be tempted to call your former other at a time when you are fairly sure they won’t pick up. Then, you “tried”, and it’s not your fault. But be careful. Shelby Lynne tells what happens if they pick up anyway, and its not pretty. It is a beautifully rendered song though. Lynne’s seemingly calm delivery has just enough cracks to make this emotionally powerful.
Religions pray for a convert like me. Six months ago I was quite happy with my pre-paid, minimal-minutes phone plan...
Robbie Fulks: Fountains of Wayne Hotline
Our transition song this week was released as a one-off single in 2005, making it a bit more recent than we usually go for. But it was supposedly recorded as a private joke a couple of years earlier and then shelved for a long while before fan pressure prompted its release, and the songcraft it parodies has certainly been around long enough to count.
Full disclosure: I love Fountains of Wayne, especially 2003 hit record Welcome Interstate Managers, which is the same disc which Fulks and his band were listening to during the time they recorded this song in their friend's garage. [Ed: read more about the backstory here.] But Robbie Fulks' total breakdown of their formulaic approach to music is funny as hell, and a worthy addition to a vast and far-too-often underrated catalog which includes both the serious electro-pop satire of 2001 fave Real Money and such faux-country singalong love song hilarity as The Scrapple Song.
I have to admit, I'm not sure if this song is as funny if you haven't had college level courses in music theory. But let's give it a try, shall we?