This isn’t going to be the post I promised earlier on Facebook (That post, entitled “Wendy Davis, the GOP, and Sex” will be coming at some point, it’s just going to take a while since I want to make sure I get all my facts straight, since it’s such a touchy subject (pun intended)). Also, I’m sick right now, and I need something that doesn’t demand too much brainpower that will distract me from how miserable I feel. So this post is going to be a spin-off of my earlier song recommendation posts. Instead of listing some of my current favorites, I’m going to go back through my past and reminisce about some of my previous favorites.
“Standing Outside the Fire”- written by Garth Brooks and Jenny Yates, performed by Garth Brooks
This was my favorite song when I was four. My brother and I used to make my dad play it every morning on the way to the baby-sitter’s. This was my favorite song throughout elementary school (even though whenever I told people my favorite singer was Garth Brooks they’d be like, “Who’s he?”). A couple years ago, my now-friend Sierra and I were working on an assignment for the class we were in together, and during a break we ended talking about country music. I mentioned how I loved Garth Brooks when I was a kid, and her immediate response was, “He sang the fire song!!!” I like to think that was the moment we officially became friends. 🙂
(My entire Broadway phase, which lasted from fifth grade through most of middle school, will be glossed over. Not that there’s not good Broadway music, but seriously, why was I obsessed with Evita of all things? Also, I’d like to take a moment to thank my friend Chandra for putting up with me begging to watch The Sound of Music every time I slept over at her house. How you managed to not kill me, I’ll never know.)
“You’re So Vain”- written and performed by Carly Simon
I loved this song in seventh grade. I used to sing it while pretending to be über-sophisticated. I’d spend most of the song trying to sound angry, and then focus on injecting just the right amount of hurt into the line “But you gave away the things you loved./And one of them was me.” Also, “I had some some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee.” is such a beautiful image (and a totally apt metaphor). Finally, how can you not love the line, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”? (Weird fact: apparently Mick Jagger sings backing vocals on this song. Just found that out the other day.)
“Love Is Just a Four-Lettered Word”- written by Bob Dylan, performed by Joan Baez
In eighth grade I thought this was The Most Profound Song Ever. I loved the lyrics (even though I didn’t find out they were written by Dylan until after my sophomore year of college), as well as the very slightly risqué title.. This song marks the moment I switched from wishing I could sing like Julie Andrews to wishing I could sing like Joan Baez (and actually, I STILL wish I could sing like Joan Baez…). And it laid the groundwork for my renewed interest in folk music that began a couple years ago (my “Folk Revival”, if you will). Warning: The guitar part is very twangy. And this comes from someone who was raised on country music, so I know of what I speak.
(Judging from these two songs, I seem to have been very cynical about love in middle school. Then again, I think that’s pretty much par for the course.)
“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”- written by Kris Kristofferson, performed by Johnny Cash
For me, this song will forever be associated with high school (specifically, probably tenth and/or eleventh grades. I don’t remember for sure.) I used to listen to it late at night while doing math homework and pretending it was possible to get drunk on ginger ale (my extremely mild form of teenage rebellion). That sounds really depressing, but it helped me get through a rough point in my life, and hearing the song these days actually makes me kind of nostalgic. And if there’s a more honest line anywhere than “I’m wishin’, Lord, that I was stoned,” I haven’t heard it. I heard Kristofferson’s version once, and thought it was very good, but this song is yet another example of Musical Axiom #1: Everything sounds better when sung by Johnny Cash.
And finally, listen to “Please Please Me” by the Beatles and then listen to “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin'” by Loretta Lynn while imagining it as a response to the first song. Neither of these songs has ever been one of my particular favorites, but the pairing cracked me up the first time I thought of it in ninth grade, and still cracks me up today more than seven years later.
The last few weeks have been pretty stressful. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail, but my dad, brother, aunt, grandmother, counselor, English professor, doctor, psychiatrist, and multiple friends all think I need to get away from home, at least for a while. I’m continuing to look for a job and apartment in Missouri, but it’s a very time-consuming process. In the mean time, here are some song recommendations for you all (in no particular order), since what is life without music?
“It’s All Over, Mary Ann”- written by Jim Croce, performed by Jim and Ingrid Croce
This is one of Croce’s less well-known songs. Jim and Ingrid’s vocals are amazing, and the harmonies are absolutely wonderful. The extremely simple accompaniment (one guitar quietly playing the same two arpeggios over and over) allow their voices to really shine.
“Turn the Page”- written and performed by Bob Seger
The lyrics really get across the loneliness of life on the road. Seger’s understated delivery adds a feeling of weariness that makes the song even more expressive. And the saxophone part is just outstanding. It makes this haunting sound that I didn’t think saxophones were capable of.
“Tangled Up in Blue”- written and performed by Bob Dylan
In my opinion, this is one of Dylan’s best songs. His voice is at its peak (he’s actually on key for once!). The lyrics are creative and original, without delving into the excessive surrealism that sometimes marks Dylan’s work. The judicious use of the harmonica works wonderfully. Also, once you know the words, it’s really fun to sing along with, and very cathartic. It’s a little hard to figure out the story’s narrative, but you can get the gist of it pretty easily (Guy meets girl, keeps getting separated from her and tries to find her again. Despite what it sounds like, it’s really upbeat.). It’s not told in chronological order (I read somewhere it was inspired by Cubism (the art style)) so it’s got that Dylan strangeness that’s so appealing (well, to me anyway). I would suggest finding the original version from Blood on the Tracks. Apparently Dylan decided the song worked better in third person soon after he recorded it, and has performed it that way ever since. I disagree, but it’s his song, so he can do whatever he wants. It seems to have worked out well for him so far.
“Mercy Seat”- written by Nick Cave, performed by Johnny Cash
This is a song I would never have come across if Johnny Cash hadn’t covered it. I looked up the original recording by Cave, and absolutely hated his voice. (Which supports my axiom that everything sounds better when sung by Johnny Cash. Even if the original version was good, Cash’s version will sound better. It’s a fact of life.) I love the lyrics though, so I have to respect Cave for that. The song’s narrator is a criminal on death row who’s about to be executed, and who might not be totally sane. He keeps protesting his innocence, while going on a rambling stream-of-consciousness monologue that conflates the electric chair with the mercy seat (from the Bible, either God’s throne or where priests used to make sacrifices for people’s sins. I’m not totally sure. Either way, it’s got something to do with divine judgement, which is the important thing.) Cash’s voice is perfect for the lyrics- perhaps that’s why I hated Cave’s version so much. The ending is ambiguous- the narrator makes an admission that changes everything, and then falls silent (indicating that he’s died). At the end, there’s a lengthy piano solo that relieves all the emotional tension built up throughout the song.
“Carey”- written and performed by Joni Mitchell
You didn’t think I was going to let you get away before I recommended a Joni Mitchell song, did you? I almost recommended “Free Man in Paris” instead, since that’s probably more relevant to my life right now, but I chose “Carey” for its feeling of joie de vivre, which is something that’s rather lacking in my life at the current moment. It’s about a guy Mitchell was dating while living in a cave in Greece (Really! It was 1970, so I guess it was the times…). Anyway, “Carey” is the guy she’s dating that she’s going to break up with (Since apparently she didn’t want to live in a cave in Greece for the rest of her life. Totally understandable, in my opinion). But she’s decided to put it off for the moment and just enjoy the evening. The song’s syncopated rhythm is fun, and I LOVE Mitchell’s voice- it’s incredibly expressive. This is quite possibly the most flirtatious song I’ve ever heard. (Fun fact: Carey, the “bright red devil” in this song, also features in “California” as the “red, red rogue”).