Category Archives: Paul

Digging in the Garage – Inaugural Edition

One great thing about the music blogosphere is being exposed to other’s musical tastes and experiencing great music you’ve never heard before or had forgotten about.

This is how I got turned back on to early garage rock.  Someone somewhere mentioned Nuggets, the great early compilation of garage and psychedelic singles of the 60’s.  The original Nuggets (official title Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968) put together by Lenny Kaye was a 2 disc compilation released in 1972 by Elektra Records.  Subsequent versions were released by Rhino Records in the 80’s.

Between listening to these, along with multiple episodes of Little Steven’s Underground Garage (as part of “research” for my blogs on Little Steven (here and here), I’ve heard some great tunes.

So I thought it would be fun to do a recurring feature highlighting 2-3 of my favorite finds (or re-finds) from time to time.  I’m going to be pretty broad in what gets in – if its shown up on Nuggets, or the Underground Garage, or by a band that was on either, its eligible.  Thus, the Digging in the Garage title!  Get it?

For this first one, let’s start as Nuggets does, with “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes.  Great song title and band name!  The Prunes formed in 1965 in Los Angeles and recorded 2 albums before breaking up in 1968.  Their name apparently started as a joke, but they decided to keep it since it was so unusual, it would be memorable to listeners. Too Much to Dream was  written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz, and was the band’s second single. In 1967 it reached # 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The oscillating reversed guitar sound which opens the song was done by lead guitarist Ken Williams with his 1958 Gibson Les Paul and a Bigsby vibrato unit and then played backwards.

Next up, Don’t Look Back, by Barry and the Remains.  The Remains, from Boston, formed in 1964 and achieved a strong following in the New England area.  Their biggest claim to fame was opening for the Beatles on the Fab Four’s last US tour in 1966.  Don’t Look Back, written by Billy Vera, was from their debut album, 1966’s The Remains.  Ironically, opening for the Beatles didn’t break them nationally, and they actually had broken up prior to the album’s release.  I especially like the “Shout” type interlude midway through the song.

Next, let’s go to Cleveland for The Outsiders and Time Won’t Let Me.  The band had been playing as an R&B band the Starfires until changing their name in 1965.  Time Won’t Let Me, written by rhythm guitarist Tom King and his brother-in-law Chet Kelly, was a Top 5 hit in 1966 and became a million seller.  I love the combination of the 12 string guitar riff and the horn section chart.

Le’ts wrap up this edition in the Pacific Northwest, with Have Love Will Travel by The Sonics, from Tacoma WA.  The Sonics formed in 1961 but had their greatest success starting in 1964-65.  Have Love Will Travel was on their 1965 debut album Here Are The Sonics, and is a cover of the 1959 version by Richard Berry (fun fact: he also wrote Louie, Louie).  With its fuzzy guitars, booming drums, dirty sax, and screaming vocals, plus its primitive recording method, it seemed to come from an entirely different universe compared to most other songs of the time.  The Sonics are seen as precursors of punk, and this song is a great example.  If this song doesn’t at least get your toes tapping, check your pulse – you may not have one!

Well, that’s all for now.  I’ll have more nuggets in the future.

Source: Wikipedia

Nuggets image: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10513930

 

Little Steven – The Renaissance Man of Rock and Roll (Part 2)

I have always admired Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt).  To me his actions both in the studio and out are the true epitome of what rock and roll is all about, and the power it has to be a force for good in the world.  In Part 1 of this two part blog, I focused on Little Steven’s career through the end of the 1980s.  For Part 2, I’ll focus on highlights from the 1990’s right up to the present.

Image result for little steven

As I mentioned in Part 1, Van Zandt had lost his recording contract at the end of the 1980s.  But he was still plenty busy.  Through the years, Van Zandt had written and/or produced songs for other artists, including as mentioned before Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen (Van Zandt served as co-producer on The River and Born in the USA).  Other artists that he has written and/or produced songs for include Michael Monroe, Arc Angels, Nigerian superstar Make Fashek, and Darlene Love, among others.  He also produced and wrote songs for the ill-fated LA cowpunk band Lone Justice‘s second album Shelter in 1986. (As an aside, I have always loved lead singer Maria McKee‘s voice – its a real shame that things fell apart after this album).  Here’s the title track, a Van Zandt song that should have been a massive hit.

Towards the end the 1990s, Little Steven suddenly became insanely busy.  First he went into acting, playing mob consigliere Silvio Dante in HBO‘s The Sopranos.  The show’s producer, David Chase, had seen Van Zandt induct the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and was struck by his “performance” that evening.  The show ran from 1999 to 2007.  While not directly musical, one of the highlights of the show was the songs that would play during the ending credits each week.  These include several Little Steven songs, including Affection, from a never released album he recorded with a short lived garage band he had formed called the Lost Boys.

At the same time in 1999, Bruce Springsteen decided to reform the E Street Band after about a decade after breaking it up to pursue new musical directions.  While Van Zandt had left the band in 1984, when Springsteen asked him to be a part of the newly reformed band, he was in.  Touring behind a box set of Springsteen outtakes and alternate song versions called Tracks, the 1999 Reunion Tour highlighted the new more powerful E. Street Band, since they now had a 3 guitar line-up – Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren (who had replaced Van Zandt in 1984) and Springsteen himself (who was no slouch on the guitar).  I saw Springsteen several times on this tour, and it was a real joy to able to see Little Steven as part of the band (he had left before I got to see Bruce live).  Here’s one highlight from those shows, Bruce and Little Steven duetting on the River classic Two Hearts.

As if acting in a ground breaking TV series and touring with Springsteen weren’t enough, Little Steven also found time in 1999 to release his fifth solo album, Born Again Savage.  Recorded in 1994, it was released on Little Steven’s own Renegade Nation label, and featured both Adam Clayton of U2 and Jason Bonham.  A tribute to the 60s garage rock that Van Zandt loved as a teenager, it was a return to the harder rocking sound of his 1984 album Voice of America and dealt with issues of politics and religion.  Here’s Salvation.

Born Again Savage, and its garage rock sound was a precursor to another major endeavor of Little Steven, the creation of his syndicated radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage.  Premiering in 2002, and currently on over 80 stations in over 200 markets worldwide, the show has broadcast well over 800 episodes.  Van Zandt has said that he created the show in order to showcase the type of music that was heard on the radio during his youth, especially garage rock, that you don’t hear anymore.  The show, also heard on Sirius satellite radio, together with Van Zandt’s record label Wicked Cool Records, also promotes the current wave of garage and classic rock bands that you won’t hear on commercial radio.  According to the Underground Garage website, over 700 bands have been showcased on the show.  Here’s the humorous opening montage of the show.

During the rest of the 00’s and 10’s, Little Steven kept busy DJing the Underground Garage, touring with Springsteen, and writing/producing/starring in his own Netflix show Lillyhammer (about an ex-Mafia type living witness protection style in Norway).  In addition, in 2007 he founded the Rock and Roll Forever Foundationand its TeachRock project, to counter the widespread cut in arts funding seen in many school districts nationwide.  Using music (including rock) and provided for free to any school who wants it, the projects uses “interdisciplinary arts-driven materials designed to keep students engaged and in school.”  Again, using rock and roll to make society a better place by making learning and education fun and engaging for students!

In 2016 came the exciting news that Little Steven was going back into the recording studio to work on a new album with the Disciples of Soul!  The album Soulfire, was released in May 2017 and included both new and rearranged “rock and soul” songs from his previous work over the years.  The resulting tour for the album began in 2017 and looks to finish up later this year. Mike and Paul of this blog got to see the show when it stopped in Philadelphia and highly recommend it – one fantastic song after another; it was great to see Little Steven in top form!  One pretty cool aspect of the current tour leg is that Van Zandt has reserved a block of tickets at every show for teachers to attend free of charge, as a thank you to them for what they do educating the future generations of America.  One final song choice then, off of Soulfire – here’s Saint Valentine’s Day.  Classic Little Steven – I absolutely love the horn line in this one.  Just like way back in 1975 and Tenth Avenue Freeze-out, it elevates the song to a higher level.

Well, there you have it – my attempt to spread the love about Little Steven and all the good work he has done over the years using rock and roll as a force for good in our world.  I hoped you’ve enjoyed it.  I’ll close with the original liner notes that Little Steven wrote for Born Again Savage.  To me they get to the core of his view of what music can mean.

We live in an insane asylum. A barbaric, merciless cesspool. And in this purgatory filled with disease and ugliness and violence and hatred and injustice and greed and lies and pain and frustration and confusion there are brief, fleeting moments of peace and love and truth and beauty. They are rare. They are years and miles apart. But they are so meaningful that they make life worth living. Those moments give you strength to face the insanity with your balance intact and your eyes focused and you endure and tolerate and survive. And if you’re lucky, real lucky, you can tap that strength and hold on to it long enough to, in your own small way, try to make it all a little bit better. Just a little bit more civil and just. To serve. And you don’t do it for anybody else because no one is going to thank you or reward you or even notice. Don’t kid yourself. You do it for you. For your own soul. Because in this world that’s all the salvation you’re ever gonna get.

Thank you Little Steven for all your efforts – it is noticed, and appreciated! Your music has made my life and our world a better place.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; littlesteven.com; underground garage.com; rockandrollforever.org;teachrock.org;

Little Steven – The Renaissance Man of Rock and Roll (Part 1)

Songwriter.  Guitarist. Band leader. Producer. Arranger. Actor. DJ. Political activist. Little Steven is all these and more.  In all of this, the common theme (in the recording studio, on stage, and off) has always been, in my opinion, keeping the true spirit, soul, and potential of rock and roll alive.

Smwknd-steven-van-zandt-3814.jpgBy Fuzheado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

I’ve admired Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt) for several decades now, ever since I got into Bruce Springsteen back in the late 70’s/early 80’s.  While knowledgeable music fans may know him as the bandanna wearing guitarist in Springsteen’s E St. Band, his career and accomplishments actually go far beyond his contributions to Bruce’s music and live shows.  His tireless efforts and dedication both in the studio and out to preserve and promote rock and roll as a life changing force for good in the world is something that has always impressed me.  So I thought it might be fun to do a career retrospective to spread the love.

First, some quick bio information.  Van Zandt was born on November 22, 1950 in Boston MA.  His family moved to Middletown Township, NJ when he was a child, and he came up  in the 60’s Jersey Shore music scene.  Like many teenagers at the time, his life was forever changed after watching the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. He formed a number of short lived bands, including one called the Shadows.  In 1966 or 1967, the Shadows were playing the Hullabaloo Club in Middletown, when another aspiring musician by the name of Bruce Springsteen showed up.  So began a life long personal and musical friendship.  Van Zandt was a member of several of Springsteen’s early bands, including Steel Mill and The Bruce Springsteen Band. Interestingly, he was not in the earliest versions of the E St. Band that recorded and performed with Springsteen in the early 1970’s.  But he came back in a big way with Springsteen’s break out (and classic) album Born to Run.

During the recording of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the session had come to a crashing halt because Bruce’s original horn arrangement was not working.  The two high priced session horn players that had been brought in (Randy and Michael Brecker) were having trouble translating Springsteen’s vision to tape.  Van Zandt was there that today, hanging out in the control room.  According to legend, Van Zandt said “I got it” and then proceeded to sing the individual horn parts to the Brecker Brothers.  And the rest is history as they say.  Here’s the track with the classic horn line.

Van Zandt officially joined the E Street Band on July 20, 1975 for the first show of the Born to Run tour and remained with the band until 1984 (more on that later). When not recording or touring with Springsteen, he found time to co-found Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a Jersey shore “rock and soul” band that achieved its most success in the NY/NJ/Philly area in the 70’s.  Van Zandt wrote the majority of the songs on and produced their first three albums, including Hearts of Stone, which was named by Rolling Stone magazine one of the top 100 albums of all time in 1987 (fun fact – the title track was a classic Springsteen outtake that he gave to Southside Johnny).  I could highlight so many songs, but let’s go with the title track from their debut album, a Van Zandt composition called I Don’t Want to Go Home.

Little Steven’s solo career and political activism started to take shape in the early 80’s.  During Springsteen’s European tour to promote The River, Van Zandt was exposed for the first time to how the rest of the world viewed the US, and it was not entirely positive. This led him to start researching things himself, and soon to start writing songs with more overt political themes.

Little Steven’s first album Men without Women (with his band the Disciples of Soul), was released in 1982.  I have to say that it is a killer album – one of my all time favorites, definitely on my Desert Island Disc list!  The music is similar in style to the rock and soul sound of his work with Southside Johny, and  only hinted at his budding activism.  Here’s the opening cut, Lyin’ in a Bed of Fire, which deals with everyone’s individual responsibility to participate in political life.

In 1984, just prior to Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour, Van Zandt decided to devote himself full time to his solo career, and left the E St. Band. His 1984 album Voice of America fully embraced his new political activism with a more varied and rocking musical style, with most of the songs dealing with either general political issues or his disagreement with US foreign policy under President Reagan. Whether you agree with his politics or not, what can’t be disputed is Little Steven’s desire to use rock and roll as a source of inspiration and education about current events and to call for change in the world we live in.  Again, so many songs to choose from, but I’d like to feature I Am A Patriot.  This song, which has been covered by a number of artists, including Jackson Browne and Pearl Jam, gets at what true patriotism is.  It’s always been one of my favorites.

In 1985, Little Steven took his new overtly political musical outlook to another level, forming the organization Artists United Against Apartheid and writing the song Sun City to protest the apartheid policies of South Africa.  Sun City was a luxury resort in an area of South Africa called Bophuthatswana, which the South African government claimed was a separate nation but which was in reality where the government was forcing South African blacks to move to.  Many Western artists were playing the resort with the notion that they were not playing South Africa so it was ok. Little Steven wrote the song to bring attention to this hypocrisy and to the wider evil of apartheid.  Similar to We Are the World, the song brought together a wide collection of artists for the song’s recording and companion video. Except this group was much cooler than the Michael Jackson/Lionel Ritchie led group (IMHO), and included rap and hip/hop, rock, R&B and jazz artists. The song was a declaration of solidarity that this group of artists at least would not play Sun City.  I think its a great example of Little Steven using the power of rock and roll to try to affect social and political change.  Check out this video and see how many artists you can spot.

Little Steven continued his solo career output with two more albums in the decade, 1987’s Freedom No Compromise, and 1989’s Revolution.  Musically they included more dance and world music influences, and both continued his focus on political issues, with Freedom No Compromise for example tackling the US government’s treatment of Native Americans, its foreign policy in Central America, and South Africa.  Here’s one of my favorite cuts, Sanctuary (the message is self evident in the lyrics).

At the end of the 1980’s Little Steven lost his recording contract.  But did he fade into oblivion?  Of course not!  Since this post has gotten pretty long, I’ll end for now.  But I’ll cover Van Zandt’s activities from the 90’s through the present in a follow up post.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube.com; Little Steven.com; Goldminemag.com 

 

Songs about Rain

“Into each life some rain must fall”   So said Longfellow

This past July was apparently the wettest on record for the DC/Baltimore area.  This got me thinking about rain, and songs about rain.  While everyone would agree that we need rain, most times its a bummer in that it ruins outdoor plans, keeps you inside, and is associated with a lack of sunshine.  How is rain used in songs?

There are literally dozens if not hundreds of songs about rain.  So this will be just a small sample of rain songs that I dig for one reason or another.

Sometimes the message is pretty straightforward – the songwriter doesn’t like rain.  The Travis song ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me‘ (off their 1999 album The Man Who was written by lead singer Fran Healy after traveling to Israel for winter holiday to get away from his rainy Scotland home.  And what did it do during his holiday – rain!  But Healy then also uses rain as a metaphor for a unsettled mental state:

Why does it always rain on me?
Even when the sun is shining I can’t avoid the lightning’

I love how the violin perfectly captures the depressing message of the song.

 

One of my favorite bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had not one but two great songs about rain.  First up, ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain‘ off their 1970 album Pendulum. Many people thought the song was about the Vietnam War or the loss of the idealism of the 60’s, but John Fogerty has said that in fact it was written about the creative tensions in the band and the imminent departure of his brother Tom even while the band was at the height of its commercial success. The lyrics capture this perfectly in the image of rain on a sunny day:

Have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

 

The second great song from CCR is ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ off their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory.  Again, many interpreted the song to be about the Vietnam War, but Fogerty has said it was actually written after CCR played at Woodstock.  After seeing the masses of fans singing and dancing despite being cold and muddy in the unrelenting rain, he went home and wrote the song.

Heard the singers playing, How we cheered for more.
The crowd had rushed together, Trying to keep warm.
Still the rain kept pouring, Falling on my ears.
And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain.

Another sub 3 minute classic from CCR!

 

Let’s shift to the pop world.  A great example of rain as a metaphor for the complicated nature of emotional relationships is the Eurthymics song ‘Here Comes The Rain Again‘ from their 1984 album TouchDave Stewart has said that the melancholy mood of the song is due to “I’m playing a b-minor, but then I change it to put a b-natural in, and so it kind of feels like that minor is suspended, or major. So it’s kind of a weird course.” The song structure also repeatedly alternates between an A and B section with little variation, suggesting the monotony of continuous rain fall.  The lyrics captured in Annie Lennox’s beautiful vocals describe a tension between the complicated emotions that can happen simultaneously in a troubled relationship: resignation,depression, longing, but still love and desire.

Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
Oh
I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do

 

Let’s go back a bit.  A great use of rain to speak to larger societal issues is the Bob Dylan classic ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ from his 1963 album  The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  The song is written in the style of an old English folk ballad with a mother repeatedly asking her son questions, and he answering them in increasingly apocalyptic terms.  The song is generally considered an anti-nuclear war ballad, although Dylan has said the rain imagery in it is not meant to be nuclear fallout, but “some sort of end that’s just gotta happen.”.  The lyrics get increasingly dark, culminating in

I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number…..
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

 

Ok, let’s do one for the youngsters in the audience.  Only Happy When It Rains by Garbage (off their self titled 1995 album).  On the face of it, the lyrics are pretty bleak and depressing, veering towards being a bit over the top – but actually that was the intent.  The song is actually a tongue in cheek poke at the general view at the time that grunge and alt rock bands only sang about depressing angst ridden subjects.

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad?
I’m only happy when it rains
Pour your misery down
Pour your misery down on me

 

Ok time to start wrapping this one up.  There’s only one song about rain that  I can imagine finishing this post with.  Purple Rain by Prince.  The title song off the soundtrack to his 1984 movie, and the song that launched him to pop super-stardom, was apparently inspired after Prince attended several Bob Seger concerts and noticed the huge response that slow songs like Night Moves and Mainstreet received.  The meaning of its lyrics have been much debated – clearly its a love song, although Prince has been quoted as saying this about it:

When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple.. purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain

Ok, now that we have cleared that up….  What’s interesting to me is that it is one of the few instances (at least for a song that was this popular) of rain not having a negative connotation, but rather a joyous, cleansing, ok, even spiritual feeling.  Prince’s impassioned vocals, along with the equally brilliant guitar solo, take the song to another level.  By the end of the song, you feel like you have taken a journey to a new better place where you can start anew, “bathing in the purple rain”.  Even if you aren’t completely sure what purple rain is.

 

Ok that will do it for now.  As I mentioned earlier, there are loads of songs about rain.  These are only the ones that immediately came to mind.  Perhaps I will do a follow up post some time looking at other examples.

Now it’s your turn! – what are some of your favorite songs about rain?

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts.com; Genius.com; NME.com

‘Eye of the Tiger’ as played by an Orchestra of 80+ Double Basses

My son plays the double bass, and each year takes part in a really cool summer camp called BassWorks – a one week summer music camp of only double bass players.  The camp includes students of all ages and levels of abilities, and the faculty includes some of the best double bass players in the country and world.

For their final concert, in addition to more classical pieces, they usually do one popular song.  This year it was Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’.  Check it out!

 

If you search for BassWorks on YouTube, you can also sample the entire 2.5 hour final concert which includes the different smaller ensembles and the full orchestra final concert.  The faculty recital is also worth checking out to see that the double bass is much more than just a accompaniment instrument in an orchestra.

One List of the Worst Songs of all Time

Mike and Paul love music – all kinds of music.  That’s why we started a blog after all!  So we tend to have a pretty wide area of toleration, if not love, for all kinds of music.  We would never say we hate for example, all country music, or all hip hop music, or even all polka music.

Having said that, we have to admit that there are some songs that just don’t cut it.  Inane melodies, pointless embarrassing lyrics, some songs are just bad.  Even artists with songs we love can over the course of a long career reach a creative nadir.  So without further ado, here is, in my opinion, a list of the worst songs of all time.  Disagree?  Have suggestions for additional songs?  Leave a comment below.

 

Beach Boys  Kokomo

Ok the Beach Boys are a legendary band, revolutionizing rock and roll in the early 60’s with their classic surfer sound.  But 25 years on, they had sunk to this annoying piece of pop drek. Pointless chorus, and it goes downhill from there.

 

Starship – We Built this City

This one makes most lists of all time worst songs.  What began as Jefferson Airplane, the influential late 60’s psychedelic folk/rock band, had morphed in the mainstream rock band Jefferson Starship, which descended by 1985 into Starship, which produced this.  The pretentiousness of the lyrics, combined with a bland melody is just too much. Extra rotten tomatoes for the cheesiness of the video.

 

Lou Ree – Metal Machine Music

In 1975, Lou Reed released this album of, let’s be honest, noise.  There are no melodies, no lyrics, no rhythms, just an hour plus of guitar feedback and other effects.  Some have hailed it as the forerunner of industrial or noise rock.  There is speculation it was a big middle finger to his record company.  Either way it is un-listenable.  If you ever want to clear a party, just put this on.  Here is a mercifully short clip.  The entire album is over an hour of this.

 

Van Halen  – Why Can’t This Be Love?

Sometimes its not the song melody that makes a song the worst, but the lyrics.  This 1986 song, the first with lead singer Sammy Hagar, gets the nod for  utterly inane lyrics.  One choice example: “Hey only fools rush in and only time will tell, If we stand the test of time.”  Seriously guys, this is the best you could come up with?

 

Kid Rock – All Summer Long

I have to say up front that I have never been a Kid Rock fan, which doesn’t make me particularly popular with my in-laws who live in Michigan.  What annoys me about this song is the complete rip-off (some would say appropriation) of the melody structure of  Warren Zevon‘s ‘Werewolves of London’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’  I know that there are few original ideas in music (everyone is always recycling new ideas for new creative purposes) but in my opinion this crosses the line into desecration of two classics.

 

USA for Africa – We are the World

Ok so yes, this song was done for a noble purpose (to raise money for famine victims in Africa).  And yes it brought together the best of mid 80’s American pop and rock stars to record it (watching the video is a kick in that sense).  But the song itself, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richtie?  Not so good.

 

Lou Bega – Mambo #5

This one is emblematic of any number of one hit wonder songs that become massively popular in a short amount of time.  I’m thinking the Macarena, Who Let the Dogs Out, Gangnam Style.  They may not necessarily be terrible songs themselves, but they get played over and over and over and over and over…again on the radio to the point where you want to destroy your radio.

 

Dionne & Friends – That’s What Friends Are For

Written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  Ok.  Covered in this version by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.  Granted.  And it also was a charity song for AIDS research and prevention – a noble purpose.  But it makes my list for a very specific reason.  At the 1986 Grammy Awards, this song beat out the following songs for Song of the Year – Steve Winwood – Higher Love; Paul Simon – Graceland; Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer.  Stop for a second and read that list again.  Enough said.  I guess its not the song’s fault it won, but if it hadn’t been written it wouldn’t have won.

 

Dan Hill – Sometimes When We Touch

This 1977 song by songwriter Dan Hill is the perfect example of overly earnest lyrical sentiments that quickly collapses into annoying tripe and cheesiness. As one song lyric goes, “The honesty’s too much, And I have to close my eyes, And hide.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself, Dan.

 

Extreme – More than Words

A hair band trying to show its sensitive side.  The message to the girl in the song is to show her love for the protagonist with more than words.  Maybe its just me, but this one creeps me out.  Reminds me of the archetypal scene in the backseat of a car on a Saturday night where the captain of the football team is trying to get the cheerleader to give it up by showing his “sensitive side.”

 

Wang Chung – Everybody Have Fun Tonight

This 1986 hit by Wang Chung is a good example of how bad some 1980s music became.  Pointless, self involved, new wave cheesiness.  They even refer to themselves in the song lyrics.  Bonus rotten tomatoes for the music video – enough to induce a seizure from all the rapid fire jump cuts.

 

Stevie Nicks Silent Night

Covers of Christmas classics by contemporary artists could be its whole own category of worst songs.  Why does every artist who has more than 2 albums feel the need to do a Christmas album?  Easy money I guess, since you don’t to write the songs, just sing and record them and put it out during the holiday season.  Most of these covers are just plain boring, nondescript, or bland.  Every once in a while a new classic is born.  But the flip side is this selection off A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1, which has Stevie Nicks completely ruining Silent Night.  Completely misguided pairing of artist to song.  And the backing vocals from Robbie Nevil don’t help.

 

So that’s it for now?  Violently disagree?  Dumbfounded that I forgot your favorite selection?  Leave a comment below!

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Image result for be more kind

Frank Turner is an English singer whose songs have been described as folk punk.  A former member of the punk band Million Dead, his songs as a solo artist are folk songs with a punk asthetic – fast paced, aggressive, fist pumping and easy to sing loud to.  What we really love about his songs though is the message inherent in his lyrics: to be true to yourself, experience life to the fullest, and be authentic.  Very inspirational and life affirming at any age, whether your adult life is just starting or you’re facing midlife and questioning what comes next.

Turner has never shied away from the political, but it hasn’t been as much of a focus as earlier in his career.

Early in his solo career he wrote  songs bursting with youthful indignation and righteous anger. They were sometimes political, sometimes blasphemous and occasionally profane.

The last two albums, 2013‘s Tape Deck Heart and 2015‘s Positive Songs for Negative People found Frank focusing more inwardly; somewhat pessimistically, on TDH and then with a somewhat  sunnier outlook on Positive Songs. Those albums chronicle a personal emotional journey from a darker emotional place to new promising relationships. 

2018 has Frank turning his gaze back outward to the rest of the world.

His latest album, Be More Kind returns to  earlier themes.  The election of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit in his home UK, have made him contemplate the meaning of these events in our time, and how to continue to be authentic when the world is “slipping over the brink,” as he states in the punk tinged ‘1933‘, an allusion to the years before WWII and the start of the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The song is a direct slap in the listener’s face to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, a pretty terrifying take on the current state of world affairs.

While 1933 (along with the one off song ‘Sand in the Gears‘ that he premiered right after Trump’s election in Jan. 2017) are directly confrontational, Turner’s larger question on his current album is how to move forward to a better place given the situation we find ourselves in.  His answer, as you may have guessed by now, is answered in the title track ‘Be More Kind‘.  Starting quietly with just acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds to a full  yet restrained melody as Turner implores us to show more kindness towards each other, try to better understand each other and find common ground, regardless of our political views or beliefs.

We’ve stopped talking to each other
And there’s something wrong with that
So before you go out searching
Don’t decide what you will find
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

 

In other songs, Turner explores this theme of connection by focusing on finding individual connection with another within a futuristic nightmare landscape where the world is already over the brink (‘20th Century Survival Blues‘)  or when faced with a literal and figurative ‘Blackout‘:

Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
Bring a burning candle with you
Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
I will be there waiting for you

Musically, this is Turner’s most expansive album to date, incorporating not just his trademark punk folk as well as rock style, but also the most pop influenced songs of his career.  While ‘There She Is‘ is a lovely slice of acoustic pop balladry, ‘Little Changes‘ uses an upbeat and bouncy melody to impart the message that “the big things stay the same until we make Little changes” – change, whether in your personal relationships or in society as a whole, cannot happen all at once but needs to start one step at a time, always moving forward.

In our mind, the highlight of the album and the song that brings it all together is ‘Make America Great Again‘, where Turner brilliantly turns the Trump slogan on its head, using the conceit of an Englishman using the US/England “special relationship” to give advice to his country’s former colony.  After suggesting in the chorus that we make America great again by “By making racists ashamed again, Let’s make compassion in fashion again” Turner ends the song by saying:

Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends
And call them out when they’re faltering
Remind them of their best selves and then
We’ll make America great again

Be More Kind provides a compelling reminder for finding our best selves again, for showing kindness, love and tolerance of others, as the only way to make it through these challenging times.