Sounds of Music

Songbook: Da Doo Ron Ron

I might have given you an impression that I only like songs with ponderous, complicated lyrics. Let’s talk this one then.

“Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals

Year: 1963

Category: Golden oldies

Why it rocks:
It’s the best 60s music had to offer: fun, rhythm, a melody that makes you tap your foot and reflections on the modern world. Most of those anyway. It’s such an enjoyable song with a whole lot of instruments you wouldn’t necessarily expect there.

Favorite lyrics:
“And when he walked me home / Da doo ron-ron-ron, da doo ron-ron.”
I’m kidding, the lyrics don’t matter.

Favorite moment:
Intro! And the energy of the whole thing.

Best for: A dance party, baby.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Man of Constant Sorrow

Let’s get serious guys: we will be talking lots of Bob Dylan here. Lots. Here’s one less conventional song for a good start.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” by Bob Dylan

Album: No Direction Home: Bootleg Vol. 7

Year: 1962

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Dylan’s bests are rarely covers but this one he completely makes his own (up to and including serious lyrics changes). It’s such a young Dylan, when he was flaunting the bad boy persona like nobody’s business and it’s fun to see him shifting the focus of this story into a more juvenile place where it’s all about a mysterious heartbreak. Also, I’ve always liked Dylan’s early harmonica (I mean since I taught myself to like it but it was so long ago it’s like in a different lifetime).

Favorite lyrics:
“I’ll say goodbye to Colorado / Where I was born and partly raised.” The “partly” is such a fun Dylan-like little shift. And people say he didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize. Heh. Basically, the best part of this lyrics is all the differences he makes to the classic version.

Favorite moment:
The last verse. But also, points for the long notes.

Best for: Arguments with people who think that version from that movie is better.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Cleopatra

I think the Lumineers are a great band, one of my favorites among the current performers, but with this song they outshone themselves. I doubt I will even do it justice.

“Cleopatra” by the Lumineers

Album: Cleopatra

Year: 2016

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
For its incredible, heart-breaking humanism. Apparently, the lead singer listened to a Georgian taxi driver and wrote her story in a song. It’s small-scale and grandiose at the same time, random and feels so true to life, both tragic and commonplace. I love the imprecise rhyming pattern which makes the story feel even truer. I also love how simple and direct the song is despite all this emotional burden.

Favorite lyrics:
“I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters.” I mean, come on.

Favorite moment:
This one: “So I drive a taxi / And the traffic distracts me / From the strangers in my backseat / They remind me of you.” But others are close.

Best for: Getting emotional.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: King of the World

This song by a Swedish (but-they-could-totally-be-American) band was, appropriately, suggested to me by Spotify a while ago.

“King of the World” by First Aid Kit

Album: The Lion’s Roar

Year: 2012

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
I like the tempo and the upbeat rebelliousness of this song. It’s such a good, light – and yet introspective – thing. It talks cheerfully of inner unrest and that’s always interesting.

Favorite lyrics:
“And once you asked me what was my biggest fear / That things would always remain so unclear / That one day I’d wake up all alone / With a big family and emptiness deep in my bones / That I would be so blinded, turn a deaf ear / And that my fake laugh would suddenly sound sincere.”

Favorite moment:
I love the bit with the waitress: so simple and so human at the same time and you can’t help but see the whole scene.

Best for: Swaying happily and feeling like you want to go on a roadtrip. Or maybe for having an existential crisis.

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Songbook: River Waltz

I’m a sucker for triple meter, as you will have many occasions to see, I’m sure. This little pearl I found, like so many songs I like, in a movie.

“River Waltz” by Cowboy Junkies

Album: Rarities, B-Sides and Slow, Sad Waltzes

Year: 1999

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It’s such an atmospheric, simple song with many things floating there, never fully realized: a bit of ecological thought, a bit of white-trashy romance, quite a bit of myth. It’s a song (and a voice) to get lost in.

Favorite lyrics:
I prefer the melody to the lyrics in this song but take the opening, for instance: “I’m going to find me a dying river / And strike a deal with her, I’ll say: / I’ll fold you in two and I’ll carry you away.”

Favorite moment:
The third verse in which the story and the melody change and it’s suddenly an imperfect love story more than a myth. Such a beautiful moment.

Best for: Imagining yourself waltzing at a very sad ball.

Side note: Cowboy Junkies is such a good band name.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: All the Best

Welcome to Songbook, a new type of post where I will focus on a single song: either an all-time favorite or something currently stuck in my head. It’s a natural continuation of my two lists of favorite songs (one, two) where I didn’t get to talk enough about so many great things. Songs don’t really fit into the convention of Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things so they get a new convention entirely. It’s my blog. We start with a soft cover recently suggested to me by Spotify (I love Spotify):

“All the Best” by Carla Bruni and Marianne Faithfull

Album: A l’Olympia (live)

Year: 2014

Category: New acquisition

Why it rocks:
Two lovely ladies of folk come together to sing John Prine’s song and it becomes so much better and more soulful in this peaceful, female rendition. Their voices, so, so different, sound beautifully together and double the subtle power of the song.

Favorite lyrics:
“And when I walked / Love walked with me. / And I got no hate / And I got no pride / I got so much love that I cannot hide.”
And also this: “Then you change your mind / For something else to do / And your heart gets bored with your mind and it changes you.”

Favorite moment:
When both singers come together to sing “I got so much love that I cannot hide.” Powerful.

Best for: A quiet moment of not-too-deep reflection. Old relationships that failed you.

And that’s it really, these will be fairly short and sweet. See you soon for next ones.

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My Top Ten Songs

Last weekend our friend A, in between playing board games, told us how he and his wife regret that no one had asked them to compile a list of their top ten songs of all times. But luckily they thought to ask each other this question and are in the process of compiling the list right now.

A is very serious about music but R and me somewhat less so and, as it looked like our kind of challenge (one which doesn’t involve stripping or singing in public), we adopted the idea and have already completed the lists. I know you’re dying to hear all about it so here, without further delay, it goes.

No, wait. First, there have to be rules. So, one spot per one artist or it would be all taken up by Dylan. Also, I pay a lot of attention to lyrics and it affected many of the choices. Finally, after much (some, passing) internal struggle I decided to focus on oldies rather than anything from after 2000 because I just can’t tell if I will still even remember most of those newer artists in another ten years. It made sense when I decided that so here goes the list now.

1. Bob Dylan “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Because of the one song per one artist rule, of all the brilliant songs I pick this one because it’s the brilliantest. It tells a story and the story is interesting, rich and well-constructed, it has a plot, memorable characters and a surprising reveal and please show me another song by anyone that does that, no, I know you can’t. Also, it’s the best attempt at the redefinition of the ballad tradition, not that you care.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “She slipped in through the side door lookin’ like a queen without a crown / She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear / ‘Sorry, darlin’, that I’m late,’ but he didn’t seem to hear”

Runners-up: “To Ramona” (powerful and atmospheric, it touches upon some undefined mystery; or I’m just being pretentious) | “Love Minus Zero” (Dylan’s best love song) | “Like a Rolling Stone” (it just might be the best song ever written) | “Visions of Johanna” | “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (for early-Dylanesque humor) and so on.

2. Patti Smith “Kimberly.” I love Patti Smith dearly but more for her overall feel than for individual songs so this was a bit of a challenge but “Kimberly” has a lot of magic.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “Oh baby, I remember when you were born / It was dawn and the storm settled in my belly”

Runners-up: “Because the Night” (played to death and still lovely) | “Redondo Beach” | “Till Victory” (because Patti is a rocker).

3. Tom Waits “Hold On.” I guess I might choose a different song from today’s standpoint but I definitely listened to “Hold On” the most and I love the lyrics. Also, it might not be cool to admit but I much prefer Waits that’s actually listenable than when he starts doing what one of my online friends once called “vocal torturing” and I never heard a better description of that thing he does sometimes.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “Everyone’s looking for someone to blame / And you shared my bed, you shared my name / Well, go ahead and call the cops / You don’t meet nice girls in coffee shops”

Runners-up: “I Hope that I Don’t Fall in Love with You” (when a bar story becomes a human story) | “Time” (surrealist charmer) | “Tom Traubert’s Blues” (messy but gripping) | “Long Way Home” (a hymn for a rebel-without-a-cause kind of romantic interest – was that complicated?).

4. Leonard Cohen “The Stranger Song.” Cohen is mostly about the lyrics and I had a problem choosing my favorite song based on that so I chose on the basis of replayability. “The Stranger Song” is nice to listen to.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “But now another stranger seems to want you to ignore his dreams / as though they were the burden of some other”

Runners-up: Quite a lot, including “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” | “Tonight Will Be Fine” (so much fun, especially for Cohen) | “Famous Blue Raincoat” (so much lyricism, and it’s like a puzzle, trying to identify the pronouns) | “Chelsea Hotel #2” (probably closest to making it to the actual list, what with that famous third line and the fact that I sometimes try to translate the lyrics into French when I really need to occupy my mind with something, it helps that I’m so bad at it; It even deserves a favorite bit of lyrics mentioned: “And clenching your fist for the ones like us / who are oppressed by the figures of beauty”).

5. Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet.” Sometimes I feel like people don’t appreciate this song, how it’s not silly and meaningless (the way most love songs are) and that’s why it’s so popular. But it has lovely lyrics full of subtle humor and not so subtle heartache and Knopfler plays guitar just so well (I don’t know anything about guitars).

Favorite bit of lyrics: “You can fall for chains of silver / You can fall for chains of gold / You can fall for pretty strangers / And the promises they hold”

Runners-up: Not really.

6. Cornelis Vreeswijk “Veronica.” When I tried to learn Swedish my teacher would sometimes make me fill in the blanks to Swedish song lyrics. I didn’t get that much better at Swedish from that (though it was a lot of fun) but I found this gem of a song, proving that American-styled folk is not exclusively American.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “Veronica, Veronica släpp ner ditt långa hår / Och se din vän i ögonen och säg att han får / Och somna i hans armar och vakna lycklig sen / När det dagas.”

Runners-up: Hardly applies.

7. The Velvet Underground “Pale Blue Eyes.” Simplicity makes this song. Unlike the previous ones it has fairly simple lyrics but the delivery makes it very emotional.

Favorite bit of lyrics: “The fact that you are married / Only proves you’re my best friend / But it’s truly, truly a sin”

Runners-up: I like “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “Sweet Jane” and others but there’s really no competition.

8. Marc Cohn “Walking in Memphis.” One hit wonder that is really wondrous. Possibly my favorite singalong song that is not terribly embarrassing to speak of in public (hello, Gloria Gaynor).

Favorite bit of lyrics: “And I sang with all my might / She said, ‘Tell me are you a Christian, child?’ / And I said, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight!'”

Runners-up: Not really by Cohn, just other one hit wonders, such as Merrilee Rush “Angel of the Morning”  (love the unidentifiable instrument – I must tell you one day the story of my lack of musical education, it’s colorful – and the corny lyrics) | Free “All Right Now” (I always liked the cynicism of the lyrics, for some reason) | and especially covers; I’d really love to put covers on this list but it doesn’t feel exactly right, with their being so obviously covers.

9. Having said that, Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah.” I can’t help it, it’s my favorite version. It has a sort of middle-of-the-night focus that gives Cohen’s lyrics the power that his delivery denies them. And these are shockingly good lyrics.

Favorite bit of lyrics: I can hardly choose, but I’ll go with “But all I’ve ever learned from love / Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you”

Runners-up: Beth Orton “Sisters of Mercy,” another cover that is better than the original and delivered in a breath-taking manner.

10. “Piece of My Heart” Janis Joplin. This is really a group spot for this song with other runners-up because it includes songs that I no longer listen to very often but once they were so important to me that they shaped my musical taste forever, pushing me towards older music and making me uncool in the eyes of all the Nirvana fans (yes, it’s been a while since I was in school; and I did have a passing Nirvana fascination, to be honest, but it was no longer so cool then).

Favorite bit of lyrics: Eh, these are not great lyrics, to be honest, but let’s say “And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain’t right / Never, never, never, never, never, never hear me when I cry at night / Babe, and I cry all the time!”

Runners-up: Jefferson Airplane “Somebody to Love” and The Doors “Light My Fire” (songs that really showed me what music could be and started my music quest) | “Me and Bobby McGee” if we’re speaking of Janis (another favorite singalong).

And there we went. The hardest thing when making such a list is definitely elimination and I feel bad about all the newer stuff I excluded (not that I had any spots left): these songs might even deserve another list and if I get another free Friday night (and yes, this is what passes for fun around here) I’ll think about drawing one.

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