Saturday, May 28, 2005

Good Vibrations

Taking my own advice, my best news is that Dissertation Chapter #2 is about to go on lock-down: that'll be two down, one more to go, plus the Intro and the Epilogue. One day I'll actually get to go places, do stuff, write real reviews, and for goodness' sake, talk to all of the friends whom I thank in my Acknowledgments!

Meanwhile, here's some props to 19 folks who aren't in my acknowledgments but should be, since they're on the Mix CD that's been pushing me through these last two chapters. Granted it's my own music, so there's no reason I shouldn't like it, but I do like to think I can make a good mix. What I'd really like to do is try out one of my CDs as a dinner party, so we could finally learn what Mahalia Jackson has to say to Steve Perry, and Reba McEntire could compare gunshot wounds with 50 Cent.

For those of you who wanna get so so def amidst your own writing project—this mix ain't party material, but it still bounces—here's the recipe. Song titles are links to their respective albums:

1. "Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)," Eurythmics
The pounding opener to the Savage album, this is my favorite Eurythmics track, unless that prize goes to "Missionary Man." It's certainly my favorite Eurythmics video: Annie goes from being a bored, knitting housewife who looks like Phyllis Logan in Secrets & Lies to a pimped-out drag queen throwing flour around her kitchen before hitting the street. Special accent: the whirring of plane engines that starts the track also makes it ideal for opening the disc. Nick's Flick Picks thinks of these things.

2. "Cake," The B-52's
Another under-appreciated gem from another '80s staple. The dames have exclusive vocal rights on this one, and right outta the gate, Cindy is tearing into it like it's "Hero Worship." Then she and Kate drop everything and just swap recipes like the tin-roof Southern divas they are. "If you wanna better batter beat it harder!": a good mantra for dissertation-writing.

3. "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well," Mahalia Jackson
If you don't own a copy of Mahalia Jackson Sings America's Favorite Hymns, how can I help you? Don't go with, "But I'm not religious." Me either, but I do worship Mahalia, who is to gospel what Aretha is to R&B. Which is to say, Queen Bee. And she can be funny: Mahalia drops a lot of consonants in this song to keep you from figuring it out (is she embarrassed?), but the song is about a polygamist who cozies up to Jesus with her latest boyfriend in tow, until the Big Man calls her out and sends her running. Classic.

4. "Running Up That Hill," Kate Bush
I didn't party with Kate Bush for a long time, because all I knew was the "Love & Anger" track from The Sensual World, and I wasn't moved. Plus, with my Stevie Nicks addiction, I already had that grown-up-lit-mag-queen niche filled up. But then I heard this track about a year ago, and I immediately wanted a window to break and a moor to run out upon. This chick made the Casio work for her! And didja know 2Pac was a huge fan? Thus quoth Tupac: Resurrection.

5. "Africa," J.C. Ojwang
Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged is a good film, but the soundtrack is classic. JC Ojwang, a singer I haven't been able to learn much about (including what country in Africa he is from), begins the movie with this offhand anthem about African nations and peoples. I'm guessing he's from central Africa, given that Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania/Tanganyika are all paid tribute to. I don't speak the language, but you don't hafta, when the music is this great.

6. "Groove Is in the Heart," Deee-lite
If ever a song needed no justification, no elaboration, it's this one. I couldn't ask for another, either, Lady Miss Kier. Your groove I do deeply dig.

7. "Lullaby," The Cure
I am still feeling Disintegration after all these years, but this is one of the few songs that survives in isolation from the context of the album. Creepy stuff about being gobbled by hairy-mouthed Spider men, but you can tell Robert Smith is having fun singing it.

8. "Don't Stop Believin'," Journey
Elsewhere, I'm linking to Amazon copies of the original albums these cuts came off of, but in Journey's case, you've just gotta go with Greatest Hits. You're sparing yourself a lot of album-only tracks that need sparing, but also, why deny yourself the "Don't Stop" - "Wheel in the Sky" - "Faithfully" hat trick? I've always had a soft spot for this song, even though now it makes me want to cry, because this is what's playing when Aileen and Selby go rollerskating. When the track picks up again over the end credits, given what you've just seen, you just want to die. Peacefully.

9. "At Seventeen," Janis Ian
An old stand-by, because it just hits the triple-crown: gorgeous melody, gorgeous lyrics, gorgeous delivery. She was 24 when the song came out, and most people never write a song this good, ever. It's like her own little suburban sociology dissertation in 4½ minutes. My dissertation aspires to be this good. But then, on the other end of "How I Spent My Adolescence"...

10. "Fancy," Reba McEntire
I blogged about this song a few weeks back when it showed up unexpectedly on the radio and made my whole day. I remember when Reebs threw this down on Oprah, "nigh on 15 years" ago, and I'm not sure that audience was really Reba's base, but she won them all over, as she did me. This shit is fierce: "You know I might have been born just plain white trash, but 'Fancy' was my name!"

11. "Inside of Me," Madonna
Obviously, as Madonna fans, we live and die by the 80's stuff. (Why aren't "Dress You Up" and "Angel" on The Immaculate Collection?? Sorry, private beef.) Still, I might have to give it up to Bedtime Stories as her most coherent, sexy, and relaxed album, and this is one of my favorite tracks. The song totally doesn't require it, but you can have some double-entendre fun pretending she's singing it to her ol' boy Jesus, now that she's on her way to Kabbalah. In Madge terms, it's an anachronism, but that's what deconstruction is about, toots.

12. "Twilight," Elliott Smith
I'm more of an Elliott person than a Rufus person, for those of y'all who oscillate. Then again, I barely know any of Elliott's stuff. I need to get on that. But I first heard this track in, of all places, a screening room at the Angelika in NYC, while waiting to see Open Water. Why can't Regal ever play this kind of stuff over the speakers instead of all those Coke ads with NASCAR drivers? (Oh, by the way, if it weren't for Cassandra down at #18, this would be the most beautiful song on the mix.)

13. "Heart and Soul," T'Pau
Another one of those 80s songs you know and love, even if you don't know you know it. (If you don't love it, you're only hurting yourself.) I have storyboarded an opening credits sequence to a movie I am sure I will never make that involves this song, a ballet dancer, and a Xerox machine. The world will never know. P.S.: I love the Amazon user comment that calls T'Pau "Kate Bush meets Def Leppard." Righto.

14. "Bugaboo," Destiny's Child
This song isn't boo compared to "Bootylicious" or "Independent Woman," or even "Jumpin Jumpin" on the same album, but it makes me laugh, because Beyoncé takes it into her little hummingbird mind to trill out on completely plodding phrases like "Throw out my pager!" MCI and AOL even make product-placement appearances in the chorus of the song, though after the WorldCom thing and the TimeWarner dump of AOL, they might want to digitally insert new companies. If you're a telecommunications CEO, you can call Beyoncé's daddy with your best offer.

15. "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," Susan Tedeschi
We've got a breathtaking Neil Young cover coming up on the album, but here's a pit-stop in a breathtaking Bob Dylan cover. It's not that I don't love Bob, but Susan Tedeschi, barely 30, sounds a good deal older while she brings this one home. You won't catch me hating on Christina Aguilera, ever, but that Best New Artist Grammy didn't necessarily go home with the right gal. Meanwhile, my friend Amanda made best-ever use of this song as the caption to her Yearbook photo as a senior in high school: "I ain't saying that you treated me unkind/ You coulda done better, but I don't mind/ You just kinda wasted all of my precious time/ Don't think twice, it's all right."

16. "In da Club," 50 Cent
I don't know that the world was exactly in dire straits without 50 Cent, but then, this is a "Gin and Juice"-level club hopper. He must've liked the track, since "Candy Shop" is basically the same gig. It isn't like Dre's productions ever really change that much. But who's arguing? If you're transcribing long drop-quotes of theory, having this track in the background gives 'em that little bit of Extra. (Thanks, Safire, for that all-purpose term.)

17. "Honey Molasses," Jill Scott
A two-minute mood insert with soft but killer percussion. "In a circle of passion, we/ Paris, Italy,/ Japan, Africa, Rome/ We made music/ We trombone..." Dang, Jill, who did you like that?

18. "Harvest Moon," Cassandra Wilson
Quick quiz: What is the most beautiful song interpretation ever? If you've ever listened to a Neil Young song and thought, "That would even be beautiful, if a different voice were attached," then this midnight serenade by Cassandra Wilson is your ticket. If Neil doesn't love this, he's just jealous.

19. "Dedicated to the One I Love," The Mamas & the Papas
Cass, Michelle, and gang have been well-represented in the cinema these past few years. Chungking Express makes "California Dreamin'" seem like the most exquisite object ever created. Beautiful Thing makes Cass' case for sainthood, even in a pits part of Manchester. Then Morvern Callar—the best English-language movie of the last five years—drops "Dedicated" right where I'm dropping it: at the end. Though it's better if you don't know it's coming. Hopefully you've already seen it. Otherwise, forget what I just said. Just listen to the track, man.

This entry has been brought to you courtesy of many lunch, snack, and blogging breaks from Ch. 2. Think my musical tastes are all right, or do you find that they run toward the wack end of things? Call it like you see it. I still love my CD, though.


Blogger David Shultz said...

This is rather uncalled for, I know, but...there's something I need to talk to you about, something personal, and I'll let you know through email if you'd like but I just need advice about something that I think you'd know about, so is there any way we could talk online, like AIM or anything? This is kind of embarrassing, ack, but I need to talk to someone about it. I don't know if you'll have the time, though.

8:05 PM, May 28, 2005  
Anonymous goatdog said...

Journey, Nick? Fer shame, future doc, fer shame.

I have lots of Elliott Smith. His "make me cry" song for me is "Needle in the Hay," especially after the way it was used in The Royal Tenenbaums. And was there ever a better Oscar moment than when he sang "Miss Misery" at the 1997 awards?

And I will publicly admit my love for T'Pau. You are not alone, Nick.

(p.s. My blog entry about the Time top 100 is up.)

12:45 AM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

I know, it's abject--I gave my brother no end of grief when he first bought the album. He also bought Foreigner at the same time, and I have at least kept them far at bay from my affections.

After a while, there's just something incontrovertible about Steve Perry's over-the-top conviction about everything. He's like Mariah Carey: pop music was created so that people like this never have to grow out of their adolescent emotions, they just have to shape them in the form of good hooks. In both cases, the roughness around the edges are the key that makes it work...and why Foreigner and its equivalent in the diva world, Celine Dion, do not work. I mean, why spit-polish a tchotchke?

Mariah, by the way, does a mean "Open Arms" on the Music Box album. (It's like I can't stop digging the hole of self-humiliation, isn't it?)

1:00 AM, May 29, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Horrible, appalling mistake. "Open Arms" is on the Daydream album. It's her cover of Harry Nilsson's/Badfinger's "Without You" that's on Music Box.

No word yet on what covers Mariah will include on forthcoming albums like Unicorn, Berry Good, or Lite Brite. ;)

11:42 AM, May 29, 2005  
Anonymous goatdog said...

My favorite Journey lyrics are from "Any Way You Want It":

Ooh, then we touched
Then we sang
About the lovin' things

Oh, wait, those aren't my favorite lyrics, they're my favorite lyrics to disparage.

Yes, I admit that Steve Perry's heedless vocal abandon can be charming, but if you had grown up in a rural Michigan town where the only radio station was an AOR/classic rock station, you'd hate them too. Except "Open Arms," which still makes me misty. And "Faithfully." Fine, I'm a sucker for power ballads.

1:42 PM, May 29, 2005  

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