Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself

Jack White’s choice to cover the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself is an odd one, but it works (perhaps it’s not that unusual, as the White Stripes list Cole Porter and Loretta Lynn among their influences on their Facebook page). Sure, it’s not as good as the classic Dusty Springfield or Dionne Warwick versions, but it’s different...grittier with heavy guitar, and ultimately, less desperate, which is, I suppose, what Jack intended. The song was released as a single in 2003 and can be found on the excellent White Stripes album Elephant

Here's the Youtube video for the song (directed by Sofia Coppola), though it's difficult to focus on the song with Kate Moss dancing

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Picture Book

Ah, the power of advertising!

I am often struck by how just one song can open one's mind to an album, a group, a musical genre. Back in college, I was quite biassed against the Who because, at that time, I had been inundated by certain radio staples (e.g. Baba O'Reilly) that kept me investigating their albums further. A senior gave me a cassette of "Who's Next", and I felt obliged to listen. First song, of course, was Baba O'Reilly, but when I got to the second song "Bargain", I discovered a Who that I had not heard before. So impressed, I would soon own most of their albums.

Fast forward to 2004, when Hewlett-Packard used the Kinks Picture Book in one of their commercials. An infectious, sing-songy tune, I was immediately drawn to it. No surprise - I had always liked the Kink's singles and radio staples. Still, it made me realize that, though I owned several Kinks singles collections, I had very few of their albums. Well, you can guess what happened next.

"Picture Book" appears on the Kinks' 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, quite a different album from the psychedelia of the day (e.g. The Beatles White Album, Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland", Jefferson Airplane's "Crown of Creation"), but not wholly independent of the era's sensibilities. Still, much like their British contemporaries The Small Faces (who released "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake" that year), the Kinks produced an album of tunes influenced in both topic and style by England's past. The album as a whole was a concept piece that hearkens back to days in the English countryside and small towns and is both sentimental and twee.

"Picture book, your mama and your papa and fat old Uncle Charlie, out boozing with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast, in sunny Southend."

Of course, the album at the time (though critics liked in) was not very successful. The Kinks had been declining in popularity from their mid-60's heydey, and were banned for unclear reasons between 1965-1969 from touring in the United States. Certainly this contributed to lesser exposure in the US. During this time they produced a series of amazing albums ("Face to Face", "Something Else"), that, like "The Village Green...", are lyrical, melodic and nostalgic; consequently, they don't often grab you at first listen like, say, a Stones or Beatles album. With repeated listens, one is hooked - hopefully songs like "Picture Book" will serve as a gateway to such wonderful music.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Every Little Bit Hurts

Did I mention that I love cover songs? Oh, yeah, I did...on the first day of this blog. Surprisingly, after the Beatles, I'd have to say one of the best groups to choose consistent cover choices would be the Clash. And while (given their reggae influences) it doesn't seem unusual for them to cover, say, Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves" or Toots & the Maytalls "Pressure Drop", their rendition of Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts" seems an odd choice at first. Holloway was an early Motown singer who only had a couple more top 40 hits including the 1967 single "You Make Me So Very Happy" which hit number 39 in 1967 (this tune, which she cowrote, would become more famous with the 1969 Blood Sweat & Tears version). Still, the Clash's take on this gem works as Mick Jones keeps true to the original. Simple and surprisingly tender

The Clash's rendition was released on the 1991 boxed set "Clash on Broadway", a really fantastic collection released in the early days of the boxed set. The single, though, is easily obtained through iTunes, Amazon, and others. Other enjoyable covers of this song to check out include the Spencer Davis Group (with Steve Winwood on vocals), The Small Faces, and, most recently, live by Alicia Keys

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Song to Start With?

Welcome to the inaugural post of the "Music For A Lifetime" blog. I decided to launch this blog to share some thoughts on songs that are worth listening to - some you may know, others you may not (B-sides, album tracks, lesser known artists). Hopefully you're here 'cause you love music and, like me, are always looking for ways to broaden your musical horizons. Maybe I'll bring up an artist who you haven't listened to or thought about in awhile. Hopefully you'll share your musical thoughts too.

Although I might discuss artists, albums or news (or perhaps even nonmusical thoughts), the focus will generally be on the songs themselves - how they sound, how they make me feel, why they're important to hear. Where to begin though?

Our first song will be I'd Rather Go Blind by Etta James (1967)

The soul revival is quite popular today, and, being a fan of such music, I’m delighted. With all due respect, however, to Duffy and Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone before that, all pales in comparison to the greatest female soul and blues singer ever, Etta James. For examples of the furious power in her voice, I highly recommend buying her live album “Etta James Rocks the House”. Today’s selection, “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the other hand shows her soulful side, her despair. Though from the title, you might guess not a happy peppy selection, the emotions in Etta’s voice are strong, heartbreaking, beautiful. This song was a B-side of the wonderful top 40 single, “Tell Mama”. As you'll discover, I'm a tremendous fan of cover songs, so I'd like to mention Rod Stewart (way before he started doing anemic covers of pop standards) did an excellent version off his 1972 album "Never A Dull Moment".

Here's a video of the incomparable Ms. James (more mature at this sitting) singing this song: