Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sing a Song

Hey ho, folks. So this isn't one that I was specifically asked, but it was one I was thinking about while talking to someone. You've seen me reference various songs and musicians throughout these blogs, but just what are my favorite songs?

Well, I'll be the first to admit that the list of my favorite songs is very dynamic, changing with my mood. And while there are plenty of songs I adore that everyone has probably heard at one point or another, I thought I'd go with a few that you were less likely to have noticed.

1. Breakthrough by Richard Wright

When most people think of Pink Floyd, they think of three people: Syd Barrett, the original song writing force who suffered from severe psychological problems, Roger Waters, whose dark and domineering lyrics shaped albums such as Animals and The Wall, and guitarist David Gilmour, who has been called "the voice of Pink Floyd." People still debate about which member was ultimately the most important to the Pink Floyd experience, but one person they always seem to neglect to mention is the late, great Richard Wright. And I think that's a shame; his backing vocals complimented Gilmour's lead, and his ethereal keyboards really tied the songs together. In fact, I dare say that without Richard Wright, Pink Floyd wouldn't have sounded nearly the same, or as good. Additionally, he was an important contributor to the songwriting up until Animals, contributing sufficient portions of Shine on You Crazy Diamond, and being the main force behind Great Gig in the Sky and Us and Them. He was certainly a wonderful musician.

Like many members of multi-platinum monsters, Wright tried his hand at two solo albums, neither of which garnered much attention. This song is the final one from his second album, Broken China. The entire album was a dark tribute to his wife's battles with depression, but it ends on this beautiful and hopeful note. The original studio version featured vocals by Sinead O'Connor, but for some reason, I like this live version with vocals by Wright better. I guess I'm just weird like that.

2. This Tornado Loves You by Neko Case

I'll be honest. I know next to nothing about this musician. I know she's from Virginia. I know she's a "she" rather than a "they." That's about all I got.

So how the heck did this song hop onto my list of favorites? Well, a friend sent it to me. And it just clicked. Something about the sound reminds me of home just East of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. And there is something simultaneously sweet and dark about the lyrics: a monstrous force of nature that can only destroy trying to demonstrate its love for someone. Something about that appeals to me. And the background harmonies, oh the background harmonies! I definitely should look more into Neko Case's work.

And the fact that it reminds me of this friend, well, that's just a bonus.

3. Folk Song by Jack Bruce

The ones of you who are familiar with Jack Bruce probably know him best from his work in the original supergroup, Cream. And let's face it, his work with Cream was excellent. He is one of my favorite vocalists, his bass lines are complex and beautiful, and the songs he cowrote with poet Pete Brown, such as I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love (with Clapton), and White Room are awesome. It's a shame the band didn't last long, but when Eric Clapton is your shining example of modesty and balance, you know that your group probably isn't going to last long. Tensions between Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker led to the band breaking up in the late Sixties, after being together for only about two and a half years.

While Jack Bruce's solo career wasn't as noticed as Eric Clapton's, nor did his life end up as unusual as Ginger Baker's (who has, in fact, been chased out of countries), I love a lot of his solo works. His piano and vocal album Monkjack remains one of the jewels of my music collection to this day. This song of his is one of my favorites, but it isn't the only one worth listening to. If you can, look him up. His music, while primarily jazz and blues influenced, does come in a wide array of flavors.

4. Secret World by Peter Gabriel

A while ago, a friend of mine described Peter Gabriel as only having one song. I thought to myself, "Okay, he probably means Sledgehammer, Gabriel's biggest hit."

Nope, I failed dramatically at that one. He meant In Your Eyes. He then proceeded to ask the question, what else had Peter Gabriel ever done? Clearly, this one hit wonder had never been part of anything important, like, say, the band Genesis. Nor did he dress up in ridiculous costumes on stage to get over his stage fright. Nor did he remove his former band's single from the number one spot on the charts with Sledgehammer. And he clearly hasn't been a force devoted to protecting and incorporating the sounds of world music. Nor is he one of my favorite vocalists or anything like that.

Now that I've just delivered a giant middle finger to one of my friends, go listen to the song. There's something hauntingly beautiful about it.

5. Keep Me In Your Heart by Warren Zevon

Some of you were probably expecting something completely different from this. Heck, even if some of you who know me guessed a Zevon song would show up on this list, you probably wouldn't have picked this one. So what's the story here?

Well, in the early 2000s, Zevon went to the doctor about some shortness of breath. He got some tests done, and was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. When the news started to spread, musicians and friends who liked him and loved his song writing gathered to see if they could do anything for him. He decided to record one last album. And what sort of guest musicians are we talking about? Who thought that he was brilliant? People like Bruce Springsteen, most of the Eagles, Tom Petty, and many others. And this was the masterpiece of the album.

This was the only song he completely wrote after getting the diagnosis, and after being told that his days were numbered, a final message for those he loved. And he saved its recording for last; it was almost literally recorded in his death bed. It's a truly beautiful song. Take a listen, and prepare to hear something different from most of his other works.

That's right. No Bowie. Deal with it. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

1 comment:

  1. I never heard the Zevon one until now. It's so gorgeous.