Mission Entirely Possible (part 2 of 10)

What better way to spend the weekend (or the weekend time between going for exercise walks and getting your car stuck in mud) than to follow up the last post with the second group of songs from my 100 favorites of all time playlist? So on to the second batch of songs!

What? You actually care about how I got my car stuck in the mud? It is a treacherous tale that involves high-speed chases, attempts on my life, homemade explosives, stolen government defense plans, illicit love affairs, and a wisecracking robot sidekick. Unfortunately, if I shared the details with you dear reader, I would be putting your life in danger–they will stop at nothing to silence anyone that knows the truth. So instead, I will share the cover story. I was heading to our local branch library to return a book (Stephen King’s The Dark Half), CDs by the Gin Blossoms and Pistol Annies, and the movie Furious 7. Unfortunately, the library had some sort of fair going on in the parking lot, so parking was limited. However, a number of cars were parked in the grass in front of the library, so I parked there and ran in with my returns. (My wife was with me, but she stayed in the car. She had also suggested that I pull up to the front, drop her off with the returns, and circle around, eliminating the need to park. I nixed this solution as I wanted to go in and make the dead drop see if I wanted to check anything else out.) When I returned and tried to leave, the wheels started spinning–we were stuck. My wife got behind the wheel while I pushed. In a terrific visual bit of luck , the wheel threw some mud up and over my legs, which were now caked with wet dirt (and not the blood of the countless ninjas and assassins trying to steal the plans). I was able to move the car a bit, but luckily some young men helped us push and get the car back on firm asphalt. I know this story makes me look like an idiot, but if that is the price I have to pay for our nation’s security, so be it.

  • For What It’s Worth–Buffalo Springfield
  • Smoke–Ben Folds Five
  • Against All Odds–Phil Collins
  • Secret Garden–Tom Cochrane and Damhnait Doyle
  • Gypsy–Suzanne Vega
  • Shadow of the Day–Linkin Park
  • Dirty Work–Steely Dan
  • How Deep Is Your Love?–The Bee Gees
  • Africa–Toto
  • Out of Touch–Hall & Oates

Is there a Vietnam movie out there that doesn’t feature “For What It’s Worth” on its soundtrack? Until today, I always assumed this song was a protest number about the war. However, according to the never-wrong folks at Wikipedia. the song is about the Sunset Strip Riots (also known as the “Hippie Riots” Read Wikipedia if you don’t believe me!). Really saps a lot of power from the song, right? I did not know this information when I put it on my top 100, but I don’t think it’s enough to bump it off, unless Beyonce writes an amazing tune about Jay-Z actually cheating on her with Rachel Ray.

Before the advent of iTunes/steaming music services, it was fun to occasionally make a “roll the dice” album purchase. You know, you hear one song from an artist you don’t know and decide to buy the whole album because of it. I think the first time I did that was after hearing “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits and deciding to grab Brothers in Arms. That clearly worked out great, and it got me to work backward on their musical catalog. In fact, an old song from the band will be appearing later on this list. One of the other great leaps for me was buying Whatever and Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five based on the strength of “Brick” (now there’s a song to listen to anytime you want to feel good!). Again, I loved the album and “Smoke” is my favorite track from it.

Like “Don’t Answer Me” from the last list, “Against All Odds” might be another ashamed to admit favorite. It was also one of two Phil Collins soundtrack hits from the 80’s I am ashamed to admit liking. The other “Separate Lives” (a duet with Marilyn Martin) is not even part of my music collection these days–I had the 45 but have not added the song in the digital era. If I was going to add a Phil Collins duet to my collection, it would be “Easy Lover” with Phillip Bailey from Earth, Wind, and Fire, a song that would probably make my Top 200. The interesting thing about these two soundtrack hits is that while I love the songs, I have not seen either movie (Against All Odds and White Knights). Ironically, I haven’t seen three other movies that Collins contributed soundtrack songs to either–Tarzan, Brother Bear, or Buster. The first two are odd misses as my kids were right in that Disney animation sweet spot when they were first released, while the last miss makes complete sense.

I assume that almost anyone who creates this list will have a few songs that most people would say “who or what is that” when they see it listed. The “Secret Garden” song is probably that. It is a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song featured in Jerry Maguire. Now I love the Boss, but I am telling you this duet version from Light of Day, a double album of Bruce Springsteen covers, is an incredible improvement over the original. The male/female duet makes the lyrics seem more poignant and sadder. Another one people might not know is “Gypsy” by Suzanne Vega, the first of two songs by her on my list. This one is on her Solitude Standing album, which also has her most famous hit, “Luka.” That is her only top 80 hit in the United States, which I find crazy. She has a rich selection of songs, but none are as beautiful as “Gypsy,” with the chorus

Oh, hold me like a baby
That will not fall asleep
Curl me up inside you
And let me hear you through the heat

(I know I haven’t quoted lyrics until now, but I’d like to make a secondary mission of this particular blog entry to get people to sample more Suzanne Vega.)

My list is skewed to older songs, but I do have a few post-2000 entries, including “Shadow of the Day” by Linkin Park. But my list jumps back four decades after it with a pair of 70’s efforts that feature in films too. Obviously “Dirty Work” was originally just an album cut from Steely Dan’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill. But after seeing it in the opening credits of American Hustle, I added it to my digital music collection and listened to it enough to add it to my top 100. The other 70’s song, “How Deep Is Your Love?” probably gets a little lost in the anti-disco fever that erupted at the end of the decade. Actually, I am not sure where we stand these days–is disco awful, cool, retro, kitsch–where do we stand? Regardless of that answer, “How Deep Is Your Love?” is a generational ballad that transcends the genre anyway.

It will almost always come back to the 80’s for me, and the last two songs on this list are square in that wheelhouse. I started listening to top 40 music regularly in 1983, so I missed the peak of the album Toto IV by a year. (Side question–who’s four was better? Toto IV with “Rosanna” and “Africa” or Foreigner 4 with “Urgent”, “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, and “Juke Box Hero? Do you give bonus points to Toto for its fancy use of Roman numerals? Or do you vote for Chicago IV? That last on is a trick–Chicago’s fourth album, between Chicago III and Chicago V, is titled Chicago at Carnegie Hall. So they are out of the running!) Anyway, I didn’t need to hear it on the radio daily to appreciate the joy of the song “Africa” and it has been a list candidate for decades. My last song is the only top 100 entry from one of my favorite bands, Hall & Oates. They were, along with Men at Work, my first favorite artists. I think if I made a top 500 list, they’d have a dozen songs, but “Out of Touch” has always been my favorite from the group.

Welsh cottages and desert-island discs

After the cleansing update of 45 songs, I’ve reduced my musical inbox to two walks and two gym sessions, and I plan on writing two blogs to cover them (one gym and one walk per blog). That’s not to say I won’t start to bottleneck things up again, because I’m coming to the realization that while the ideal is to write and exercise every day, it’s currently more important for me to do that latter even if I don’t get around to the former despite the backlogging. The reason is simple–I feel great when I get in some daily physical activity and I’m finding that I get really upset when I miss a day. Days can get busy, but even if I don’t have an hour to exercise or walk, 20-30 minutes still gets me more than a mile, six or so songs further along into my list, and feeling good.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

2.5 miles on the elliptical machine at the gym

  • Bron-Y-Aur Stomp–Led Zeppelin
  • Brooklyn Roads [live]–Neil Diamond
  • Brother John–Blues Traveler
  • Brother in Arms–Dire Straits
  • Brown Eyed Handsome Man–Chuck Berry
  • Brown Eyes–Lady Gaga
  • Brown Sugar–The Rolling Stones
  • Brown Sugar–ZZ Top
  • Bryn–Vampire Weekend
  • Bubble Beat Box–Spongebob Squarepants

Kicked my gym time off with a song from Led Zeppelin’s third album. The title refers to a vacation home in Wales where Zeppelin wrote much of  Led Zeppelin III. (To be clear, Bron-Y-Aur refers to the home, although owning a home named Stomp would be pretty cool as well.)  My wife never understood my interest and enjoyment in the music of Neil Diamond, but when I explained to her that Fenway Park played “Sweet Carolina” during each Red Sox victory, well…truth be told, she still didn’t understand my interested in the man’s music. She understands liking “Blues Traveler” much more, because she’s the bigger fan of the group of the two of us. (Although it’s not like either of us are huge fans; we only own one album by the group.)

“Brothers in Arms” is, of course, the title track of Dire Straits’ most commercially successful album, and one I’ve owned in either cassette of CD form since high school. I think it was the first album I purchased on the strength of hearing the first song (“Money For Nothing”) and it was a decision that worked out well, as I’ve always loved the album beginning to end. Now I’ll admit I bought the soundtrack to Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n Roll not based on the strength of Chuck Berry but the Robert Cray collaboration, which is what I heard today “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, (I was really into Robert Cray at the time thanks to his Strong Persuader album, which is probably one of my ten desert-island discs to this day.), but I now know having those classic Berry songs as part of my collection is essential.

Things stay Brown for me with a couple of additional colored songs, first from Lady Gaga, and then the Rolling Stone’s famous “Brown Sugar” and a ZZ Top song that shares the title, but is a different song. I closed out the “br…” songs with “Bryn” from Vampire Weekend’s debut album. I’ve heard their third album could be out before the end of the year, which would make me a happy camper, as I feel they’ve been two-for-two in releasing great albums so far. The warm feeling of a Vampire Weekend song was needed for me to finish my gym list, as the new song came courtesy of Spongebob Squarepants. I don’t have anything against the yellow cartoon guy (I know some folks have banned their children from watching the show, but we never did), I just don’t want him as a workout inspiration.

Sunday June 10, 2012

2-mile walk to commemorate Red Sox victory #29 of the 2012 season

  • Bubbly–Colbie Caillat
  • Bubbly–Colbie Caillat
  • Buckets of Rain–Bob Dylan
  • Buckets of Rain–Fistful of Mercy
  • Buffalo River Home–John Hiatt
  • Buffalo Soldier–Bob Marley
  • Bugeye Jim–Billy Bragg & Wilco
  • Buggface–Big Boi
  • Build God, Then We’ll Talk–Panic! At The Disco
  • Building A Mystery [Live]–Sarah McLachlan
  • Building A Mystery [Live]–Sarah McLachlan

I know I’ve said it before, but I have nothing against Colbie Caillat–in fact, I think I actually latched on to “Bubbly” before my kids did, but I just don’t think the song is the best for getting you in an exercising mood. I guess it’s good that I was doing a neighborhood walk instead of hitting the elliptical machine, particularly because I heard the song two times (we really only need one, as both are ostensibly from the same source–her Coco album; we bought the single on iTunes and then I got mu daughter the CD). I also got to hear “Buckets of Rain” twice, but we really need both versions, as only one is the Dylan original and the other is an excellent cover from the Chimes of Freedom compilation.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that Robert Cray’s Strong Persuader was a candidate for my desert-island discs list. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s 10 albums that you’d take with you if you were going to be stranded on a desert island with limited access to music choices (you can also do this with books, movies, foods, or whatever floats your boat). It’s a fun exercise and sometimes people apply rules, like “no greatest hits albums” or “one album per artist”. I’ve never understood these rules–it’s your island, so if you want to take the entire Michael Bolton discography, that’s your business. That being said, the next song on my list is my favorite song from a no-brainer lock for my list, John Hiatt’s Perfectly Good Guitar. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time and it turned me into a John Hiatt evangelist.

Have you ever received a piece of information and it just locks you up–you have no idea what to do with the nugget? While writing my blog, I’ll often google songs or artists I’m discussing in order to fact check or learn more. So I wanted to know more about the buffalo soldiers in order to better discuss Bob Marley’s song by the same name. I first  decided to read the wikipedia entry about the Marley song where I learned that Vanilla Ice had covered it on his 2008 comeback album. This was the information that froze me in my tracks–Vanilla Ice covered Bob Marley? Do I want to hear it, or would it be like watching the doomed videotape of The Ring, where I’d never be able to undo the damage before I died from having experienced it?

“Bugeye Jim” is the opening track from the third disc of Billy Bragg & Wilco Mermaid Avenue collaborations. It’s taking me time to get into, but I can already tell I will enjoy volumes two and three as much as I do the original (which is another strong candidate for the desert-island disc list). The Big Boi song comes from the pseudosoundtrack to Idlewild (I use pseudo- because only seven tracks on the album come from the movie, and “Buggface” is not on the soundtrack). Things close with a Panic! At The Disco selection, and two different live takes of Sarah McLachlan’s Building A Mystery, with both versions coming from Lilith Fair performances.