Self Tributes, and the Reason for the Star Wars Season

 

Happy May the 4th! I do hate how commercialized this holiday has become. With all this starkiller base and pod-racer shopping, as well as Alderan key parties, people forget the true meaning of Star Wars Day–how many midi-chlorians you have in your bloodstream. Also, remember today is more than just Earth Day–remember that the Bluths also set it as Cinco de Quatro.

In honor of such a momentous day on so many levels, it’s time for the third set of songs from my top 100 list. If you missed the first two, well I’m making a sad frowny face in your direction, but I will help you overcome such an oversight with the help of the two links below to parts 1 and 2.

In Some Particular Order (part 1 of 10)

Mission Entirely Possible (part 2 of 10)

  • Mercy–TV on the Radio
  • Ruby Tuesday–The Rolling Stones
  • Smoking Gun–Robert Cray
  • Love, Reign O’er Me–The Who
  • Another Tricky Day–The Who
  • Mandinka–Sinead O’Connor
  • Days/This Time Tomorrow–Ray Davies
  • Man on the Moon–R.E.M.
  • Amie–Pure Prairie League
  • Silent Lucidity–Queensryche

The 2013 song “Mercy” by TV on the Radio is far and away the most recent song to make my list. It’s not even from an album–it’s a single they released that did not hit any charts. The song starts off great and intense, but it kicks it up a notch or twelve as the song goes on–the beat is relentless. I am not a big concert goer these days, but I think I’d go see TV on the Radio just to see this song performed live.

The British Invasion’s Fab 4 bands (the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Kinks) are a prominent part of this group of 10, with every group but the Beatles showing up in this list of 10. Of the four, the Rolling Stones is probably the group I listen to the least, but “Ruby Tuesday” is my favorite song of theirs (although I would probably have another three to five Stones songs if the list expanded to 500 or so–I just would be adding many more Beatles, Who, and Kinks songs).

When I first started listening to music, I was more about singles than albums. If I would listen to an album, it was often because three or more “hits” from the record had received radio airplay. The first album for me that was different was Strong Persuader. Sure, the song “Smoking Gun” first attracted me to the album, but it was the first album I remember liking from beginning to end. I think the fact that it was this blues sound I was not hearing in most pop songs that day. I loved listening to that cassette tape over and over, and would even say it was my first “Desert Island Disc.” It even resulted in me buying Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark on its release date. I will admit that I did not enjoy that album as much as Strong Persuader, but I still love Robert Cray, with his cover of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” being my favorite number from the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll soundtrack.

Back to the standard bearers of the first wave of the British Invasion. I love the Beatles in total the most, but I think there’d be more Who songs on my favorites list in total. I know that I’ve said this repeatedly, but a longer list would be dominated by even more Who songs. A top 200 list would have 2 songs from Quadrophenia for example, but only 1, “Love Reign O’er Me”, made the top 100. (The other song that almost made the list was “5:15”.) I think most people would list Tommy as their favorite Who rock opera, but I am more of a Quadrophenia man myself. When doing some followup research for this blog posting, I was surprised that “Another Tricky Day” was never a chart hit. In my opinion, it is a much stronger single from Face Dances than “You Better, You Bet.”

Speaking of songs that weren’t hits, I was exposed to “Mandinka” through college radio airplay. I was the cliche kid who learned more about alternative music once I went to college. My freshman year in college saw the music acts 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., and Sinead O’Connor added to my musical rotation. After The Lion and The Cobra came out, I would have expected Sinead to be a much bigger artists, but her only big hit was the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

My Kinks entry in this batch is more of a Kinks-related entry. Ray Davies released an album in 2011 in which he re-imagined Kinks songs by performing them with other artists. The album has an eclectic batch of contributors, including Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Lucinda Williams, Black Francis [of the Pixies], Jon Bon Jovi, Paloma Faith, and more. But to me, the strongest pairing on the album is the work with Mumford & Sons on the medley of “Days” and “This Time Tomorrow.” Those that have been following this blog know I have a real soft spot for tribute albums (and my number two song of all time is from a tribute album–how’s that for a teaser?), and this is one of the more unique tribute albums as it seems to be an artist paying tribute to himself.

One of the other college alternative artists I began listening to as a freshman (thanks to my record album purchase of Document) was R.E.M. I have come to love their early work, but the two songs that make this list are later releases. The one in this group is from another desert-island disc candidate for me–Automatic for the People. Every song on the album is phenomenal, but “Man on the Moon” is my favorite. I also loved hearing it on the trailer for the movie by the same name. That’s a movie I have not seen in years, but I think it might be worth revisiting with my kids this summer when they are home from college.

When making these kinds of lists, it’s always interesting to think about when I first really connected with a song. For the Pure Prairie League’s “Amie,” it was thanks to Freaks and Geeks. (If you have not watched that show, go an do it RIGHT NOW, and not just because it launched the careers of James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jason Siegel, Busy Phillips, and Linda Cardellini. Every one of the 18 episodes is so powerful and raw–it was the first show that got the high school experience perfectly down. I believe it is on Netflix instant, so go and watch it. One episode featured them going to the local planetarium for a laser Pink Floyd show, but show up on the wrong date and end up seeing a country and western show instead. Sorry for the spoiler, but I promise it will not lessen your enjoyment of the entry. Over the closing credits, “Amie” plays–by the way, the acting and writing are the best thing about the show, but the soundtrack is also pitch perfect.

The last song on this batch is a power ballad and one of three songs that makes me think of my father. I already mentioned “My Way” by Frank Sinatra in part one, and “The Living Years” probably the most on-the-nose choice, by Mike + the Mechanics, did not make my 100 (but would make the 200). “Silent Lucidity” in specifics and the album Empire more broadly, feels like the closest another band got to re-creating the Pink Floyd sound. This song is one of my go-to numbers if I want something to help me drift off from a stressful day–it is the perfect capper to a tough day, and the perfect ending to a group of ten songs.

 

Royal Discography

As I mentioned recently, I tend to listen to podcasts more than music when exercising these days, but in light of the passing of Prince, it has been 48 hours of Prince songs (I had to dig out the old iPod to do this). Prince on YouTube, Prince on AppleTV, and Prince while walking on the treadmill.

When I first heard that he had died, I stated that Prince’s death was going to be tougher on me than Bowie. Not just because Prince was a bigger artist and I liked his music more–both are true, but they are not the only reasons. I did not really get into music until 1983. Sure, I would listen to the occasional family 8-track tape before that, but popular music (and Saturday mornings listening to American Top 40) did not start until then. While I know that Prince had three albums and several hits before that year, it felt like he truly arrived with the late 1982 release of 1999. I do now enjoy much of his earlier work, particularly “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” (although as a piece of advice, if you are trying to rev your wife’s engine, saying that your sex life is like a Prince song, with you being “Soft” and her being “Wet” does not work that well), but 1983 is when I started to love Prince.

  • “1999”
  • “Little Red Corvette”
  • “Delirious”

I think more people at the time loved “Little Red Corvette, but the jarring combination of uptown dance beat and “the world is ending”lyrics was so damn appealing. At one point I was sure that Prince sang all the parts on the song, including the female-sounding parts. Going by the expertise one finds at Wikipedia, I have now learned that Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution handled the ladies singing. When “1999” came out in 1982, the year seemed so far off, like 100 years in the future. It was less than two decades away,  and we did not get our flying cars and monkey butlers. (Although, when Prince sang about people who “…run from their destruction…” do you think he was predicting the Y2K problem?)

  • “Let’s Go Crazy”
  • “When Doves Cry”
  • “Purple Rain”

I did not see Purple Rain in theaters when it came out in 1984–it was an ‘R’ rated film and I was a nerdy-follow the rules 15-year-old (as opposed to now, where I am a nerdy-follow the rules 47-year-old). It wasn’t until three years later that I saw the movie on VHS. The film was amazing, but my favorite part of the film was Morris Day and the Time. I purchased their album Ice Cream Castle based on their appearance in the film. I enjoyed their record, but the soundtrack was inescapable that summer and for the rest of the year. While these three were the big hits from the album, I remember having that soundtrack on cassette and listening to it beginning to end almost nightly. That’s an album I can brag about listening to all the time, along with Born in the U.S.A, Synchronicity, Thriller, and Strong Persuader. It’s a little harder for me to brag about how often I listened to Chicago’s 17.

  • “Raspberry Beret”
  • “Pop Life”

Like everyone else, I was dying to see how Prince would follow up the success of Purple Rain. I remember initially having mixed feelings about the song “Raspberry Beret,” but the more I heard it on the radio, the more it grew on me. Both of these songs from Around the World in a Day seem more airy than Prince’s earlier work, but his ability to shift gears really made him stand out from his musical contemporaries.

  • “Kiss”

Talk about standing out–I needed no time for this to grow on me; I loved it from the first listen, and I ran out and purchased it on 45. I also enjoyed the cover of the song done by Tom Jones and the Art of Noise. (If you want an underrated greatest hits album, go get the best of the Art of Noise).

  • “Sign o’ the Times”
  • “U Got the Look”

Once again, Prince shifted gears, giving us a powerful song about the issues of the day. Thanks to “Sign o’ the Times” I learned what horse was. I also learned that the sweet, innocent Sheena Easton of “9 to 5 (Morning Train)”, “For Your Eyes Only”, and “We’ve Got Tonight” was gone, thanks to the raw sexiness of “U Got the Look.” Frankly, I should have figured that out sooner, particularly when she oh so subtly asked people to spend the night inside her “Sugar Walls.” Like horse, it took me time to understand what exactly she was getting at.

  • “Alphabet Street”

This is the single I have been listening to the most since I heard of his passing. I think it’s the “slipped through the crack” song. You know when an artist has a deep catalog of songs, some do not get the attention that others do, and you often re-discover the song later. Sometime you think “cool, so-and-so has a new album out” only to discover that it’s a song years or even decades old.

  • “Thieves in the Temple”

One song I do not have in my Prince selection is “Batdance.” When Batman came out in 1989, I made the choice to purchase the instrumental soundtrack by Danny Elfman rather than the Prince release. This was clearly a mistake, as thanks to ownership complications, none of Prince’s songs from it can appear on his greatest hits/B-sides CDs that I listen to. I mentioned on Facebook recently that no artist could have taken “Batdance” to #1 other than Prince and I still believe that. I think it would have seemed like a joke in the hands of any other, but if you watch Batman, it’s clear the film was influenced by Prince and not the other way around. Prince’s success with the film is nice to see, as it was clear with Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge that Prince was not going to replicate the success of Purple Rain, at least not on screen. The album by the same name worked, producing “Thieves in the Temple,” which is not a favorite of mine, but still a good song.

  • “Cream”
  • “Gett Off”
  • “Diamonds and Pearls”

I am not sure how I feel about the transition from the Revolution to the New Power Generation. I guess the important thing was the constant Prince, but I loved the the Revolution as well. These three songs from Diamonds and Pearls did make the transition a smooth one. I was always a big fan of “Diamonds and Pearls” even if it has spelling within the song.

  • “7”
  • “Pink Cashmere”
  • “Nothing Compares 2 U”
  • “I Feel for You”

I always had meant to buy the Prince box set, but I was a broke new worker fresh out of graduate school, so I settled for the two discs of “The Hits/The B-Sides”, which not only had all his big hits (sans “Batdance”), but also his versions of hit songs that he wrote for Sinead O’Connor (“Nothing Compares 2 U”) and Chaka Khan (“I Feel for You”). Of course I also knew about “Manic Monday” being written for the Bangles, but it was only recently that I learned he also wrote “Stand Back” for Stevie Nicks.

  • “Cinnamon Girl”
  • “The Marrying Kind”
  • “Life ‘O’ the Party”

Sadly, I lost interest in new music from about the mid 1990s until 2004 or so. However, thanks to my time at WWE, I received a copy of Musicology. I remember when I first got home thinking how odd it was that Prince would cover a Neil Young song. But his version of Cinnamon Girl was all his own, and the album was an incredible return to the world of Prince. I didn’t partake of much of his music after that, but now that he’s passed away, I feel it is time to do just that, giving me an opportunity to keep his musical spirit in my life.