The theme of this installment: Seeing Things for the Second Time.
Seems I’m revisiting a lot of familiar songs/artists/records these days and hearing them anew. Take the first song, and namesake of this post…
Black Crowes, “Seeing Things”
For everyone who dismissed the Black Crowes as “too derivative,” how many of you still can’t get enough Oasis? It’s no crime to wear your influences on your sleeve, so long as 1) the influences are worthwhile and 2) you do something with them. “Seeing Things” borrows more than a little from, uh, every soul-rock-power-ballad imaginable (but let’s start and end the list with Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help…” cover), but the quickest route to a great song is learning from great songs.
One listen to “Seeing Things” reminded me of just how vocally gifted Chris Robinson was, and how powerful the Black Crowes were when he was on-point. Sure, the vocals in the last minute are openly influenced by Cocker (among others), but the performance itself is anything but inauthentic. In fact, it’s great.
Tom Petty, “To Find a Friend”
Nobody makes simple, straight-forward songwriting seem smarter, more honest, and more likable than the T-Pet. He might not be everyone’s favorite artist, but name one person who likes music and hates Tom Petty. Just one.
Teenage Fanclub, “Falling Leaves”
If you’ve been reading this blog for some time now, you’ve noticed a serious Teenage Fanclub fixation. If you’ve never heard Teenage Fanclub, combine the things you (may) like about The Byrds and Big Star, add some sharp Scottish lyricism, and about 15 years worth of music to explore, and you’ve got Teenage Fanclub. Every now and then a truly great band slips through the cracks–Teenage Fanclub is one of those bands.
The Killers, “Change Your Mind”
A friend gave me Hot Fuss back when I staunchly hated The Killers and everything I thought they stood for. Sam’s Town made me (slightly) more of a believer. A few more years, the decline of mainstream rock, and one ultra-savvy cover of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” later…sure, why not, I’m a Killers fan. Which means I’m going back and hearing all the stuff I willfully ignored before, and making a case for why it’s suddenly good. Only it’s not suddenly good, it’s been good.
The lesson, as always: I’m an idiot.
Exhibit Q: “Change Your Mind,” a bonus track from Hot Fuss that should’ve made the record. The Killers do The Strokes better than The Strokes.
U2, “Sweetest Thing”
Call me terminally uncool, but I like U2 best when:
1) They commit to writing unabashed pop songs and
2) They stop packaging said pop songs with some unrelated political agenda.
Look, I appreciate who/what U2 was when the Joshua Tree came out. They were a great band, and they made records that mattered. I get it. But they’re also a great band because they’re versatile, and they’ve wisely reinvented themself, and they’re capable of doing new things and taking the mainstream in a new direction, and using their reputation to make pop music credible.
But, hey, U2: don’t market your new pop record alongside the political agenda. Go to Africa, save the world, good, great, awesome. Just don’t tell me any of that has anything to do with “Vertigo.” It doesn’t. You’re not the band from Joshua Tree anymore and–even more–that’s a good thing. You’ve earned the right to keep your message away from your music, if you want. Enjoy it.
Case in point: “Sweetest Thing.” For my money, one of U2’s top songs. Infectious, expertly crafted, winning, lyrically clever, perfect arrangement…a statement that bouncy, pretty, 3-minute pop can still be smart, joyful.
Rolling Stones, “Soul Survivor”
On a record full of great moments, the “down section” (starting at 2:15), in which the keys and tambourine build into a full band throw-down, with the refrain “soul survivor” shouted over the
mayhem, there isn’t a more jubilant or beautifully reckless moment on Exile. One of the all-time great codas to a classic album.
Bob Dylan, “Chimes of Freedom”
Picking a best-Dylan-lyric is like picking the greatest square foot in the Sistine’s Ceiling, but how’s this for an underdog:
Upon 3,078th listen, I’m not positive that “Chimes of Freedom” isn’t Dylan’s best lyric. There, I said it. Discuss.
The Temptations, “I Wish That It Would Rain”
In all the years of listening to Motown anthologies and best-of’s, and greatest hits, I somehow never heard “I Wish That It Would Rain.” Then my brother put in the same anthology we’ve played a hundred times, and there it was.
I’ll say this and be done with it:
1) Get this song. It’s very easy to find/download.
2) If you think that Sufjan Stevens, or Conor Oberst, or the Guy from Death Cab, or other “deep contemporary indie guys,” say more in their breakup songs than the Temptations do in this …let’s just get a cupcake and talk about your poli-sci paper in the common room for crying out loud.
So…what’s in your stereo?