Thursday, June 24, 2010

K is for Knives on Knuckles

K-King of Pain. It seems I have a thing for Sting. It follows that I also enjoy his work with The Police. “King of Pain” is one of my favorite songs. The lyrics offer stark imagery throughout, with all verses depicting tragedy: take, for example, the “black-winged gull with a broken back.” The poetry is gorgeous. The instrumentation is sparse in the beginning: later, the instruments echo the melody of the voice. There is also a lovely crescendo leading up to the last chorus, and you know how I love crescendos. Despite the negative connotations implied by the lyrics, the song becomes surprisingly upbeat. I enjoy exercising (and even dancing) to it.

There’s a little black spot on the sun today. It’s the same old thing as yesterday…

The Police. “King of Pain,” Synchronicity, 1983

Friday, June 18, 2010

J is for Jazzy Journey

J-Jump. The album Rock Swings is based on the concept that rock songs translate into the swing style very well. I highly recommend the album to fans of either genre. Though I miss the inspired guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, Paul Anka’s cover of “Jump” is brilliant. The lyrics of this song are not particularly profound, but Anka’s smooth voice exudes the impression that everything is just groovy. His laid-back interpretation could even be seen as an improvement on the original song. So relax, and enjoy…

You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.

Paul Anka, “Jump,” Rock Swings, 2005

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I is for Infinite Interim

I-In the Waiting Line. I have seen this song used effectively in the film Garden State and an episode of “House, M.D.” It has a certain atmospheric quality, and a melody that mellows me out. The lyrics describe the senselessness of life spent in the waiting line, as all of us are at the mercy of our finite existences. As a military spouse, I have become an expert on waiting. And, quite frankly, I’m tired of it. So I will spend my time in the waiting line writing paragraphs about songs while desperately trying to ignore the insurmountable issues present in my life. Sound like a plan?

Do you believe what you see? Motionless wheel, nothing is real. Wasting my time in the waiting line…

Zero 7, “In the Waiting Line,” Simple Things, 2001

Sunday, June 13, 2010

H is for Habitually Haunted

H- Hurt. I would not have known of this song’s existence were it not for Johnny Cash. He took Trent Reznor’s reflective ballad and refined it into something utterly unforgettable. The synthesizer is replaced by acoustic guitar in Cash’s version and there is also a subtle change in lyrics (the “crown of shit” is artfully changed to “crown of thorns”). Dynamic contrast between the verses and chorus is driven by the instruments and enhances the intensity of the piece. Cash’s gruff voice lends an eerie quality that perfectly captures the measure of a man’s life. If you are not moved by this song, I suspect that you are made of stone.

You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.

Johnny Cash, “Hurt,” American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002

Friday, June 11, 2010

G is for Grasping the Gavel

G-Ghost Story. I was never really a fan of Sting until I saw him perform live at the Gorge in George, Washington, on the Mercury Falling tour. The man’s passion for his music was obvious, and his sheer talent was overwhelming. He jumped from instrument to instrument, and he even invited a fan on stage to help him sing the country song “I’m So Happy that I Can’t Stop Crying.” I walked into the concert a skeptic and came out as a believer. “Ghost Story” is just one of the brilliant songs on the album Brand New Day. The melody is a simple stepwise motion: the phrases in the lyrics aren’t necessarily unique, but the way that they’re strung together is. Only someone as versatile as Sting would explore the theme of love as a courtroom metaphor. The result is a song that has a wistful, lulling quality, with poetry that keeps the audience engaged.

Another night in court, the same old trial. The same old questions asked, the same denial...

Sting, "Ghost Story," Brand New Day, 1999

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

F is for Filmed Flirtation

F-Falling Slowly. My husband and I are big music nerds. I saw the movie Once and then I made him watch it. We both loved it, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on a unique cinematic experience. “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and for good reason. Songwriters Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard expertly execute this tune about the power of love, music, and hope. The piece begins with the simple melody of an acoustic guitar. Glen Hansard’s vocals then echo the melody, and Irglova voices a haunting harmony. Piano is also introduced, and there is a lovely crescendo leading into the chorus of the song. By the end, strings enhance the arc of this simple, well balanced, and beautiful tale. I cannot recommend Once or the accompanying soundtrack enough.

And games that never amount to more than they’re meant will play themselves out…

Glen Hansard featuring Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly,” Once Soundtrack, 2007

Sunday, June 6, 2010

E is for Everlasting Euphoria

E- Everlong. I love me some Foo Fighters. I am so glad Dave Grohl was able to channel his considerable talent into something so successful after Nirvana. I will unabashedly proclaim that “Everlong” is my favorite song. The central reason for such favoritism? It’s all in the layering and dynamics, baby. The quiet, almost melancholy guitar chords swell into something utterly magnificent by the time the piece hits the chorus. The drums take the song into overdrive in a joyous flood of sound. Don’t ask me what the song is about, because I have no idea. With lyrics like “breathe out, so I can breathe you in,” my best guess is that it’s about love. Regardless, the song has all the enthusiasm of a passionate love affair. No matter what kind of nasty mood I’m in, “Everlong” can help me out of my funk.

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you, you’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when…

Foo Fighters, “Everlong,” The Colour and the Shape, 1997

Friday, June 4, 2010

D is for Damned Daylight

D- The Day I Tried to Live. I realized that this is starting to turn into the “easy listening” alphabet, so I decided to include a song with a little more bite. Soundgarden has always been one of my favorite bands, so why not examine one of their contributions to the soundtrack of my mind? As with many of the songs written by Chris Cornell, “The Day I Tried to Live” is a bit of a downer. The lyrics of the song describe the futility of life in general, and how everything you do is about as useful as banging your head against a wall. I don’t have to extol the virtues of Cornell’s voice, but I will anyhow: it is one of the most unique instruments I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Driven by the vocals, the dynamic contrast appropriately adds to the angst of this piece. As someone diagnosed with social anxiety, this song really speaks to me on a personal level. Most days that I try to live, I end up making a complete moron of myself.

Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head. The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead…

Soundgarden, "The Day I Tried to Live," Superunknown, 1994

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

C is for Cumbersome Courtship

C-Cannonball. His is a voice which seems constantly on the verge of breaking, and that is why I love it. With “Cannonball,” in particular, Damien Rice demonstrates his considerable talents as a musician and a poet. The sparse acoustic accompaniment beautifully sets this tale of wistful infatuation. Rice’s voice is full of passion and uncertainty, and these emotions are enhanced by the dynamic contrast of his guitar. The opposing ideas set forth in the chorus illustrate the contradictions and complexities of love. This seemingly simple piece is reflective of the brilliance of O as an album. If you don’t own it, you need to!

Stones taught me to fly. Love taught me to lie. Life taught me to die. So it's not hard to fall, when you float like a cannonball…

Damien Rice, “Cannonball,” O, 2002