Monday, July 18, 2011

5 Great Pieces of Music (and why you should listen to them) So Sayeth I

When a cool chick says via twitter, "we should swap music favorites sometime", one should pretty much just drop everything and set to getting the list together.  Being the nerd on the receiving end of the tweet, I've of course, turned it into a small 'project' leading to this blog.

Amy R. Martin is an idea maven, vision cruncher, and purveyor of positive vibes.  She writes a blog that typically oozes with enthusiasm and a hearty 'go gettem'  attitude that always seems timely and spot on.  She seems to constantly be evolving, traveling, reveling in foreign languages, and engaging in witty repartee. Learn more about her here and be sure to follow her on Twitter too - I promise you won't be sorry.

OK Ames , now for the songs.  I could have gone all "too cool for school" on you and provided a list of some of the hip musicians we know who are creating great new music.  But I chose instead to go a tad retro and explain why I think you should hear these songs again... for the first time.

These 5 pieces of music (and the albums they are on) have provided endless hours of enjoyment, intrigue, study, madness, glee, and in some cases... even angst.  They each represent a particular moment of personal history but as time has gone by, I've found that they stand up to ever increasing scrutiny and analysis, as well as repeated listening.  I've shared these choices and my analysis with family, friends, students, and colleagues.  And I am happy to share them with you...and the universe!

5. Tempted - Squeeze, 45's and Under
This song is a feast for the ears. If you don't get it in the first 6 seconds, you probably won't get  it at all. The chromatic movement and the chords are maddening, baffling, wonderful.  The song bounds along so coolly that you hardly realize it's about potentially being unfaithful and all that goes along with it.

Listen very, VERY carefully in the beginning (at 6 seconds to be exact) and you'll hear someone sing 'I bought a toothbrush baby'. On the out chorus at the end there is a repeated word that adds to the rhythm of the groove - it's almost imperceptible and sounds as if someone is saying  'sp' on the "and of beat four" in every other measure (starting at 3:22).  This is how intently I have dissected the song.  It's a curse, it's what I do. But I can also simply allow Tempted to wash over me as I sing along in glee - and that's the true test of a great song.

And by the way...the entire album is amazing as well.

4. Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
It could just be a guy thing, like The Three Stooges, or a guy from New Jersey thing, like The Sopranos, .... whatever...fughettaboudit.  From the drum lead-in to the sounds of Celeste and concert chimes the wall of sound at the outset doesn't just greet you, it barrels in, throws open the door, and hollers 'come on, let's go!'.

This song lays out all the hopes and promises of adolescence and uses every trick in the rock and roll book to pull it off.  The wall of sound mixing, the palm muted guitar in the verses, the 5 note sax solo (ok, there's really 6, but who's counting besides guys like me?), the series of suspended chords in the bridge, the giant chromatic scale in the middle followed by the obligatory break, and arguably the most famous "1, 2, 3, 4" in rock history (even if it isn't absolutely in time).

So go ahead, crank the windows down (man that sounds old school) and turn the volume up.  Before long you will be miles from your destination and seriously considering never turning back. 

And by the way...the entire album is amazing as well.

3. The Loved Ones - Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom
OK this is out of left field I know, but it's MY list of 5 great pieces... remember? 'So sayeth I'.  There is more music happening in the first minute of this song than many people produce in a lifetime.  The guitar stabbing intro cleans the palette like the odd introductions in many a Bergman film. The bass enters as a tease, the drummer takes over and drives the band into wide screen mode. The piano seemingly plays more notes than is possible to hear and the walking bass line makes  me want to cry and shout at the same time. The diminished chords add momentary tension and release, propelling the song forward. I could easily listen to this song a thousand times, even if there were no words.

Ah, but the words!  They tumble out like waterfalls; overlapping, cajoling, prodding, "sarcastic", "elastic", "gymnastics", "match sticks"???  ...genius.  Who knows what he's talking about?  He's got 'tude' and that's good enough for me. He's got "poison", "needle", "thread",  "butcher, baker" and even "bass-line maker", don't stop him, he's on a roll!  And after everything, he's got P. P. S. I. L. O. V. E. Y. O. U. one of the greatest outtros of all time.  I never want it to end.

And by the way...the entire album is amazing as well.

2. Girl from Ipanema - Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz Getz/Gilberto 
Your house is totally clean, everything is put away, your bills are paid, you are enjoying a great glass of wine with beautiful friends, you have not a care in the world.  Dreaming? No, you are listening to this song.  Infectious, cool, full of style and fashion, it beckons and disarms even the most jaded among us.

The text is pure poetry (in either the original Portuguese or English).  The story tells of a simple, fleeting, mid-summer moment.  It's a universal theme that might take place anywhere. Boy sees beautiful girl and she pays him no mind.

But the bossa groove ebbs and flows like waves gently rolling onshore. The soulful, phonetic singing of Astrud Gilberto is a perfect match for the intense yet beautifully relaxed tenor sax sound of Stan Getz. His solo in the middle is short but impeccably crafted and his background fills are absolutely spot on, weaving great lines behind the lilt of Astrud's voice. Even the chirping of an imperfect reed does not detract from the overall performance or listening fact, it adds to it.

And by the way...the entire album is amazing as well.

1. Summer Wind - Frank Sinatra, Greatest Hits
Love him or hate him, you have to admit the cat could sing.  I saw him... 5 times (that comes with growing up Italian in New Jersey) and when he died my family burned up the phone lines as if we had lost our patriarch.

From the very first few beats of this track I am mush. My ADD melts away and I am completely engrossed in the groove. Led by the bass playing of Ray Brown (whose sense of time is downright confounding) and the cool zephyr-like organ sound, the intro sets the mood.  Along the way there is an ever increasing, percolating tension as the horn section builds and modulates and threatens almost to bubble over. The groove swims along like a shark that smells blood in the water from miles away. And when it finally reaches its prey... it simply passes by as Sinatra sings "My ffffickle friend...."

And by the way...the entire album is amazing as well.