The Awesome Song I Heard Today

Where serendipity meets "Synchronicity."
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #37

Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle”

Where I Heard It: Slacker’s "66 Songs That Changed Everything"

Why It’s Awesome:

There are so many reasons that I feel compelled to go through the song second-by-second and list them all.

0:08 “Oh my God”
0:32 That riff is as good as anything Keith Richards ever played.
0:37 The high notes played on the guitar in the right channel (Izzy?).
0:58 “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-knees”
1:29 I most certainly do not want to feel Axl’s serpentine.
1:34 I want to know what guitar/pedal/amp combo Slash is playing on this solo, because it sounds incredible, but I don’t feel like paging through back issues of Guitar Player magazine. Why isn’t there an Internet Music Database that could tell me this?
1:43 -2 points for what I can only imagine is the sound of Axl’s vinegar strokes.
2:05 The way Axl actually growls the word “me.”
2:17 The best bridges sound like they’re from completely different songs, and this one is no exception.
3:21 The best cowbell ever in a rock and roll song. Ever. I will brook no dissent.
3:27 If Phil Spector had ever produced hard rock/metal, this is what it would have sounded like. A wall of sound
3:52 “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-knees” redux.
4:07 And again.
4:18 I don’t even know how to transcribe the sound that Axl makes here

OK, I wasn’t listening to it loud enough. Time to turn it up to at least 11 and listen again.

Tags: guns and fucking roses
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The Awesome Songs I Heard Today #35 & 36

Two songs today to make up for zero songs in the last several months…

Michael Jackson, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”

Where I Heard It: Rewind 100.3 FM

Why It’s Awesome:

1. It’s Michael at his danceable best, and it’s also a reminder of what a force Quincy Jones was. Apparently Michael had written a song called “Pretty Young Thing,” and when Jones heard the song he scrapped it and wrote an entirely new song using the same title.

2. This is more about how awesome Thriller is, but this was the sixth of seven singles released from it, all of which reached the Top Ten.

3. Along with “Wanna Be Starting Something,” it’s the song on Thriller that sounds most like it could have been on Off The Wall (which is a pretty awesome album in its own right), and it’s not hard to draw a straight line from it, right through Timberlake, to just about every male R&B singer working today: Ne-Yo, Usher, Chris Brown, Cee-Lo, Trey Songs, R. Kelly, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and especially…

4. I suppose it’s fish-in-a-barrel to point out that Bruno Mars sounds like Michael Jackson, but hearing this on the radio yesterday made me realize that “Locked Out of Heaven” sounds not just like an MJ cop, but a direct “homage” to this song in particular, right down to the “ungh”s.

Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven”

Tags: Michael Jackson Bruno Mars
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #34

Joy Division, “Transmission”

Where I heard it: YouTube

Why it’s awesome:

1. Any opportunity to hear John Peel’s voice is greatly appreciated.

2. Cute, smiling Playmobil Ian Curtis!

3. As much as I like “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which is the quintessential Joy Division song IMNSHO (as well as the quintessential Poor Dead Ian Curtis song), I like this one better. It’s propulsive, driving, insistent - and maybe, just maybe, it’s happy. Or, at least, it isn’t soul-crushingly depressing; for 3 1/2 minutes you can listen to this and dance and forget about everything going on around you that makes you want to sit in a dark room with “Atmosphere” on repeat.

4. Bonus Playmobil John Peel!

Bonus: Hot Chip’s throbbing cover from ‘War Child’:

Tags: joy division hot chip
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #33

Foo Fighters, “All My Life”

Where I heard it: The Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth, on Palladia.

Why it’s awesome:

1. It’s a (the?) canonical example of the Foo Fighters’ sound. At one point in the doc (which is really, really good), Dave talks about an argument he and Taylor had about the mix of a song, with Taylor wanting the drums more up front and Dave responding, “big guitars is the Foo Fighters sound,” which it totally is, and this song proves it. The production is crisp and clean, and the guitars are front and center, where they should be. As a result…

2. The louder you play it, the better it sounds.

3. “Don’t let it go to waste/I love it but I hate the taste.”

4. The moment when the band kicks in at 0:39 (perfectly matched in the video to the reveal of the giant emo heart backdrop) is, as Daryl pointed out while we were watching the movie, an iconic example of the loudQUIETloud thing that Nirvana copped to great effect from the Pixies.

5. Dave’s clear Lucite guitar.

Bonus things I didn’t know, or forgot, that I (re-)learned while watching the documentary:

* Taylor’s drug-OD-induced coma, which must have brought back scary memories of Kurt Cobain for Dave
* The fact that they essentially re-recorded One By One after the first sessions left them disillusioned and thinking about quitting - they took a break, with Dave going off to play drums for QotSA, pissing off the rest of the band, and decided to play “one last show” to see if they still wanted to continue. That show was Coachella 2002, they ripped it up, and went on to become the biggest rock band of the 2000s.
* And now you know…the rest of the story (TM Paul Harvey)

Tags: foo fighters
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #32

Prince, “Purple Rain” live at First Avenue, 1983

Where I heard it: YouTube

Why it’s awesome: Wow. Wow. Wow. Holy Shit Wow. It would be easier to talk about the reasons this song isn’t awesome, because there aren’t any, but here we go:

1. Wendy’s outfit.
2. The incredible drone-y groove the band sets up as a sort of latter-day James Brown entrance music, waiting for Prince to appear on stage.
3. His entrance.
4. His guitar tone.
5. The first time everyone comes in together on the chorus.
6. The way he screams “I know I know I know” at 7:18.
7. The solo that starts at 8:28.
8. “Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, whoo-HOO-hoo-hoooo.”
9. “Thank you very, very much. Good night.”

Damn. I had chills, and nearly tears, watching that.

The first live concert i ever saw was Prince on the Purple Rain tour in 1984. He came to Chicago, sold out a show, and then added a matinee show the same day, and my parents not only let me go, but let me get out of school early to go. it was incredible - mind-blowing for a 14-year-old - and set into motion a love of live music that continues to this day. Moments like this are why I love music.

This clip surfaced a few days back (I first heard about it in the Lefsetz Letter) and I finally got around to watching it. I hope His Purple Majesty lets it stay up, but if it goes down I’ll do my best to find another source.

Everybody needs to spend 12 minutes watching this - it might be the best time you spend all day. In the time it took for this to play, my entire 50-page PowerPoint report wrote itself. As it was playing, I put my sore knee next to my computer, and now it doesn’t hurt anymore. If we could get the Israeli and Iranian officials to sit down and watch this together, we wouldn’t be facing a war.

Enjoy.

Tags: Prince Total Fucking Godhead
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #30-31

Muse, “Uprising”/Paul Simon, “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard”

Where I heard them: XRT

Why they’re awesome:

1. It’s a strange pairing, to be sure, but one that served as the soundtrack to an awesome evening with my girls. As we were driving to a minor-league hockey game this weekend (the Chicago Steel, tickets thanks to LivingSocial), these songs came on the radio back-to-back.

2. The Muse song is probably Zo’s favorite song right now, and one I like as well. I’ve always had a soft spot for Muse’s Queen-meets-Radiohead bombasticity (which isn’t a word but should be), and as I was listening to this one I was struck by how perfectly the message fits the current mood in the US. It’s like Muse wrote this song for the Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing, Occupy-empathizing segment of the population. I mean, the message is unmissable, if a bit on-the-nose:

Rise up and take the power back
It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack
You know that their time is coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

It’s a stirring message, and one that would probably be both awe-inspiring and somewhat frightening to see being chanted by an entire crowd of Muse fans at Wembley (as in the above video). And as I said, it’s Zo’s favorite song, which made it even cooler when the next song played was…

3. Vivi’s favorite song, a wonderful piece of early 70s pop (complete with whistling!) by Paul Simon. Every time she hears this song, she spends the next few days mumbling “meandjuliodownbytheschoolyard” to herself as she walks around the house. For my part, I’ve loved this song since I was a kid (probably since I was Vivi’s age, if not earlier), and listening to it again it really feels like a song aimed at kids, with the airy guitar, the whistling, and the “whoa-oh!” breaks.

Strange, I’ve always thought this song was on There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, easily my favorite Paul Simon recod thanks to “Love Me Like A Rock,” “Kodachrome,” and “St. Judy’s Comet,” but Wikipedia just let me know it’s not on that album, and neither is my all-time favorite Simon song, “Late in the Evening.” Apparently everything I need to know about Paul Simon I learned from Negotiations and Love Songs.

4. I don’t know if either of these songs by themselves would have merited inclusion on this blog, but played back to back, and given the situation I heard them in (driving with my girls on the way to a fantastic evening with them), they certainly qualify as awesome.

Tags: Muse Paul Simon XRT
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #28

Etta James, “I’d Rather Go Blind”

Farewell to the woman with one of the greatest voices ever. R.I.P., Miss Peaches.

I believe I am legally obligated to link to this one. We played it at our wedding, and I’m sure we’re the only people in the history of world who did that.

Tags: Etta James RIP
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #29

LCD Soundsystem, “Dance Yrself Clean”

Where I heard it: MOG, after reading this article about James Murphy, David Chang, and Aziz Ansari celebbing it around Tokyo.

Why it’s awesome:

1. 3:07 et seq.

2. Muppets!

Tags: MOG LCD Soundsystem
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #27

Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Where I heard it: XRT

Why it’s awesome:

1. It’s a cliche, but this song was at the vanguard of a significant change in what was considered popular music in the early 90s. The reductive version of the argument is that when it broke, it signalled a sea change that wiped any number of (for lack of a better term) hair metal bands off the charts in favor of alternative artists. True? Sort of, but I’m sure there were other factors at play. Still, the charts were a whole lot different in 1993 than they were in 1991.

2. For myself, hearing this song was (cliche alert #2) a life- (or at least musical life-) changing experience. It wasn’t the first “college rock” song to blow my mind - that honor goes to Jane’s Addiction’s “Ocean Size,” which I clearly remember hearing for the first time in Brent’s dorm room during the first trimester of my freshman year - but it’s the one that had the most impact.

One of my best friends in college (and my co-DJ) was a guy named Dave, who was from Seattle and way more aware of the burgeoning scene there than I was. He had Bleach and was already a big Nirvana fan. I remember hearing “Teen Spirit” early in my senior year - in fact, I remember hearing it blasting out of the portable stacks that we would use to DJ parties, so loud that I must have been doing significant damage to my ears - and then buying the album over winter break, by which point it had become one of the biggest records in rock history. It may not be the best song on Nevermind (it’s either “Teen Spirit” or “Lithium” for me), but it’s certainly the most evocative.

3. The video. If you haven’t already, go buy Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks’ fantastic book I Want My MTV, which discusses both the video as well as its impact on MTV, at great and entertaining length.

Bonus clip: Patty Smith covering “Teen Spirit”:

Tags: XRT Nirvana
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #26

Titus Andronicus, A More Perfect Union

Where I heard it: MOG, after reading about Michael Tedder’s Pazz & Jop ballot

Why it’s awesome:

1. Patrick Stickles alludes to Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen in the same verse:

'Cause where I'm going to now, no one can ever hurt me
Where the well of human hatred is shallow and dry
No, I never wanted to change the world, but I’m looking for a new New Jersey
‘Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to die

2. They are an honest-to-God punk band. Every time I hear someone refer to Gaslight Anthem (who I like), as a “punk” band, I wish they could hear Titus Andronicus instead. Also from New Jersey, but much closer to the spirit of punk than anyone I listen to except Fucked Up.

Tags: titus andronicus MOG
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #25

St. Vincent, “Kerosene”

Where I heard it: brain radio, for the last six months

Why it’s awesome:

1. This was at the Our Band Could Be Your Life tribute concert, and stood out even among a list of performances that included Ted Leo (doing Minor Threat), Titus Andronicus (Replacements), and Dirty Projectors (Black Flag), among many others. It’s raw and abrasive and perfectly captures, I think, what Albini et al were shooting for 25 years ago

2. The live performance of it is fucking amazing - kinetic and exciting in a way that videos posted on YouTube rarely are. Seriously, aside from listening to this song, I could watch it every day.

Tags: st. vincent big black cover
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #24

Sammy Davis Jr., “Spinning Wheel”

Where I heard it: in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Why it’s awesome:

1. Once you watch that clip you won’t need any more reasons. It’s worth it just for the vest, though the whole performance is pretty groovy.

2. The original version by Blood Sweat and Tears (below) is fantastic. I’m a sucker for horns in a rock song, and the way they punch in this one is beautiful (and the cowbell doesn’t hurt either).

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was fantastic. Colin Firth, Ton Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch (among others) in a tight, thrilling telling of the John Le Carre classic, all anchored by the best performance Gary Oldman has given in nearly twenty years. Highly recommended.

Tags: sammy blood sweat & tears
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #23

James & Bobby Purify, “I’m Your Puppet”

R.I.P. Robert Lee Dickey (aka Bobby Purify), one half of the duo that gave us this fantastic lite-soul one-hit wonder 46 years ago.

Tags: r.i.p. james & bobby purify
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #22

Elvis Presley, Bridge Over Troubled Water

Where I heard it: YouTube

Why it’s awesome:

1. It’s Elvis at his second peak, the era that produced the ‘68 Comeback Special, Elvis In Memphis (“Suspicious Minds,” “In the Ghetto”), and his first shows in Vegas (where the above clip is from). Paul Simon saw Elvis perform the song in Vegas and famously said, “That’s it, we might as well all give up now.”

That era, by the way, ended on December 21, 1970:

Though it took a few years for everyone to realize it.

Tags: the other elvis simon and garfunkel
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The Awesome Song I Heard Today #21

Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Where I heard it: pretty much everywhere, all the time

Why it’s awesome:

1. Rarely do my tastes line up exactly with the mainstream-est of the mainstream. While I do like lots and lots of pop songs (of all genres) that get significant airplay and sales, most of what ends up on the charts doesn’t do it for me. And even when I do like something that has grabbed the popular consciousness — Taylor Swift, “I Know You Want Me” by Pitbull, that one Nickelback song — it’s typically with some modicum of, if not guilt, at least acknowledgement that it’s outside my typical musical purview.

But every so often a song does break through in a way that makes it a huge mainstream hit as well as being something that I can (and do) see myself listening to regularly. In the past few years, songs like “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, and “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce have qualified. And this year, it’s this Adele song. It’s definitely one of the best songs of the year, full of heartache and anger, sung by a woman with a fantastic voice and produced exquisitely by Paul Epworth. Over 188,000,000 YouTube viewers can’t be wrong!

1A. Holy cow, it turns out that, in addition to producing just about every mainstream-but-still cool record in the past year (including songs or albums by Cee-Lo Green, Foster the People, Florence and the Machine), he also worked on A Certain Trigger, the debut album from criminally underappreciated Geordie rockers Maximo Park.

Tags: adele Best of 2011