Thursday, February 25, 2016

Some Of My Favorite Quiet Songs

Someone asked me the other day what some of my favorite songs were. That’s a pretty hard question to answer, since it depends on my mood. When I’m DJ’ing, I usually play techo house or techno, or occasionally top40 and pop, depending on the venue.  But if I’m listening to music on my own, I rarely listen to dance music, except as research. If I had to pick my favorite upbeat music to listen to, and I was limited to something like a set of five bands that I had to listen to over and over again for the next twenty years on a deserted island, I’d go with Led Zeppelin (first four albums only), Rush (early albums up to Power Windows), The Tragically Hip (from their second album up until Phantom Power), Neil Young (acoustic and electric both), and Genesis (from the “Foxtrot” to “Abacab” albums only). You’ll notice that those five groups and artists have released a tremendous amount of music, and they have a huge variety of styles, both as individual picks, and as a group.

However, the question wasn’t what my favorite bands are; it was to pick a list of my favorite songs. That list changes all the time, but for today, I’m going to come up with a top ten. These songs are mostly acoustic – it’s not that I like quiet music more, but if I’m going to pick a song by any artist that stands out, I find it is usually the quieter songs that really make an impact. For instance, the Hip and Led Zeppelin have dozens of unforgettable rock hits, but I find it hard to pick a “best track” from either group. Also, it's 6am here, so I have some quiet music on at the moment.

Here’s my list. I’ve picked some songs for their specific lyrics, some for their guitar or piano work, and some that aren’t even really outstanding songs, they just happen to be ones I like to listen to over and over:

1. Motorcycle, “Imagination” – The first couple picks are easy, trying to find the songs I love listening to the most right now. This track is actually by Gabriel & Dresden (of dance/electronica fame) with Jes Brieden singing. The acoustic version of this song is has an extremely simple musical backbone, but if you listen closely, the production work behind it is fairly complex, and I absolutely love Jes’ voice. I haven’t actually met her in person, but I’ll never forget her voice.

2. Blue Rodeo, “Dark Angel” – This one is sung by Greg Keelor, with Sarah McLachlan doing backing vocals. From the “Five Days in July” album. Very moody, very introspective, very free-wheeling timing and chord changes on the piano.

3. Neil Young, “Crime In The City” – There are a ton of quieter Neil Young songs that I could have picked, such as “The Old Laughing Lady,” “Thrasher,” “Needle & The Damage Done,” and “The Campaigner.” The reason I like “Crime In The City” best right now is partly because it is a long song (eight or nine minutes, I think), and partly because of the way he intermixes the acoustic guitar and sax solos (I’m talking about the acoustic version from the “Freedom” album, not the electric version from “Weld”), and mostly because of the sexy drum beat.

4. Snow Patrol, “Chasing Cars” – Another Gabriel & Dresden tie-in, since they’ve done a dance remix of this (I think it was them) which I’ve heard them play in a few of their sets. I think this was also featured in Gray’s Anatomy. Anyway, it’s a pretty powerful song (although to be honest, I like the G&D remix better than the original).

5. Kansas, “Dust In The Wind” – This is the first “adult” song that I consciously ever remembering hearing on the radio when I was young, if you disregard children’s songs such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “The Candyman,” and disregard Christmas music. I remember a friend (Douglas Killam) and I riding in the back of my father’s pickup truck, moving a bed from my grandmother’s house in Tatamagouche to our house in Truro, and the two of us trying to sing this song. Gabriel & Dresden did a dance remix of this one too, but I’ll be honest – I prefer the original. Some songs are just timeless.  The lyrics for this song are the type of lyrics that are hard to forget because of their outlook on life. This is the kind of song that I wouldn’t normally pick to listen to anymore, off the top of my head, but when I hear it, I definitely say “that’s going on the top ten list.”

6. Mike Allison, “Leavin’ In The Morning” – Yes, I’m including a song by my friend Mike Allison, because I’ve always thought this track should be known internationally. I’ve even thought about asking him if I could re-record it and release it, but I could never do the vocals justice.

7. Matt Minglewood, “Can’t You See” – This song was originally by Toy Caldwell, I think, and has also been covered by Waylon Jenning, but I like Matt’s version the best. Matt Minglewood is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (not too far from where I grew up), and I’ve heard him perform this song live several times at the local tavern in my town. Someday, I’m going to record an entire album of covers of some of my favorite songs, and with multi-track recording I can play the drums, bass, guitar, and piano on each track (although I will probably ask someone else to do the lead vocals). This song is definitely going to be on that album. This song was originally written as a country/Deep South song, but the way Matt sings it, it seems like it was originally written about “a farm boy from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.”

8. Jonathan Clark, “When I Grow Old” – I may be cheating to put this particular song on my list, since I wrote it myself. Usually, with songs I’ve written or DJ mixes that I’ve put together, after I’ve recorded them, I never want to hear them again. This song is an exception. I wrote it back in 2007, and Mike Allison recorded a version for me, and I still can’t forget it or get it out of my head.

9. Stan Rogers, “Forty-Five Years” – Well who doesn’t like Stan Rogers? Stan was from Ontario, but he’s a Maritimer at heart. It seems that if you really want to go down in musical history, you need to die in an airplane crash (think about them all: Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, some members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jim Croce, Ritchie Valens, Patsy Cline, Aaliyah, and John Denver). Stan Rogers died in an airplane accident, although the plane was actually on the ground at the time (I guess most planes eventually are, if they crash). Anyway, his plane caught on fire at the Cincinatti Airport – he was 33 at the time. Stan is also famous for his recording of Barrett’s Privateers, a fine Nova Scotian drinking song (I think I first learned this while heavily intoxicated on a Saturday afternoon at Peddlar’s Pub in Halifax).

10. Eagles, “Wasted Time” – I think Don Henley wrote this after he ended an affair with Lorree Rodkin, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it’s one of my favorite piano tracks of all time, with pretty complex chord changes and progressions, and it’s a song I’ve always loved to play on the piano as an instrumental (I find that I can’t sing the words properly at the same time, for some reason, because my mind wants to go in two different directions with the timing). And it’s a good bit of advice – even experiences that don’t turn out the way you expect can usually teach you something positive, which means that they weren’t really a waste of time.

Well, that’s my “top ten favorite songs” list for today. Some of these tracks will remain on it for years, and others may be replaced next week.  Here's a link to Mike's version of "When I Grow Old" on SoundCloud:

And here's a link to "Leavin' In The Morning," also by Mike:

Also, I had this discussion a few years ago elsewhere, and my good friend Mark Thibodeau sent a reply at the time with some of his favorites.  They definitely have a different level of energy, but I thought I'd share his feedback here too, in case it lets some of my own readers discover some great new music.  After all, it illustrates just how diverse different peoples' taste in music can be ...

Hey Scooter! In the spirit of your latest post, here are my own Top 13 Songs of All Time!
13. Ace of Spades, Motorhead - One of a tiny handful of perfect songs ever written. It's Motorhead making the kind of noise that might have gone through a Viking's noggin as he lapsed into a murderous berserker fury, if only Motorhead had been around back then. And who knows? Maybe they were.
12. When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin - Yes, it's true… this song is the redheaded orphan bastard of a thousand ripped-off bluesmen. But I still fall into a dervish-like hypno-trance whenever I hear Page's shimmering power chords and Plant's otherworldly harmonica washing over that thunderous Jones/Bonham rhythm section like hot blood splashing across the killing floor.

11. The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash - Using the biblical Book of Revelation as a starting point, the Man in Black's final original composition is also one of the best he ever wrote.

10. Carpet Crawlers, Genesis - The best song off Genesis' best album -- the psychedelic progressive rock masterpiece The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway -- Carpet Crawlers features an atmospheric arrangement, haunting production, cryptic but compelling lyrics, and a catchy refrain.

9. War Pigs, Black Sabbath - The greatest heavy metal protest song of all time. War Pigs transcends genre with its utter lack of pretense and the sincerity of its howling outrage. That it written by a barely-educated, perpetually drunk 19-year-old Ozzy Osbourne makes it all the more incredible. Bono could take a cue from this most righteous and unambiguous of all anti-war songs. It would be playing in churches around the world, if only Christianity hadn't mutated into the safe haven for thoughtless pack animals that it is today.

8. Bobepine, Plume Latraverse - A rollicking, surrealistic French Canadian rocker about a party girl who's addicted to cigarettes and wears turpentine as perfume. You've never heard it, and you probably never will.

7. Paranoid Android, Radiohead - With this song, Radiohead lyricist Thom "Nostradamus" Yorke predicted the terrorist attacks of 9/11 four years before they happened. Don't believe me? Read along with the lyrics as it plays. Do they make sense in any other context? No. It's fuckin' spooky, is what it is.
6. Lakmé Flower Duet, Léo Delibes - A ridiculously beautiful operatic piece featuring alternately delicate and powerful intertwining and overlapping vocals. You may have heard a version of it on a British Airways commercial a few years back.

5. Miserlou, Dick Dale - Say what you will about Quentin Tarrantino's cinematic aesthetics, but his taste in music is incontrovertible. Using the King of Surf Guitar's take on this ancient Middle Eastern folk tune in Pulp Fiction remains one of his best ever decisions, and the song itself remains one of the most kick-ass pieces of guitar music ever recorded.
4. Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig von Beethoven - Another one of those perfect songs. Every time I hear it, I remember that incredible scene from Immortal Beloved where Beethoven, having long since gone deaf and unaware that he is being watched, presses his ear to the piano and begins to play those delicate, mournful opening notes.
3. Starless, King Crimson - After midwifing the sinister musical hybrid known as progressive metal with their triumphant album Larks Tongues in Aspic, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford and guests proceeded to perfect their prodigious progeny on Red, a collection of angular, high-octane, guitar-driven math-rock which, to this day, has no parallel. With Fripp's otherworldly guitar ululating over the melotronic color washes and its terrifying five-minute one-note solo, Starless is the shiniest gem in a particularly rich treasure trove.

2. Echoes, Pink Floyd - From the opening sonar ping, the listener is taken on an audio-cinematic journey to the bottom of the oceans, where Life Itself began, and left to ruminate on the meaning of the literal commonality of our origins. What other band besides early post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd could create a piece of music about biological evolution and have it turn out so incredibly beautiful? That it syncs up perfectly with the final chapter of 2001: A Space Odyssey -- itself another monumental and majestic meditation on human evolution -- only adds to its mystique.

1. Inca Roads, Frank Zappa and the Mothers - I could have chosen any number of Zappa tunes for the Number One slot, really. King Kong, Peaches En Regalia, Black Napkins, Outside Now, Outrage at Valdez, Dio Fa… the list of amazing music created by Zappa and his countless cohorts over the years goes on and on and on. However, Inca Roads is perhaps the most fun of them all.
Yer old pal Tibby

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