On Music Appreciation, Or, I'm Taking The Day Off

It is a huge news day today, what with death and confirmation on everyone’s mind...and I’m not going to do anything about it—well, not today, anyway.

Instead, I’m taking the day off to bring you something more compelling: a music appreciation class, with recordings old and new, and just right for your summer soundtrack.

And if that’s not enough...by an amazing coincidence, we also get to talk about the (I never even know it existed) McRice burger, and, just for a summer bonus, we even have a smoking hot male model to grab your attention.

It’s all about fun today, so let’s get right to having some.

The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her; and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place,
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face

--From “Three Years She Grew”, by William Wordsworth

So here’s what’s going to happen: I put together a playlist of songs with the idea of getting you to listen to artists that you may not know, either because you’re not an old geezer like me—or because you are.

Some of the songs will be “that song” from an artist, but other songs are designed to get you to explore the larger body of work that an artist has brought to the table; I’ll be telling you about those as we go along.

I’ll give ‘em to you in the same order as I used to assemble the playlist—and they do fit together, in this order, quite well, even to the point that if you set up for continuous play, the last and first songs also “match”.

Grizzly Bear is getting real big this year, so much so that they had a song in a Super Bowl commercial, and I’m just crazy about the song “Knife”.

If you can imagine modern doo-wop and 50’s guitar licks getting together in a very understated way, that’s this song. The version I used comes from a live performance they did at KEXP’s Seattle studios; you can hear it here, along with four other songs they did that day. There’s a disc available with that performance, but it’s the sort of thing you’d really rather find in a used CD store; there’s also a Grizzly Bear page at RCRD LBL with free and legal downloads of other songs. (The “original” version of the song is on the Yellow House album.)

Now here’s a trippy story: William DeVaughn was a Washington, DC sewer designer (he trained as a draftsman) who nailed it on the first try with Be Thankful For What You’ve Got, which has become one of the greatest soul recordings ever.

Over the intervening 35 years it’s reported that he has been in and out of the industry; Wikipedia reports he returned to working at the drafting table. His own website, williamdevaughnrecords.com, is just a “placeholder” site today, suggesting he’s again inactive “in the biz”.

Remember the smoking hot male model? He’s also named William Devaughn (no capitalized “V”), and he became famous first for being on Pinoy Big Brother, then his McDonald’s McRice burger commercials (“modern rice for modern times”) in the Philippines.

He models today, which explains this picture of him in a “banana hammock”—and if you’re reading this at The Bilerico Project...well, trust me on this one, you probably do want to go click on the link...and, you know, when the straight guy in the room tells you to go check out the nearly naked man picture, you really should.

But now, back to music: there are few voices that ever graced a stage that can outshine Aretha Franklin’s, and Night Life is one of those songs that were just made for her and a horn section to absolutely own.

If you don’t know her yet, learn about her, now: start with the popular stuff, like “Spanish Harlem”, but understand that the real treasures are a bit less well known, with “Drown in My Own Tears” or “Good To Me As I Am To You” or “Son of a Preacher Man” (yes, Virginia, Aretha did it, too) being at the truly soulful heart of her collection.

Are you old enough to remember Timbuk3? The video for The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades was hugely popular on MTV, back in those halcyon days when MTV played music videos, but the next album, “Eden Alley”...that’s the one. It’s full of great songs; my favorite among several is Easy, which is a complex, layered mix of guitar, vocal, percussion, and harmonica that I just can’t hear often enough.

CBGB was the jumping off point for punk legends like the Ramones—but it was also the spot where the Talking Heads found their groove. This is another one of those bands who have a whole shelf of “hidden gems” (check out the spectacular “Fear of Music” or “Stop Making Sense” albums sometime); we’re going with Mind today. It’s rhythmic, it’s a great big “wall of sound” production...and it has a hypnotic quality about it that has you kind of wishing the song didn’t end so soon.

If you haven’t really listened to a lot of new music since Nirvana, then you don’t know about Gorillaz. We need to fix that instantly.

Gorillaz is an odd amalgam of cartoon characters that were created to form a framework upon which a variety of songs that tell stories about the character's adventures could be hung; that’s an imperfect explanation of what they do, but not a bad one.

The songs themselves evolve over time, with “Clint Eastwood” being an excellent example. I have four different version of the song, each much different than the other; the Phi Life Cypher version, for my money, being one of the best rap performances you’ll find anywhere.

Today we reach out to the title track from the Demon Days album (start about 2:15 into this video for the full effect), which is an orchestral and choral piece, believe it or not; the London Community Gospel Choir provides the vocals, which is something they’ve done a lot of over the years.

Meat Beat Manifesto is another one of those bands that the older of you have never heard of—and again, we need to fix that. For whatever reason, these Brit bands manage to really grab reggae by the horns, and the “...In Dub” album does it better than most.

Super Soul Dub is exactly that: a super-duper dubstyle song that will take you away from Babylon and have you feelin’ irie in no time at all.

From the new to the old: Sarah Vaughn is one of the great voices of the 20th Century, “Fever” is one of the greatest songs of any century, and the two were combined, with some help from producer Adam Freeland, to create a modern, very danceable version of an old classic originally made famous by Peggy Lee.

Verve Records, the jazz label, has been reissuing some of their classic singles in paired CD releases, the “Verve/Unmixed 3” and “Verve/Remixed 3” pair, within which reside the original and new versions of this song, are my favorite so far.

I am forever guilty of letting these stories get too long, and we’re already at about 1000 words, and we’re only halfway through this lesson...and all of that means we’re going to need a Part Two, tomorrow.

So far, we’ve covered a lot of ground; tomorrow we have more dance, more reggae (in English and French), a bit of reworked Beatles, one of the greatest jazz songs ever, and a 50-year-old classic from the guy many people credit with inventing the electric guitar.

It’s a beautiful day, so go get outside, have some fun, check out the new music...and we’ll see you back here next time.

Comments

ok, so we're taking...

...two days off...but we've earned it, right?

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Fabulous post

Many links to follow and many songs already popping into my brain after years of hiding. Thank you.

you are more than welcome...

...and just wait until the second half goes up...then it will really be a joy to behold.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

New stuff, Levon Helm CD

New stuff, Levon Helm CD "Electric Dirt", Drive By Truckers "The Big To-Do"
Old stuff, Gregg Allman, "Laid Back", Townes Van Zant "Live from the Old Quarter"

I'm a moderate Democrat.

haven't yet heard...

...the leon helm, have loved drive-by truckers for some time (and the mavericks and br-549, for that matter).

as to the gregg allman: there's also the excellent "i've got news for you", which is also one of ray charles' best.

i didn't know the van zant songs, but after doing some quick listening i might point you to cowboy junkies, the canadian band, who do a lot of spare arrangements with strong vocals--one of those being their exceptional version of "sweet jane", recorded at the church of the holy trinity in toronto.

amazing performance, that one.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Indeed

A cover classic by any measure. The whole thing is very sweet, but the last minute is pure mastery.

the other song...

...that makes my headphones feel just about the same way is astrud gilberto's "girl from ipanema"; that because you have the guitar way off to the side, with the brushes on the other, and then you can really hear getz's breath work on the sax...ah, it's just fantastic.

matter of fact, i just put it on.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

And I just posted it on my FB page

First time I've posted a video link in at least a year.

wanna find another hidden gem?

marley's ghost, they of arlington, washington, may have written the most perfect country and western song since david allen coe's: "cowboy lullaby".

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Levon is recovering from

Levon is recovering from throat cancer, just now able to sing again. He does a great version of the Grateful Dead's Tenn. Jed, covers a couple of Muddy Waters songs, a Carter Family song, just all in all great music. I highly recommend it.

Townes was the great songwriter of our time, never worried about commercial success, suffered from undiagnosed mental illness and spent most of his life self medicating with alcohol. Listen to Tecumseh Valley sometime and you will be moved. You should really check him out. The Cowboy Junkies are excellent indeed and I believe have covered some of Townes' songs. I look forward to listening to your suggestions, thanks.

I'm a moderate Democrat.

he reminds me a bit...

...of tom waits, as well.

i'm in the car,l trying to get a bit of work done, and i have the gus gus album "polydistortion" on...and if you need a great "shank of the evening" band, gus gus is it.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

A few music comments

I hope that some of you got the chance to see David Byrne when he passed through Raleigh 1-2 years back. I missed him there, but caught him at Bonnaroo in 2009. It's hard to find someone who has talent that not only doesn't fade, but actually gets stronger, after an already lengthy and successful career.

If you're looking for a blend of 'old' classics with a new flair, check out the collaboration of Daryl Hall and Chromeo.

Also, I had on Dirty Laundry right when I was checking out BlueNC today, and I must say...did Don Henley have a crystal ball in 1982?

i have rei momo...

...which has that last song, of which the name escapes me at the moment, that's all "ambient" nature sounds, that he turned into a great little piece of work.

"until you're here with me" is the title, or something similar.

we have new information: i looked it up, and the correct title is "i know sometimes a man is wrong".

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965