[ purchase ] Mark Twang by John Hartford
John Hartford: Tater Tate and Allen Mundy
Before the switch you have to hear this track by John Hartford, in which he squeezes a concise history of the best pickers to 2 minutes 42 seconds, and still has time to sing a little about the joys of bluegrass in general. From Mark Twang, a one-man album featuring John on banjo, fiddle, floorboard, hambone, vocals, and mouth effects.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Two songs from the excellent The Chess Box: Muddy Waters set qualify for this weeks theme. I was humming and harumphing, trying to decide which to post. Then I said "Meh. I'm tossing up both."
Muddy Waters: Trouble No More Muddy Waters: The Same Thing
And... I just want to tell everyone how great it feels being a part of this little community. As I read all the excellent posts here, and click around your other blogs too, I have to say I am truely awed. You guys really make the web interesting. I've been getting exposed to a lot of things I never would have, if left to my own devices, and for that I am grateful. Y'all are inspiring!
Friday, May 9, 2008
The Clean : Tally Ho
I won’t even bother to reiterate what my fellow blog writers have already put forth beautifully in their prior, respective posts about actual time length of a particular track falling within the parameters of desired “perfect song length”. My iPod said this tune was 2:42. Fair enough for me! More importantly, regardless of it’s length, I could never argue against it being a perfect pop song. Outside of The Beatles, I can’t think of another band that has influenced it’s native music scene as much as The Clean did in New Zealand during the the 1980’s. Formed in 1978, things jump started for the band when a fan started a small record label called Flying Nun in order to get the band’s music heard to wider audience. Who would have guessed a whole movement would be created, that is the “Dunedin Sound”, or to foreign ears, later known as “Kiwi Pop”. More importantly, it birthed a underground scene that flourished for decades after, thanks in part to their Government’s Art Council which issued grants to bands so they could record their music in studio sessions. The Australian/New Zealand labels, Flying Nun and Xpressway signed many of these bands throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s. The Clean went on to record albums for another three decades and I don’t believe they have officially disbanded. Band Leader, David Kilgour continues on with a brilliant solo career, while fellow band mate Robert Scott formed, my personal favorite Kiwi band, The Bats, who have a very impressive catalog as well. The Merge Records label released a far overdue respective of The Clean, for American ears in 2002.
Bruce Springsteen, I'm On Fire
The question of "how long is this song really" has been floating in the air throughout this week's theme. In many cases, the question is a technological one -- the result of imprecise and non-standard measurement conventions which (for example) can cause the few seconds of space between songs to either count, or not, depending who is counting, and why. This question is interesting, it is true. But it is also resolvable -- in theory, it would not be hard to come to some consensus about song length authority, or about how to count the seconds.
But an especially interesting and much less resolvable variant of this question arises in the case of songs which fade out, in part because very often, re-releases of the same song will re-mix and re-structure how quickly the fade happens, without changing the other 2:39 or so that comprise the song and its success.
This not so much an issue of playback or storage technologies as is the other questions we have been asking. Instead, it is a question of both production choices, and how they shift slightly as a song is re-pressed or redistributed...and of the bigger issue which lurks behind all timing issues: what counts as "the song", and what counts as the space between?
In the end, the question is easiest to ask when considering songs which fade out slowly. If part of a song is inaudible, how can it "count" as a particular length? I'm On Fire has one of the longest fade-outs I know of; as such, though my computer lists it as 2:42 on the nose, in most of the familiar contexts and setting where we listen -- radio, playlists -- the fade is cut short or spoken through, and thus our experience OF the song usually plays out as if it had only about 2:35 or audible content.
Does the almost-silence count? Does it make the difference between a successful popular song and an also-ran? If so, is such real-world playback-shortening a corruption of the original song? And if both the moment that a song ends and the moment that a song begins are ultimately fluid, is song length actually just an illusion?
I don't know the answers. I just know that Springsteen's I'm On Fire would be an entirely different song without the long fade into oblivion. Here, at least, the silence matters, maybe even more than the driving acoustic guitar and the yearning, echo of the strained voice. Here, the way we are asked to choose the silence as an integral part of the song -- the way we strain for the last note at the end of the song as it recedes into the distance -- is both the proof and the murkiness of the 2:42 phenomenon. And maybe it's better if, in the end, the theme -- like the song itself -- slips away from us like smoke, as we prepare ourselves for the world, and what happens in it.
And so the theme becomes history. And like history, we are left with a world neither complete nor resolved. But still, we move on, toward the horizon, into the silence.
Joni Mitchell: Peoples' Parties (Live)
I figure since Joni Mitchell is the Godmother of this blog, she should be represented when she has a song that matches the week's theme. Peoples' Parties only clocks in at 2:15 on the Court And Spark album, but on Joni's double-Live CD, Miles of Aisles, it clocks in at exactly 2:42. (There is some cheering at the end of the track, though. I hope that's not cheating.)
I've always loved this song, particularly because it describes most of the parties that I've ever been to. Also, Joni's disposition matches mine, "... coming to peoples parties / Fumbling deaf dumb and blind". I also love her description of the beautiful woman who gets all of the attention:
Photo Beauty gets attention
Then her eye paint's running down
She's got a rose in her teeth
And a lampshade crown
One minute she's so happy
Then she's crying on someone's knee
Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release
I think I know that girl!
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Freakwater: Amelia Earhart
This old song about Amelia Earhart, performed by the alt-country band Freakwater, is an example of the kind of history song that we'll be looking for next week. It also happens to clock in at exactly 2:42.
Post songs about historical figures or historical events. It doesn't have to be ancient history. Recent history would work too. The key is that I'm looking for songs that are really about the historical event or figure in question (instead of mere passing references to historical events/figures).
History songs will start on Sunday, May 11.
Posted by Paul at 9:46 PM
[ purchase ]
Scott Walker: Mathilde
I am starting to believe in this theory because all of the selections this week have really been outstanding. This Jacques Brel composition is Track 1 on Scott 1, and was my introduction to the mysterious sensation that is Scott Walker. Probably still my favorite number.
The Style Council: The Whole Point Of No Return
The Jam is one of my all-time favorite bands, so when Paul Weller moved on to his next project, The Style Council, I naturally followed. In terms of sound, The Style Council departed from The Jam to such a degree that the effect was shocking to fans at the time, but the song writing was still strong so the experiment worked, for the most part. I’ll still choose The Jam every time, but the Council has some great moments.
The featured track is from the Style Council’s first full-length album, Café Blue (originally titled My Ever Changing Moods in the US). This song is a populist tirade against the royal classes in England. There’s a Bono-like earnestness to the lyrics that, if taken too far, can ruin an otherwise good song; however, in this case I think Weller’s sincerity wins out and the song maintains its approachability.
If you notice that certain songs are being downloaded an inordinate amount of times, please change to a fresh link (i.e., re-post with a different URL). Somebody is hotlinking some of the songs we post here. Hopefully they will stop if we make it more difficult for them.
It might also be a good idea to put our URL http://sixsongs.blogspot.com/ in the tag information so that the ultimate downloaders know where it really came from.
One more thing: I am not re-posting songs from last week. We've got enough activity here that the current week is plenty. If the old stuff is being deleted, feel free to unshare.
NOTICE TO BANDWIDTH THIEF: I am putting this tag on my tracks to show their source ["This song was posted by Star Maker Machine (http://sixsongs.blogspot.com/). If you got it from somebody else, they were hotlinking our bandwidth. Tell them to stop."]
Posted by Paul at 10:58 AM
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
The Left Banke: Desiree
It's a mini-theme for the day: great songs from albums made by bands in the midst of falling apart. First the Byrds (David Crosby left the band before Notororious Byrd Brothers was completed), now the Left Banke. This track comes from the Left Banke's second album The Left Banke Too, and is probably their most well-known track next to "Walk Away Renee" and "Pretty Ballerina."
Too was barely an album, and followed a bizarre controversy amongst the band. Michael Brown was the keyboardist and main songwriter (but not the singer), and his father had a lot to do with the band getting their shit together in the first place. After the success of their first album (on which "Renee" and "Ballerina" can be found), Brown hired a bunch of session musicians to record a followup single. The rest of the band protested rather noisily, leading radio programmers to shun the new single. Later that year the group reunited with Brown long enough to write "Desiree" and a couple other tracks, but then they fell apart again. The group cobbled together Left Banke Too and trudged on for a few years more with rotating keyboardists, but they never found a better songwriter.
The Byrds: Draft Morning
I am a huge Byrds fan - along with R.E.M., they're probably my #1 favorite band. And "Draft Morning" is arguably my favorite song from my favorite Byrds album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers. While certain Byrdsian elements (i.e., those perfect harmonies) are firmly in place, the song also diverges from their more well-known songs. McGuinn's electric 12-string is gone (as it is from the entire album), and the song's structure is aggressively anti-pop: two verses, no chorus, and a cacophonous middle section.
That middle section - where an entirely different song seems to invade, guns blazing and without regard for the meter of the Byrds' tune - is all the more unsettling because it is tempered before and after by Chris Hillman's loping bassline and McGuinn and Crosby's easygoing guitars and vocals. (I could probably listen to this song's opening riff on an endless loop.) The composition of the song, then, is a perfect mirror of the lyrical content, which is about a man who wakes up on the morning he must report for (forced) military duty. The mellow start to the song matches up with a young guy without any real cares in the world - only to be interrupted by war.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
This is your blog administrator speaking: Great song BWR! I really love the Sun Sessions. I thought you might like to hear the original version by Leon Payne: Leon Payne – I Love You Because [purchase]. Note that the original clocks in at 2:45. Elvis's pop instincts must have told him to shave off three seconds to get it just right.
Paul Kelly and the Messengers, You Can't Take It With You
A study in tracktiming and popular song: this 2:42 original from iconic Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly was never released as a single, but thanks to a nice direct lyric, a poppy country and rock-fueled pace, and a simple yet political sentiment, the song helped make So Much Water So Close To Home Kelly's first album to hit the Australian top ten.
A decade later, Kelly rerecorded You Can't Take It With You on Smoke, an album which set many of his hits in the bluegrass mold. Despite a rousing fingerpickin' sound and the addition of some sweet harmony courtesy of Melbourne bluegrass band Uncle Bill, the new version of the song came in just a few seconds longer. The album topped out at #36 on the Australian charts. Not a single song charted.
Just goes to show you what a difference a decade, a few seconds, and a shift from rock to bluegrass can make.
(Note: Kelly Willis does a good version of You Can't Take It With You, too, at just a hair over three minutes.)
Aztec Camera: The Birth Of The True
In many ways Aztec Camera has not stood the test of time as a band (although front man Roddy Frame has done some really excellent work recently), but Birth Of The True, clocking 2:42, is an exception. It is not only the best song on the Knife album, but it is probably the best Aztec Camera song that there is. Roddy is always at his best when he strips the songs down to only a few instruments (which is why the all-acoustic album “Surf” is probably his best work). Birth Of The True is a beautiful little number, and always a crowd favorite at Roddy shows.
Also, anyone who has ever had a long-distance relationship can relate to the line, “Every place deserves a curse or two for making me so far away from you.” Amen, brother.
PS: Boyhowdy pointed out that an excellent cover of this song was done by Brooks Williams. Check it out.
Frank Sinatra: A Foggy Day
When it comes to songwriting, it's hard to top George Gershwin.
Scott's great post on Nancy reminded me that her father had a pretty strong flair for pop music, so I found this 2:42 gem, penned by Gershwin, in Frank's catalog.
Nancy Sinatra: Bang Bang
This is such a heartbreaking song, about childhood sweethearts who grow up in love, yet she marries someone else when he leaves inexplicably. As each verse goes by, the chorus becomes more and more cruel—at first "Bang bang, you shot me down / Bang bang, I hit the ground" refers to toddlers playing Cowboys & Indians; then a nostalgic conversation between two lovers; and finally the lament of a woman left behind.
And let's talk about that guitar! It's the only instrument in the song, though the track hardly has the feel of a folk tune. The ringing tremelo carries as much of the emotional burden as Sinatra's vocal delivery. The words "bang bang" wouldn't have the same impact without those two low notes from the guitar. Speaking of how to write a great rock song, this track is a lesson of its own—how to write a perfect song with as few elements as possible.
Sam Cooke: Another Saturday Night
On December 11, 1964, Sam Cooke’s life was taken by shotgun at the hands of a female motel manager who feared for her life. The controversy to this day, is still not amicably solved by all parties involved. One thing’s for sure, we lost the “king of soul” far to early and like many Rock n’ Roll greats: what would he have become? That’s not to say that during his short life he hadn’t already become more than a somebody. During his short career he amassed 29 Top 40 hits, wrote, produced and performed his own music and started his own publishing and recording label. Sam was also directly involved in the Civil Rights Movement and was a strong voice for the black community in song. Here’s one of his pop nuggets, a Top Ten hit for Sam in 1963 and a undeniable classic.
Reader submission from Kevin.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Elvis Costello: Strict Time
Good rock lyrics don't have to make sense or tell a story. They just have to sound cool and, hopefully, be somewhat evocative of a story or mood.
Witness Elvis Costello’s Strict Time. If you just listen to it, the song sounds pretty cool. And few of the phrases will really catch your ear (i.e., "a cold sweat breaks out on the sweater girl," or "smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity"). Almost all of the words throughout the song sound kind of cool. And that's a good thing. But when you read the lyrics, they really don't make much sense:
There's a hand on a wire that leads to my mouth
I can hear you knocking but I'm not coming out
Don't want to be a puppet or a ventriloquist
'Cause there's no ventilation on a critical list
Fingers creeping up my spine are not mine to resist
Toughen up, toughen up, keep your lip buttoned up
Oh the muscles flex and the fingers curl
And a cold sweat breaks out on the sweater girl
Oh he's all hands, don't touch that dial
The courting cold wars weekend witch trial
All the boys are straight laced and the girls are frigid
The talk is two-faced and the rules are rigid 'cause it's strict
You talk in hushed tones, I talk in lush tones
Try to look Italian through the musical Valium
Thinking of grand larceny
Smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity
Cute assistants staying alive
More like a hand job than the hand jive
The moral of the story for rock songwriters: The perfect is the enemy of the good. Don't worry about whether it all makes sense. Just make it sound cool and you'll be most of the way there.
And, if possible, wrap the whole thing up in about two minutes and forty-two seconds!
Jacques Dutronc: Les cactus
In the pantheon of rock stars with the coolest of swagger, Jacques Dutronc has got to be near the top. This song is one of the true pop masterpieces—utterly flawless.
The Mamas & The Papas: No Salt On Her Tail
I have a couple of friends who make fun of me for liking The Mamas & The Papas. Here's what I have to say about that: The Mamas & The Papas rock, and my friends can stick it! I love M & P's feel-good brand of Sunshine Psychedelic Pop, and the harmonies can't be beat.
Is this 2:42 song a "perfect" pop song? I'd say it's close. It's easy to digest, it's made up of only a couple of distinct parts that gently build in intensity, it's about troubled love, and it ends before you're tired of it. Tack another verse or a Coda on this thing and it could have been a disaster.
Also of note: Listen to the first few seconds, before the vocals come in, and note how similar it is to the beginning of Like A Rolling Stone. At least that's what I hear.
Natalie Merchant made her name as one of the more distinctive lead voices of 80's alternative rock bands way back when alternative radio actually meant something. Twelve years and 9,999 Maniacs later both Merchant and the term alternative had become subsumed by mainstream corporate culture, and nothing proved it more than Merchant's 1995 solo debut Tigerlily, which sold over 4 million copies even as critics accused of being both too rock-oriented and too sentimental.
Jealousy was the third and final single from Tigerlily to hit the Top 40, but at 2:42, this is the one with legs.
Pink Floyd: Flaming
Here's one of those goofy, Syd Barrett-era, Pink Floyd songs... all sing-songy, and a total goof compared with the too serious Floyd that blew up (bloated?) in the 70's.
"Flaming" is from the group's debut album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn , which came out in 1967. The song was released as a single in the U.S., but did not chart.
This is a stereo mix of the song, by the way, off the 40th aniversary release of the album, in 2007.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Nick Drake: Place To Be
I remember reading Confederacy Of Dunces, the brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning book, years ago. It was (and is) amazing to me that John Kennedy Toole, the author of the book, was completely undiscovered during his lifetime. Following Toole's suicide, his mother found the text to the book in his room and submitted it to a publisher. The text has now, rightfully, been read by hundreds of millions of people.
Them: I Can Only Give You Everything
Fuzzy Guitar. Check.
Stomping Beat. Check.
Snarling Vocals. Check.
Stones Reference ("I try. And I try."). Check.
I'd say this one is solid proof supporting the 2:42 theory.
If you don't believe me, take it from a professional.
Doug Sahm: Gene Thomas Medley: Sometimes/Cryin' Inside
Doug Sahm ... as Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados ... released this tune as a single in 1976, the same year that Boston released the song that inspired the post that inspired this theme. Doug's single is actually a medley of two Gene Thomas songs from the early '60s and features a spoken bridge rife with nostalgia: "Yeah, I remember those times. Back in the old nightclubs in 1961 in San Antone." In other words, Doug's medley not only flies in the face of the cocaine-fueled self-indulgence of its own time (1976), it's an intentional throwback to that pre-FM time when singles and AM radio ruled the earth (1961). Furthermore, Doug cherry-picks the best parts of two separate songs to maximize the concision of his 2:42. All meat, no potatoes, and absolutely gorgeous harmonies from Sahm and his longtime compadre, Atwood Allen. God bless Sir Doug.
Red Allen & the Kentuckians, Hello City Limits
Since this week's theme was my suggestion, I thought I'd ease us into it with an old bluegrass standard which works with both outgoing and incoming themes.
Hello City Limits always sounded to me like a perfect track for the credits of a Coen Brothers movie; at 2 minutes, 42 seconds of lighting-fast mandolin plucking and high harmony it goes by quickly, and doesn't waste a lick. Originally released in 1965, this song came to me via the Rough Guide to Bluegrass, where you can get this track and 20 more from a wide swath of popular bluegrass musicians, from Bela Fleck to Ralph Stanley; it's a fine collection, and a great starting place for anyone interested in the genre.
I'm pretty sure I originally heard this track from one of the other folks who blog here. So if you like it, don't forget to check out the sidebar links to Star Maker Machine contributor sites. If you don't like it, of course, I take full responsibility.
The Who: Pictures Of Lily
I've got 60 songs in my digital collection that time out at 2:42. Deliberating which to share first, though, proved too burdon-some a task for my endorphin-depleted brain, tonight. I decided to pick the alphabetically last 2:42'er... and what a fine song it is!
Insomnia? Masturbation? Pin-up Models? What more should a song need?
The Wikipedia page detailing the single lists a running time of 2:44, while the page for the box-set Thirty Years Of Maximum R&B (where this version is from) shaves it to 2:43. The actual time of this .mp3 is 2:42, though, so I think it's a safe entry.
Released in 1967, as the tenth single by The Who, "Pictures Of Lily" went to #4 in the U.K., #14 in Ireland, but only managed #51 on the U.S. Hot 100 chart.
The La's: There She Goes
This is an incredibly infectious pop song that is either about a girl or heroin. Either way, it's catchy-and it clocks in at 2:42 (or at least it's supposed to--mine is 2 seconds longer for some reason).
That brings us to this week's new theme: Songs that clock in at 2:42.
Well, we here at Star Maker Machine are very keen on advancing scientific knowledge. In recent days, great strides have been made on the question of the perfect pop song length. A hypothesis has been offered that the correct answer is 2:42. Read about it here. We thought it would make sense to test the hypothesis for a week to see how it holds up.