Friday, August 20, 2010

Tobacco: Ode to Nic

Pee Shy: Ode to Nic


As anyone who has been a smoker or known a smoker will tell you, quitting is tough, and you will miss cigarettes for years and have cravings all your life. In many ways, coping with quitting isn't unlike coping with the loss of a relationship. Something that was familiar and comforting at one point is now lost from your life and you now have a void you don't know how to fill.

The Tampa-based band Pee Shy saw this and wrote a song about quitting smoking like an ode to the loss of a guy. In this case, Nic is Nicotine and not Nicholas.

Tobacco: A Small Cigar

Jethro Tull: A Small Cigar


This one comes from an album called Nightcap - The Unreleased Masters 1973-1991. I assume that it was a demo that was never more fully developed for the full band; it would be more correct to call this an Ian Anderson solo track. However, Anderson thought enough of the song to release it again on a proper album, Too Old to Rock N Roll, Too Young To Die, which came out nine years later. The song is certainly not what I usually think of when I think of Jethro Tull. The arrangement starts with just voice and acoustic guitar. Towards the end, a piano part joins and then replaces the guitar. And that’s all. The lyrics seem to me to be delivered with a wink, telling how a party crasher becomes the life of the party, and what he does when he leaves. It’s worth remembering that Jethro Tull is a British band, and class consciousness is much more pronounced there than here in the United States.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tobacco: Cigarette Abana

Habib Koite & Bamada: Cigarette Abana


Lyrically, this little number is a simple morality tale, recounting the story of a boy who is the only one in his circle of friends who doesn't light up. Eventually, in the face of a litany of smoking's benefits - which includes the true fact that a cigarette wakes you up like coffee, and the dubious assertion that with a cigarette in bed, you hardly need a woman - our subject buckles to peer pressure...only to get sick, thus proving the song's anti-smoking message.

Of course, for those of us who don't know french, Cigarette Abana is merely a delightfully bouncy worldbeat hit for Malian star Habib Koite, whose work is as listenable as it is rich in African traditions, instrumentation and melodic sensibility. It originally appeared on Koite's 1995 debut Muso Ko, where it brought him international acclaim and recognition; the afro-cuban arrangement here is a 2001 reworking: no less wonderful, as is the rest of his utterly amazing third album Baro, but perhaps produced with slightly more Western ears in mind.

Tobacco: One Hundred Cigarettes

U.S. Rail: One Hundred Cigarettes


U.S. Rail were a local New Brunswick, N.J. band from the early Aughts. I never had the chance to see them live, but I became friendly with one of the guys just before the band fell apart. They described their sound as "folk punk for punk folk", but I think "lo-fi indie rock, with occasional folkie touches" is more accurate. Either way, they came up with a clutch of short, catchy songs on their only album, as the banjo-powered "One Hundred Cigarettes" shows.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tobacco: King Of The Road

Roger Miller: King of the Road


When I announced this week's theme on our little collaborative's backchannel listserv, I noted that smoking and tobacco references often function as signifiers of class or social status, and as earlier entries have demonstrated aptly, it's true - though of course, as times evolve and smoking goes underground, old songs can take on new meanings, too, changing one-time rebels into more pitiful social outcasts in the eyes of the beholder. But smoking and its references can also signify mood - of post-sexual or post-prandial satisfaction, of nervousness or nerve, and of a dozen more connotive, memetic associations, that live in culture like spores, familiar to us all.

Nowhere do these several functions come together more sharply and effectively than in the dual references to tobacco found in King of the Road, Roger Miller's 1964 country celebration of the free-traveling underclass. First, the notation that our narrator "ain't got no cigarettes", coming as it does at the end of a litany of housing and other household signs which are absent in the life of the titular hobo, casts sharp relief upon the unpinned lifestyle, combining as it does the constant requests to "bum" a smoke we've all experienced in the wild, and the sheer triviality of owning so little that cigarettes themselves fall into the "too heavy to carry" category. And second, the subsequent verse's beginning, with its potent imagery of smoking "old stogies" that the narrator has found, reveals deep truths about the hobo's sense of inner worth incarnate - a king indeed, smoking such high-class rolls, even if his royal trappings are scavenged.

Teddy Thompson & Rufus Wainwright: King of the Road


The Proclaimers: King of the Road


As a homecoming - I've been away for the past few weeks, and just returned home today - I've included two favorite versions of the oft-covered song. Teddy and Rufus slow the thing down, and it just sounds good, especially when placed in the context of its origin in the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. And The Proclaimers' 1990 cover is a bonus I couldn't resist - delightfully accented, proving primarily, to American ears at least, that the sentiment is more universal than you might think.

Tobacco: Perfume and Tobacco

Amos Garrett: Perfume and Tobacco


If you know the name of Amos Garrett, you may know him as the player of the guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s hit Midnight at the Oasis. I hope you know more than that, because Garrett has much more to offer. He has done studio work for Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Butterfield, just to name a few. But Garrett also has had a fine career recording under his own name. He has been in a number of bands, large and small, loud and soft. But here we find him singing in a fine and mellow baritone, playing some of the sweetest acoustic guitar you would ever care to hear, and accompanied only by a stand-up bass. That’s all that Garrett needs to shine. Perfume and Tobacco has the beauty of a smoke ring. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tobacco: Cigarette State

Robbie Fulks: Cigarette State


The ninth wealthiest state in the union in terms of gross domestic product is North Carolina. They are the largest producer of tobacco in the United States. One of the six most important crops grown by American farmers, the plant is native to the Americas, though it is farmed on all continents except Antarctica. By 2005 tobacco represented 15.5% of the total value of all crops grown in North Carolina, but production has fallen 60% between 1997 and 2003. North Carolina has been one of the centers of the US tobacco industry from production of tobacco, to growing, to its final product manufacture.Ranking first in the United States in the production of tobacco, North Carolina had a 2006 annual farm income of $506.2 million dollars. With that in mind, I would like to present Cigarette State by Robbie Fulks.

Tobacco: We Love To Smoke

Patty & Selma Bouvier: We Love To Smoke


"We Love to Smoke is a song originally meant for the episode Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious sung by Patty and Selma Bouvier, but it was cut because it did not receive any laughs.

It was to be a parody of the song I Love to Laugh from the film Mary Poppins and also contains a reference to another song from that film, Chim Chim Cherr-ee. The music was written by Alf Clausen and the lyrics by Al Jean and Mike Reiss."


Tobacco: I Smoke a Lot

k's Choice: I Smoke a Lot


This song immediately came to mind for this theme for obvious reasons. I've posted k's Choice here a number of times before so I'll spare you their history, but their music just seems to fit the themes often. Lead singer, Sarah Bettens, has a voice that you can believe when she says "I smoke a lot", and despite not being a smoker myself, there is a universal quality to the song that everyone can probably relate to. There's always someone who thinks they need to lecture us on how to properly live our lives and let us know that whatever our vices might be, that we ought to stop, as if we didn't already know.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tobacco: Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)

Tex Williams: Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)


Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) was conceived as a novelty song. Usually, that means that it might sell some, but the song will then be forgotten. Indeed, this is Tex Williams’ only real claim to fame. But the song has endured, and many artists have covered it over the years. Perhaps this is a testament to the talent of the song’s author, one Merle Travis. Travis was basically an unknown when he wrote Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!, but he would later become famous for Sixteen Tons and Dark as the Dungeon. Eventually, Travis would record his own version of Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! as well.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fade-Outs/Tobacco: My Last Cigarette

kd lang - drag

kd lang: My Last Cigarette


I thought if I hurried, I could get the lowest hanging fruit of all for this week's theme.

k.d. lang, an artist who's difficult to categorize (country? jazz? pop? yes!), released an album in 1997 called Drag. The album cover makes a playful, unrelated, pun on the title. Notice, also, the lack of an actual cigarette. This collection of cover songs all dance around the theme of smoking, some of which are more obvious than others – for example, Steve Miller's The Joker is included (I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker… ), as is the Albert Hammond, Jr., tune, The Air That I Breathe.

My Last Cigarette (not to be confused with another song she recorded, I'm Down to My Last Cigarette) has the added bonus of a fade-out ending. W00t!