Friday, February 4, 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: The Bonny Swans


Loreena McKennitt: The Bonny Swans


Here's our missing sin: Envy.

The Bonny Swans is a murder ballad about sexual jealousy. Childs lists it as #10 of his 305 Popular English and Scottish Ballads, and the original version goes way back to 1656 or thereabouts (Childs labels it "The Twa Sisters"). Here's Wikipedia's summary of the gruesome plot:

Two sisters go down by a body of water, sometimes a river and sometimes the sea. The older one pushes the younger in and refuses to pull her out again; generally the lyrics explicitly state her intent to drown her younger sister (over a suitor)…When the murdered girl's body floats ashore, someone makes a musical instrument out of it, generally a harp or a fiddle, with a frame of bone and the girl's "long yellow hair" for strings. The instrument then plays itself and sings about the murder…so that the elder sister is publicly revealed.

This song clearly violates two of the many warnings from this wonderfully amusing list, Things I've Learned From British Folk Ballads", to wit:

Avoid navigable waterways. Don’t let yourself be talked into going down by the wild rippling water, the wan water, the salt sea shore, the strand, the lowlands low, the Burning Thames, and any area where the grass grows green on the banks of some pool. Cliffs overlooking navigable waterways aren’t safe either.

Sharing a boyfriend with your sister is a bad plan.

Seven Deadly Sins: Johnny McEldoo

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: Johnny McEldoo


The story of Johnny McEldoo illustrates perfectly how the sin of gluttony can turn deadly, even though the title character and his pals survive. Geovicki’s use of anime imagery inspired my choice of picture for this post. It comes from Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

If you’re keeping score at home, you will notice that this is the seventh post this week. However, there were two posts for lust, so the missing sin is envy. I hope we will see a post for that soon, and maybe some more repeat business for the others as well. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: Angry Eyes

angry eyes

Loggins & Messina: Angry Eyes


This song clearly depicts someone with a serious Wrath issue. It's from the accidental but wildly successful duo of Jim Messina and Kenny Loggins. Messina was a former member of both Buffalo Springfield and Poco who had turned toward record producing when he met songwriter Loggins. He initially agreed to produce Loggins' first album in 1972 and ended up performing as well on Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In. That same year they released this eponymous record.

The long version of Angry Eyes is posted here (a less-than-3-minute version appears on their greatest hits). It's noteworthy for its long jazz-rock jam---that's Al Garth soloing on sax and Messina on guitar. Remember, Steely Dan hadn't yet made the jazz-rock sound de rigueur yet, so it was pretty progressive for a couple of country-rock dudes. Hell, country-rock wasn't even that old then, either.

I like the imagery comparing "angry eyes" to a tangible weapon. I've included a subtle tip of the hat to a manga character with his own anger issues – my image shows Light Yagami from Death Note. Light's anger can actually kill people, so this song kinda suits, I think.

Seven Deadly Sins: Seven Curses

Bob Dylan: Seven Curses


Seven Curses is a song that Dylan wrote and recorded during the The Times They Are a-Changin' sessions. It didn't make it onto the album, but it was later included on the Bootleg Series collecton, released in 1991. I consider it to be one of the most emotionally provocative and darkly beautiful songs in my moderately sized Dylan library.

The song is a cesspool of sin, but the most profound one is certainly that of Lust. The Judge is one of the cruelest and most loathsome characters that I''m aware of in pop music history. His wicked molestation and betrayal of the female protagonist is actually difficult to listen to. But that's why the song is so powerful. If you haven't heard this tune, give it a listen.

Seven Deadly Sins: I Feel Pretty

Little Richard: I Feel Pretty


Who among us doesn't remember the classic film West Side Story... and the scene in which Natalie Wood as Maria, the shy girl from the barrio, struts her stuff in the shop after-hours, extolling the virtues of her fine self, spurred on by her new relationship with Tony - it's a buoyant and bright example of Pride (in the name of love... :-)

The song is turned on its ear in Little Richard's campy, yet more-than-capable, cover (from a CD dedicated to, and in honor of, Leonard Bernstein) - who says Pretty has to be gender-specific?

Seven Deadly Sins: Lazy Bones

Leon Redbone: Lazy Bones


I hope there will be more than seven posts this week, and that means that some sins may be represented by more than one song. There may also be sins we never get to at all. Sloth will not be one of those.

Lazy Bones was originally done by Hoagy Charmichael, and there have been some surprising covers, including Chanticleer and The King’s Singers. But Leon Redbone was the artist who introduced me to the song. His version has the necessary lazy vibe, and also Redbone’s trademark wink. You know listening that Leon Redbone loves these old songs, but he never takes them too seriously. They are for fun, and his versions always make me smile.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: Feelin' Love

Paula Cole: Feelin' Love


There's really no other song that so embodies the feeling of lust to me than this Paula Cole track does. It embodies it and manages to make you feel the sinful feeling at the same time. In the song she talks about how a certain man makes her feel and the fantasies she has about him. It's extremely sexy.

Lust was considered a sin apparently because when we feel lust it is impossible to have room in our hearts to love our Lord, and we must ALWAYS love the Lord. But of course, lust is impossible to avoid, and almost as impossible to not act on sometimes. But oh, it surely is one of the favorite sins, and certainly one of the more fun.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: Easy Money

Rickie Lee Jones: Easy Money


Lowell George: Easy Money


Let’s open our week of iniquity with the sin of greed, shall we?

Rickie Lee Jones had a hit on her debut album with Chuck E’s in Love, and there were two or three other singles. I don’t think Easy Money was one of them, but it’s a great song, and probably a better indicator of where Jones’ career was headed than any of the singles. The hint of jazz is here, as is the wonderful ability to draw characters in just a few lines. Easy Money is a morality tale told with a wink.

But then Lowell George of Little Feat took on the song on his solo album. George turns this into a soul-blues shout with great horn charts. There is no wink here. Instead, this is a bluesy lament of a deal gone wrong. So George clearly heard something different than I do in Jones’ original. But his version really works too.