Friday, April 1, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Would I Lie to You?

Eurythmics: Would I Lie to You?


I seem to be reliving the days of synth-pop this week. First the Thompson Twins, and now this. But surely, no one did it better than the Eurythmics. One reason for this was the amazing voice of Annie Lennox. But the songwriting of Dave Stewart may have been just as important. In turn, this may be because Stewart’s first instrument was not the synthesizer, but the guitar. Whatever the case, by 1985, the group had decided to feature more of Stewart’s guitar playing, and one result was the crunching guitar parts of Would I Lie to You? It was a high point of the band’s artistry, and probably my favorite song of theirs.


Dishonesty & Lies: Lie I Believe

The V-Roys: Lie I Believe 


Scott Miller has built a reputation over the last decade as one of the finest songwriters and performers in the roots/rock game today.  His quick wit and quicker pen have earned him a strong fan base and easy comparisons to artists such as his one time producer Steve Earle and his idol John Prine.

Prior to his solo career, Miller performed in a band called the V-Roys alongside Mic Harrison, Jeff Bills, and Paxton Sellers.  Few people know, however, that before his time with the V-Roys, Miller spent some time in the NFL as a wide receiver/punt returner with the Miami Dolphins.  Miller amassed 487 return yards, 274 receiving yards, and two total touchdowns during a five year career from 1991-96.

This song about self delusion comes from the V-Roys 1996 debut album, and Miller's first post-football release, Just Add Ice.  

Dishonesty and Lies: Lies

Thompson Twins: Lies


The Thompson Twins song Lies takes off from the worst lie you can tell a person, if it is a lie: “I love you”. The song says the rest.

I caught up with the Thompson Twins in the summer of 1983. They were playing at my local new wave/ punk dive, City Gardens in Trenton, NJ. I had never heard of them, but I had seen enough good shows at City Gardens to take the chance. The band took the stage, and I almost left. At this point, the Thompson Twins were a trio, with Tom Bailey, Joe Leeway, and Alannah Currie and her amazing hair. There they were, with no instruments except synthesizers of various sorts. Now, I didn’t like the synth-pop bands as a rule, and I still don’t. Their music sounded emotionally chilly, and their sound was robotic. But, as I soon found out, this was not the case with the Thompson Twins. I still don’t know how they did it, but the gave one of the most amazingly energetic shows I have ever seen. Sadly, by the next year, things changed. The band’s lineup was the same, but now they were making bland pop songs like Doctor, Doctor. But that amazing energy was glorious while it lasted. They were able to capture it on record, and it still sounds as good to me now as it did then.

And I am happy to say that there never was either a threat to Stonehenge or a British version of the Mouseketeers that I know of. This was a reference to our Mouseketeers theme that appeared on April Fools Day in 2009. Incidentally, in the late 70’s, the Walt Disney Company had the idea to buy Stonehenge and build a British Disneyland around it. They wanted to prepare the country for Disneyfication, so they created a British version of The Mickey Mouse Club for the BBC. It didn’t take, so Stonehenge was saved. But I mention it because Alannah Currie was an original British Mouseketeer.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: C'est Une Peche De Dire Un Mentire


Ann Savoy: C'est Une Peche De Dire Un Mentire


Cajun music has its roots in the French-speaking northeastern Canadians who settled in Louisiana in the mid-1700s.

Ann Savoy, a little-known mid-twentieth century Cajun artist, learned music from her father, an itinerant preacher, fiddler, and singing teacher. She collected and sang traditional ballads throughout her life, usually unaccompanied in the Cajun tradition. Introduced to a wider public by folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax, Savoy recorded extensively, and claimed to be able to perform over 500 songs. She was often known as Granny Savoy. This original version of the later-famous song (known as It's A Sin To Tell A Lie in English) was collected by Lomax in 1941 and appears on his collection Folk Songs of the United States Vol. 5: French Ballads and Dance.

Nothing I wrote about Ann Savoy is true. She's not an historical singer discovered by Lomax; she's contemporary (and I was merely lucky in that she posted a picture of herself that looks decidedly old). This song's from the 2002 movie, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, in which she played a small role as a musician. It's not the original version, which was written in 1936 (in English) and was recorded first by Fats Waller.

Dishonesty and Lies: Lies

The Beatles: Lies

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Such were their abilities at the height of their powers that even the Beatles' b-sides were pop gems. "I Saw Her Standing There"? B-side. "I Should Have Known Better"? B-side. "Rain"? B-side.

While "Lies" is not as well know as those (it was only released as the flip side of "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" in the Benelux countries), it is just as good as any of them and deserves a more prominent spot in the Beatles cannon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Lola


The Faces (Japan): Lola


The obvious lie in this post is that the version I posted wasn't the Kinks at all, but a girl J-Pop group, The Faces. It's a fairly bad cover, beginning from the idea of a girl group singing the story in the first place, don't you agree?

Here's the Kinks version:

The Kinks: Lola

According to the Roman Catholic church, there are lies of commission (things you say) and lies of omission (things you don't). This song is about one of the more intriguing of the latter sins.

Those introductory power pop chords — C-D-E— are nearly universally recognized by now. Ray Davies of the Kinks states that a true event inspired the story. He claims (but can we believe him?) that their manager spent one debauched evening happily dancing with a black transvestite in Soho, London. The rest, as they say, is history. This 1970 tune of the unwitting yet oddly contented punter gave us the immortal words, "I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola!" and gave the Kinks one of their biggest hits. It's become an anthem in sports arenas right up with the songs of Queen and Gary Glitter. Which may be saying something we'd do well not to investigate too carefully…

I made up the part about this song being a sport anthem. I've never once heard Lola at a game, have you?

Dishonesty and Lies: John Riley

Chuck Durfur with Connie McKenna: John Riley


John Riley is a song with a very big lie. Riley has sailed for seven years, and now he is home at last. Does he run to his wife, and press her into his arms? No! He tests her first, by pretending to be another man and trying to woo her. Only when she proves true to him does he reveal his identity. Question: at this point, why should she believe him?

I first heard the song in a version by Joan Baez. This one follows her melody and lyrics, but shows the influence of Bert Jansch. It’s an unlikely mixture, but it works beautifully. Chuck Durfur is an obscure figure. His John Riley comes from one of only two albums he ever made. Durfur is a guitar player, and most of his music is instrumental. The singer here is somewhat better known. Connie McKenna was the lead singer for the group Ceoltoiri, and I believe she has also done some solo work since.

Of course, you may recognize the story in this song from Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus does the same thing to his wife Penelope when he returns from the Trojan War. But you may not know that the story is older than that. If so, there is a good reason; the remainder of this paragraph was my second whopper. In the earliest versions we have of the myth of Persephone, she is not abducted to Hades’ realm; rather, Hades woos her, and she goes willingly. Six months later, her mother Demeter finds Persephone, and persuades her to return to our world. But, again in this early version, Hades appears in disguise to Persephone six months after that. He woos her all over again, but in the guise of another person. As in the song, Persephone stays true to Hades, he reveals himself, and they go back to his realm. From there, the story follows the myth as we know it today. A beautiful retelling of this version of the tale can be found in Ancient Myth and Modern Magic by Moonbeam Truehart, (Llewellyn, 1986). Sadly, this book is long out of print.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Jack-A-Roe

Bob Dylan: Jack-A-Roe


This song is really a story within a story, although you don't find that out until the last verse. Of course the lie in the story is the young woman passing herself off as a male sailor. But the way I see it, the whole story is was fabricated to win the heart of the woman the narrator addresses in the final verse. Yes, I'm assuming the narrator is a guy, because it sounds like the kind of thing a guy would do. (Or perhaps I've been watching too much How I Met Your Mother.) So multiple lies are afoot in this song.

One of only a handful of songs written by Mark Twain (using his given name, Samuel Clemens), "Jack-a-Roe" has gone on to become a folk standard. Indeed, it's often mistakenly attributed to the ubiquitous "trad."

Like many people who didn't grow up on folk music, I was introduced to the song via the Grateful Dead. (Specifically, the version on 1981's live acoustic Reckoning.) In the mid-80's, Bob Dylan toured with the Dead as his backing band. A few years later, Bob recorded his own version of the song for his first solo covers album, 1993's Good As I Been to You. It's his version I've included here.

Dishonesty & Lies: Fake Plastic Trees

Radiohead: Fake Plastic Trees


There's nothing oblique about these lyrics: keeping up the appearances of a perfect, plastic lifestyle really does wear you out. And it's familiar, too: because of its straightforward, soaring melody, and its poignant take on modern existentialism, it has spawned versions from Amanda Palmer, Duncan Sheik, Lori McKenna, KT Tunstall, Jeff Tweedy, and more - more covers, ultimately, than any other Radiohead song, except perhaps Creep.

But the circumstances of this song's origin are surprisingly straightforward, for a band now known for unexpected album releases, cryptic album combination easter eggs, and a densely textured, often challenging songbook: after rejecting several "Guns and Roses-like" takes as far too bombastic, management kicked the rest of the band out of the studio; the band's singer Thom Yorke subsequently recorded the song in one take, and mixed it himself afterwards, making this one of the very few solo efforts recorded under the band moniker.

As a result of its unusual origin, though Fake Plastic Trees is often cited as a turning point, representing a move away from the grungy sound of their earliest works, both Yorke and band guitarist Jonny Greenwood have since distanced themselves from the song, choosing not to perform it in public except under contract or duress, and claiming in various publications that it is, ultimately, not meaningful enough to bear repeating "any more than we have to, to keep the fans happy".

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Liar

First lie: This is not Three Dog Night; it's Argent!

Three Dog Night: Liar


Three Dog Night is the only group I know that had three lead singers. (Second lie. As some of you pointed out, there are many groups with 3 lead singers.) It's a testament to how bad my late 60s tween radio quality was—or to how clueless I was—in that I never realized this until much, much later. All I was aware of at the time was how cool I thought they were. Some things never change.

Liar, like most of Three Dog Night's top ten songs, was a cover tune. This one was penned in 1970 by Argent member Russ Ballard. They also managed to make hits out of tunes by Paul McCartney Williams (third lie!) (An Old Fashioned Love Song), a hit from the musical Hair (Easy to Be Hard), Randy Newman (Mama Told Me Not To Come), Harry Nilsson (One), Laura Nyro (Eli's Coming), Hoyt Axton (Never Been to Spain, Joy to the World), and Elton John (Your Song).

I want to be with you as long
As you want me to,
I won't move away,
Ain't that what you said?
Ain't that what you said?
Ain't that what you said?
Liar, liar, liar.

Dishonesty and Lies: Promise

Violent Femmes: Promise


You know that I want your loving
But my logic tells me that it ain't never gonna happen
And then my defenses say I did't want it anyway
But you know sometimes I'm a liar

Sometimes the person we lie to the most often is ourself. As Jeff Winger said on last week's episode of Community, "Nine out of ten lies occur six inches or less from the mirror."

Violent Femmes were an alternative rock outfit hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They became instant post-punk darlings with their hit-filled self-titled debut album which included unforgettable songs like Gone Daddy Gone, Blister in the Sun, and Never Tell.

Like any great record, Violent Femmes was full of excellent deep tracks as well. Promise is one of those.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dishonesty and Lies: Don't Play That Song For Me

Ben E. King: Don't Play That Song


Here’s another original, one which I have not featured in my long-running series over at my place. More famously covered by Aretha Franklin eight years after Ben E. King’s 1962 original, the song states this week’s theme unequivocally: “You know that you lied, you lied, you lied, lied, lied, lied.”

Don’t Play That Song was written by Atlantic supremo Ahmet Ertegün with Betty Nelson. Before Ben E. King, former singer of The Drifters, recorded the song, legendary RCA producer S. Elmo Blum had come across a demo recording of it. Recognising the song’s hit potential, he urged his record company to buy the rights for Elvis Presley, who according to some reports even demoed it. One can almost hear Elvis singing it; alas the many esoteric Elvis studio cuttings have revealed no recording of Don’t Play That Song, so we should take that rumour with a pinch of salt.

In the event, Ertegün wisely decided that one of his artists should record the song, using a riff that is more than just a bit similar to that of King’s big hit the previous year, Stand By Me. It reached #11 in the US charts.

Dishonesty & Lies: Step Right Up

Tom Waits: Step Right Up


Boyhowdy is responsible for the pictures on the sidebar that accompany our themes. When I saw this week’s, I knew what my first song had to be. Step Right Up is Tom Waits’ brilliant send-up of late night TV advertising pitches. These contain, in the words of Douglas Adams, “much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.” Tom Waits takes this to its logical extreme. Since Tom Waits wrote this song, these kinds of pitches have moved from late night TV to cable infomercials. So the song is at least as relevant now is it was then. Ironically, a version of Step Right Up with different lyrics was once used as an advertising jingle by Enron. In the company’s messy collapse, the only tape of this version known to exist mysteriously vanished.

Actually, I know of no one who ever tried to use Step Right Up for any sort of jingle. This was my first lie of the week.

Trouble -> Dishonesty & Lies: Trouble Over Me

Tift Merritt: Trouble Over Me


Tift Merritt carries us from trouble to dissent with this fully self-aware plea for self delusion, in which a litany of boldfaced lies ("I don't want a boyfriend", "leave me alone") belie a fully honest urging for someone to make some trouble over her. Twenty-something Merritt, who was born and lives in small-town Texas, is an oft-overlooked singer-songwriter in terms of commercial success despite two failed Grammy nominations in 2004, in part because although her music is often mis-categorized and sold as country, its sound is more of a folk-rock hybrid, but she has plenty of cred in the industry and in-crowd; the song was featured in audiophile Nick Hornsby's 31 Songs project, and other works have found placement on several prominent TV and film soundtracks in recent years, including the 2009 Hornsby-adapted vehicle An Education.