Friday, February 29, 2008

Folk Song Revisited! -- The Riddle Song

I take my folk music very seriously. Folk music is a strange tradition filled with magical wonder. I love the old songs. Still, a lot of people limit folk music to the narrow definition of topical songs, those that deal with current events. So, "Folk Song Revisited!," a new and possibly recurring segment, will refigure an old classic with new, topical lyrics. This time out we will look at "The Riddle Song." Many of you will remember this from a delightlfully crappy version by Stephen Bishop in the film Animal House. He was the pretty boy on the staircase whose guitar got bashed to shreds by John Belushi doing his best Pete Townsend impersonation. Bishop actually is much better then that segment suggested. He added two songs to the soundtrack, one of which "Dream Girl," was a fabulous send up of late fifties love pop.

Anyway, here are the original lyrics:

I gave my love a cherry that had no stone.
I gave my love a chicken without no bone.
I gave my love a story that had no end.
I gave my love a baby with no cryin'.

How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
How can there be a story that has no end?
How can there be a baby with no cryin'?

A cherry when it's bloomin', it has no stone.
A chicken when it's in the egg, it has no bone.
The story of I love you, it has no end
A baby when it's sleepin, it's no cryin'


This little ditty was rather easy to revise. I just changed the last verse. Here it is, new and improved for these modern times:

A cherry has no stone when its genetically modified.
A chicken has no bone when shaped into nuggets and deep fried.
The story got made into a movie; they'll make part duex.
The baby won't be cryin' if it wants to live til' two.


(On an ethical side note, I fretted heavily over the last line. Its so mean. And I love children. But then I realized that this was satire and that I don't like genetic modification, reconfigured meat (though I do have a miniscule soft spot for chicken nuggets), or needless sequels either. Still, I'm not sure that child abuse cases are worse than before, though perhaps more publicized.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Army of One?

While driving down the street, looking at military bumper stickers as I drove, I began to ponder one of the army's more recent slogans: "An Army of One."
As an American citizen, I'm a bit troubled by this slogan. It seems as though it intends to promote a feeling of individualism, which is no doubt uniquely American. Still, however, wars are not won by one man alone. "An Army of All" would be a better slogan. Strategies depend on many parts working together to form a cohesive whole, and pushing the idea that one soldier could take on the responsibilities of the whole army is rather foolish and irresponsible. By fulfilling the duty to which he is assigned rather than trying to do everything, it seems logical that a soldier would increase the chances of the army working smoothly, increasing chances of both victory and survival. With victory and survival, the army will live to fight another day. Rather than seeing an army of one, I hope we form an army of all.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

100 Albums, 100 Words (50-41)

50. Ween – Chocolate and Cheese (1994)

As Ween shifts effortlessly from genre to genre, Chocolate and Cheese makes the unstated case that the best substitute for both Prince and George Harrison is a bunch of nerdy white guys. “Freedom of ‘76” sounds like what Parade could have sounded like had Al Green stopped by Paisley Park to help Prince out. “What Deaner Was Talking About” could replace “Here Comes the Sun” on Abbey Road and no one would notice. In addition to the obvious homages are a slew of oddities about poisoned chickens and ponies with punctured lungs. It’s Weird Al on drugs, but musically complex.

49. Missy Elliot – Under Construction (2002)

Missy Elliot may be a work in progress, but her art became complete with Under Construction. With moon-walking tape loops, sampled out funk grooves and even some exotic animals thrown in for good Measure, Missy creates an album where her body is the only thing that’s thinned out. The guest stars, including Ludacris, Beyonce, 50 Cent and Jay-Z, fill this album out, but the truest germs are when Reverend Elliot gets to preaching. Instead of using the traditional rap skits between tracks, Missy lays down where her mind is at with off-the-cuff rants on everything from condoms to Donald Trump.

48. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

The Beasties layer samples thick like a Dagwood sandwich
And their lyrics are meaty like you’re eating a Manwich
The Dust Brothers mixin’ it up on production
Pulls your ears in just like aural suction
Sounds more scientific than Mr. Wizard
Crossin’, mixin’ styles up like Eddie Izzard.
Playin’ Beatles and Boogie Down in the nucleus
Blendin’ genres till they are smooth like an Orange Julius
Slippin’ bluegrass in on a “5-Piece Chicken Dinner”
And Cash in “Hello Brooklyn” – you know that’s a winner.
Spittin’ lyrics wiser than an Aesop fable
This is definitely worth spinnin’ on your turn table.

47. Stevie Wonder – Songs In the Key of Life (1976)

Two LPs and an EP – this album was an expansive feast for any fan of funk and soul music. From the extended politicization of the experimental “Black Man” to the gorgeous celebration of his daughter’s birth, “Isn’t She Lovely,” Stevie Wonder was able to balance the avant garde innovation he’d become known for with the mass appeal hits he produced in equal number. The double-punch of the number one singles “I Wish” and “Sir Duke” is a sweet spoonful of pop genius. Having influenced everyone from Michael Bolton to Coolio, this album’s scope remains unparalleled and still sounds fresh today.

46. George Harrison – Brainwashed (2002)

Since the breakup of The Beatles, George Harrison has undoubtedly been the coolest as a solo artist. On many of his early albums though, Harrison either got overproduced in a way which made him sound dated (All Things Must Pass) or he’d release an excellent single (“Crackerbox Palace”) that overshadowed the rest of the album; on Brainwashed the production is clean and every composition is strong. Coming fifteen years after his previous album (twelve if you count the Traveling Wilburys), Harrison had plenty of time to hone these tunes and imprint them with the Hawaiian flavor of his final years.

45. Prince – Parade: Music from the Motion Picture Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

This is Prince’s piano album. In Under the Cherry Moon Prince plays a failed gigolo who makes his money playing piano, forcing the songs here to conform to the feel of cabaret ballads. Songs like “Do U Lie?” are gorgeous examples of this. Prince still finds time to rock out on tracks like “Kiss” and “Anotherlovenholenyohead.” The real gems though are the funk workout “Girls and Boys” and the heart-rending elegy of “Sometimes It Snows In April.” It might be vain for Prince to dedicate a song to Christopher Tracy, the character he played, but his sorrow sounds so real.

44. Stone Temple Pilots – Purple (1994)

Bolstered by its big hits – “Interstate Love Song,” “Vasoline’ and “Big Empty” – Purple is the best album by the best band of the grunge era, Stone Temple Pilots. Though never favorites of the critics, the fans understood Scott Weiland’s visionary music, even if it was pseudo-visionary at best. “Pretty Penny,” “Unglued” and “Meatplow” were all excellent songs with distinct sounds. On “Kitchenware & Candybars,” (a song about slavery no less!) Weiland’s ragged vocals exude the proper pathos and Dean DeLeo’s soulful chords make the music live. This was my music in middle and early high school; it remains so today.

43. Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Chuck D has referred to Rage as some of the funkiest white boys alive. Listening to some of the wicked bass lines and guitar riffs on their debut album makes it clear why. In addition to killer musicianship, the band’s political commitment, as expressed in their lyrical content, is a strength as well. These sentiments are especially clear on tracks like “Bombtrack,” “Wake Up,” and “Freedom.” “Take the Power Back”’s deconstruction of the Department of Education is particularly effective. Even if the songs weren’t destined to become anthems of the revolution, they were still thought provoking and rocked the ideology.

42. Beatles – The Beatles (1968)

Seven Favorite Songs:

  • Savoy Truffle
  • Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
  • Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  • Dear Prudence
  • Sexy Sadie
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Continued Story of Bungalow Bill
Four Least Favorite Songs:

  • Revolution No. 9
  • Wild Honey Pie
  • Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?
  • Glass Onion
As you can see from the above chart, the White Album is full of glorious weirdness that either complete succeeds or is, at the very least, interesting. The (relatively) normal pop of “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Birthday,” and “Back In the U.S.S.R.” ain’t bad either.

41. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

Eminem sounds very scared, scared of every social institution in existence. Is The Marshall Mathers LP homophobic? Probably, but its just as religious-right-a-phobic. Marshall skewers both homosexuals and televangelists in the first verse of “Criminal.” And while he obviously hates the authority that institutions represent, he doesn’t hate individuals; notice how he doesn’t see any reason why “a man and another man can’t elope”? And while naming pop names, he slams all of boy-band pop. The closest we’ll get to how Eminem really thinks is the pathos-laden finale of “Stan” where he bares his soul replying to a troubled fan.

Friday, February 22, 2008

We Can't Work It Out: The Fab War -- Round 9

"Here Comes the Sun" v. "Sexy Sadie" v. "Fool On the Hill" v. "Octopus's Garden"

When I first heard "Fool On the Hill," I thought it was pretty foolish. I couldn't figure out what all the hype was. It just didn't move me. It still doesn't. While I have grown to appreciate it, and I think I get what Paul was after, I still think its overrated.

If "Here Comes the Sun" were the only song George Harrison ever wrote, he'd arguably still be heralded in the annals of rock. It's completely rip-offable (see Ween's "What Deaner Was Talkin' About"), but George is too saintly to sue as there's is obviously in tribute. George's vibe is just laidback here, and his guitar work is gorgeous. It's all perfectly poppy, and while it's not my favorite George song, its one of my favorite Beatles songs and my favorite song of his with the Beatles.

"Octopus's Garden" is pretty good too. When I was little I used to think it was the prototype for the theme songs from Muppet Babies. How I thought that I'll never know, but its an amazing song nonetheless. Ringo's second outing as a composer showed that he really does know how to write. The inventive arrangement might be the best part, but song is solid in and of itself from the start.

"Sexy Sadie" is a great kiss off. Sadie here represents the Maharishi. For the round, I chose the version from the Beatles' Anthology 3. This early version has a very organicfeel which comes off as more effective. While I like it better than "Fool On the Hill," it's stuck down at third.

This round:

John – 2
Paul – 1
George – 4
Ringo – 3

Totals thus far:

John – 26
Paul – 25
George – 22
Ringo – 17

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Howie Mandel

I can remember being a fan of Howie Mandel, and quite a big fan at that. During the late 80s and early 90s I remember staying up late to catch his stuff on the premium cable channels (I think he did stuff on Showtime, but I'm not willing to put money on that). He was a funny guy, and as far as stand up goes, he was probably in my top three after Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy.

Then he just disappeared for a while.

Now he's back, but I didn't notice it for awhile. I liked his curly mop-top. It made him look at least semi-dorky, in a playfully self-aware way that I could appreciate and identify with. Now he's on Deal or No Deal playing the role of Mr. Clean with a soul patch, and not only did I not recognize him for months but I was terrified by him. It wasn't just the shiny head. That I could handle. Mostly, it was the soul patch. For more on my feelings on those, see my blog post on Ty Pennington. Unless you are a waiter in a beat-themed restaraunt, they is no reason in the current age to wear a soul patch. They just speak of weirdness. Come on Howie, I know you can do better than looking like a prison warden stuck in a bad 80s kung fu movie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why fauxhawks suck

Because they are a lazy man's mohawk.

The mohawk probably originated in that ancient, yet futuristic land beyond Thunderdome, but as a fashion statement it originated in 1977 London as part of the punk movement. I remember seeing one I wanted in National Lampoon's European Vacation. It had four spikes that were each about two feet tall. Three were hot pink while the one in back was electric lime. Exquisite, I say. Now that I'm older, I have less infatuation with mohawks (I have an (ir)rational fear that hair coloring contains harmful chemicals) but more respect for them (I have since discovered the Sex Pistols and fallen in love with the Clash). What all this means is that, the mohawk originated as a political statement. Judging from the Sex Pistols, the political statement is that we should have an anarchic society where people are free to tar and feather women who have abortions (okay, so I'm confusing "Anarchy In the UK" with "Bodies" and throwing some good old American Revolution into the mix, but everyone knows James Madison was the forefather of the punks.) Judging from what punk evolved into, its a fairly ethical liberal movement that masks itself in scary lip piercings that send Parliament running scared before it will pass any of their policies. I respect a lot of what they stand for though.

People with fauxhawks, not so much. I feel like I can't trust them because they arent' ready to commit to anything. They have a fauxhawk now, but they could run a brush through it and have a completely different style in five minutes. with a mohawk, you're kind of stuck. The best you can do is a half comb over. Sure, fauxhawks are popular with potentially anti-establishemtarian types like emo kids and wannabe hipsters, but those people will never be able to enact any real change, including to mainstream hairstyling, because of their lack of commitment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Unfunny Valentine

This morning as I was sifting through Minnesota Public Radio's list of the greatest love songs, the song that they listed first was "My Funny Valentine," as performed by Rufus Wainwright. I'm not saying that MPR sees this as the best love song -- the mix seems to be in a random order -- but listing it first sure indicates that they see it as a love song, which I never have.

To give some background, I am most familiar with the song through Elvis Costello's performance. I am aware that performance can do a lot for a song, so perhaps Rufus Wainwright's version doesn't sound so creepy (one can hope), but for me Elvis's version is chilling. And I don't think that Costello is necessarily creepy-sounding; he makes a convincing case of himself as a lovefool on the criminally underrated b-side "From Head To Toe." I think that Costello is perhaps revealing what I also see in "My Funny Valentine," a pathological stalker mentality.

Here are the lyrics for those unfamiliar with them:

My funny valentine,
sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable,
But you're my favourite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

Don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine's day

"Your looks are laughable" sounds nothing like a compliment, more like an about-to be-a-breakup comment. That's not so creepy..., but what about "you're my favorite work of art"? This portrays someone's mate as something which is crafted in order to make the partner happy. The speaker here is obviously a control freak who wants to mold his woman (taking context from the original musical) away from her truest nature and into his ideal of perfection. Ick!

"Is your figure less than Greek" sounds a little insulting. but asking "are you smart?" just takes the cake. The wording is so condescending there. It's like taking the cake and rubbing it in your lover's face, and not in a silly funny way. If this is a love song, it is only one for the emotional sadists.

"Don't change a hair for me / not if you care for me" begins again by trying to force the aforementioned lover to act in a certain way, and then in the second line guilts the lover into doing what her man asks because it will hurt his feelings if she doesn't. Its her own hair. She should have final say over it. The end.