For the last couple of months, I'd been watching from afar as bloggers had fun with the various incarnations of Splotchy's Green Monkey Mix. As I've mentioned, because of my stressful, overscheduled work situation, I didn't have the creative energy to participate. Thankfully, that situation has improved, and I was happy to participate in this round-- "Speed It Up."
The premise was ingeniously simple-- to make a list of eight songs, from slowest to fastest. Here's my list, and thoughts on the songs.
1. Who Knows Where The Time Goes?- Fairport Convention
This slow, beautiful song features the achingly sweet vocals of the late Sandy Denny. You may recognize her voice as the female co-vocal on Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore, on Led Zeppelin's fourth album (the one with Stairway to Heaven). A young Richard Thompson played guitar for Fairport Convention.
I've always loved this song, but as I've become a parent, it's really become resonant to me. The other day, I was getting into my truck to run out and apply for a job, when a neighbor asked me for a favor-- he and his wife were bringing home their newborn son, and he asked me to take a picture of them getting out of the car. It brought me back to when my now-ex and I were bringing Adam home from the hospital. I couldn't believe it's been over 13 years. Who knows where the time goes?
2. Flake- Jack Johnson
I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it. I love everything about it-- the story the song tells, the melody and especially Ben Harper's guitar at the end. It's got one of the greatest lines ever: "It seems to me that 'maybe' pretty much always means 'no.'"
This song is one of the two on the list that actually speed up, fitting with the theme of the list.
3. Pablo Picasso- Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
Some people may be more familiar with the Burning Sensations' cover of it on the Repo Man soundtrack. This is the original.
The first Modern Lovers album is like what John Cale said about the first Velvet Underground album-- there were only a few thousand copies sold, but everybody who ever bought the record formed a band. The album, which came out in 1972, was a huge influence on punk and new wave.
This is also probably one of the top ten funny songs ever. Case in point, the first lines:
Some people try to pick up girls and get called an asshole
This did not happen to Pablo Picasso
He could walk down the street
Girls could not resist his stare
Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole
(not like you)
Rhyming "Picasso" with "asshole" is genius in and of itself.
Drummer David Robinson went on to be a founding member of the Cars, and keyboard player Jerry Harrison was later in the Talking Heads.
4. Free Man In Paris- Joni Mitchell
This song was a late-life discovery. I'd heard it a million times and never really given it any thought. Strange, given that her Hejira album is one of my "desert island" albums. I heard it one day around the time Adam was born and just fell for it.
The song itself is about her old friend music mogul David Geffen, who found himself suddenly rich and successful and a lot less happy. He was, as he said, a free man in Paris. The song tells the whole story.
5. That's All Right, Mama- Elvis Presley-
This was Elvis' first hit record. It's an almost straight-up rockabilly cover of a blues song. I grew up loving Elvis' later hits, like Suspicous Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain and as I got older worked my way back to his early career. Whenever this one comes on satellite radio (they play it a lot on Little Steven's Underground Garage) I have to crank it and sing along with it. It's just one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
6. Brand New Cadillac- The Clash-
From the 1979 London Calling record, my favorite-ever record. It's the only song on the record that's a cover. It was originally a b-side on a record by Vince Taylor in 1958. It tells the story of a guy who sees his girlfriend in a "brand new cadillac," and questions her-- where did she get the Cadillac? It's obvious that she's dumped him for a guy with more money (this same theme was brilliantly explored the same year by the Brains in their song Money Changes Everything, which was covered by Cyndi Lauper). In the hands of Joe Strummer and the Clash, it becomes a song about class, wealth, romance and selling out.
The song also speeds up. Some years ago, the Rolling Stone had an issue where they listed what they felt were the 100 Greatest albums ever. London Calling was, of course, one of them. They told the story of recording Brand New Cadillac. It was done on the first take; the members of the Clash thought it was a rehearsal. Strummer begged producer Guy Stevens to re-record it, pointing out that it sped up. Stevens refused, saying it should speed up.
Turns out Stevens was right. The song's become a classic.
You may see the resemblence between the Elvis and Clash album covers. It was not accidental.
Ace of Spades- Motörhead-
This is one of the greatest songs ever.
When I was in college, living in the dorms in 1982, there was a guy on the floor who like listening to the worst pop crap really loud. I mean bad, bad, bad-- he apparently thought Loverboy was the greatest band ever in history, and would play them loud enough for the whole dorm to hear. Again and again.
My roommate and good friend Scott were usually a little hung over, and this did not sit with us well. We decided to do something about it. Scott had an excellent, very loud stereo-- his went to 11-- and we would put on Motörhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith live set to combat the dreck that was being foisted upon us. If that failed, we would play #8 on my list (soon to follow)
Motörhead and the song Ace of Spades were responsible for one of the greatest moments ever in television history, on The Young Ones show. In history's greatest non sequiteur, Motörhead shows up in the boys' living room, play Ace Of Spades and disappear. No context, no explanation.
And don't forget the joker....
8. Religious Vomit- The Dead Kennedys-
If Motörhead didn't work with my Loverboy-loving dorm neighbors, or if Scott and I were just particularly hung over and feeling mean, we'd crank up The Dead Kennedys' Religious Vomit.
When I lived, briefly, in Salt Lake City in 1980-81, one of my housemates, who was from San Francisco, was telling me about a band from San Francisco that was called, get this, the Dead Kennedys. Can you think of anything more offensive, he asked?
Of course not. And of course I became a huge fan. What's better was that their music was even more offensive, to most people, than their name. Jello Biafra and the boys took on all the things I hated-- Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, religious hypocrites in general, nazi punk rockers, etc., and I loved them for it.
I fished around Youtube and found this clip of the Kennedys recording Religious Vomit. Enjoy.
Thanks, Splotchy, for sponsoring the Green Monkey Mix, and inviting me to participate!