Thursday, January 14, 2010

Playlist of the Week(end): "Name" That Tune

After Monday's post about some of the hot self-lovin' anthems out there, which sort of amounted to a mini-playlist, and one thing later leading to another elsewhere, I figured I might forego a full playlist for this week. However, when a good friend of mine today revealed herself a fan of this baby of a blog and in particular its playlist offerings, I decided to go for it and whip out a theme I was planning for next week. So Amanda, this is for you!

The story behind this week's theme has several impetuses (yes, that is the correct pluralization). The most direct one is actually also especially relevant to pop music: while taking in Ke$ha's debut album Animal to determine whether it merited a Vertigo Shtick review (it does, so watch this space) I happened across a song I rather enjoyed, called "Stephen" (for more on that, again, watch this space), and started thinking about how fun it would be to have a name that could forever elicit serenades from smartasses around the world due to some musical appearance by which it could be universally defined. As long as it was for flattering reasons, that is, as in the aforementioned song, and not questionable ones; because really, how many people anymore could meet someone named Roxanne without asking how much she charged, or someone named Mary Jane without wondering what was the matter?

At the same time, I'm at that age when it seems like everyone with whom I went to high school is popping out infants left and right (my college friends are just starting to get married), and as I'm grateful to them for electing to repopulate the world so I don't have to, I thought I might help out with a few baby name suggestions. Each of the playlists I've created has sprung from a theme for which I already have several appropriate tracks in my mind before I begin, a list I fill in after a bit of research through my music library and elsewhere, which is how I often stumble upon some great items from my library I'd never have remembered as well as the occasional new song by an artist or album I know, and sometimes, the opportunity for me to encounter for the first time some tunes about which I've certainly heard but to which I'd never actually listened. This week's offering has been no different, and I'm particularly pleased with it as it reveals some of the breadth of my musical taste without, I feel, ever really leaving the realm of pop music in which Vertigo Shtick is firmly rooted. Hope you enjoy (and if you don't like these baby names, I hear "David" is always a stellar choice)!

1. "Proud Mary" Ike and Tina Turner (Workin' Together, EMI, 1970)

"We nevah, evah, evah do nothin' nice and easy," Tina insists in the opener, and as we well know, she wasn't just talking about music there. I still remember my dad trying to explain this record to me when I was younger (why he didn't just play it for me I'll never know), describing how Tina introduced the "nice and slow" vs. "nice and rough" concept while Ike's vocal moseyed in slowly for one verse before all hell broke loose in the second. But my true introduction to the Turners' "Proud Mary" came much much later: in fact it was less than a year ago when I was the beneficiary of some friends and would-be concert-goers who at the last minute couldn't use their tickets to see Tina's latest Oprah-mandated national tour, and the 68-year-old finished the show stomping it out to her two-time hit track atop a giant pendulum-like stage extension (with no railing!) as it swung back and forth over the loudly appreciative audience. And what an introduction!

2. "Cecilia" Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Columbia Records, 1970)

Paul Simon once referred to "Cecilia" as "a little piece of magical fluff," and the song, which hit #4 on the U.S. singles charts, was purported to have been largely improvised. Since hardly anyone really knows the lyrics, or if they do they usually don't bother to analyze them, ladies with this particular name suffered no harm from it being thus cemented in pop culture.

3. "Michelle" Paul McCartney (Paul Is Live, Parlophone/EMI, 1993)

One band to whose music my father did make sure I was exposed early and often was the little U.K. outfit called The Beatles. While I learned at a young age to love and memorize virtually the entire contents of Rubber Soul and Revolver, it was always Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that fascinated me on more levels than I could count. (You could say that in my musical sensitivities I've moved from Billy Shears to Britney Spears.) But my all time favorite Beatles song has always been the understated chanson d'amour on Rubber Soul to the mysterious French mademoiselle named Michelle (and its lyrics, plus the line in "Bad Romance," comprise just about my entire knowledge of the French language).

4. "Sweet Baby James" James Taylor ((Live), Columbia Records, 1993)

My mother, on the other hand, tended to prefer music that was less eclectic and less appropriate for, say, a soundtrack to waxing the car; and since my father is many things but a fool is not one of them, whenever my family found itself together on one of our frequent lengthy automobile sojourns, it was usually my mother who was given the task of musical selection. While my eardrums may never get over years of abuse by the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Billy Joel and Chicago, I wouldn't be surprised if the reason I grew up as such a mellow, primarily positive person had something to do with the healthy dose of James Taylor I had growing up. My brother's and my favorite had to be his (Live) album, our first (and so far my only) glimpse at how the rest of the world felt about the smooth singer/songwriter: to this day we still get a laugh at Taylor's ability to make an arena full of women scream simply by saying "hi."

5. "Hey There Delilah" Plain White Ts (All That We Needed, Hollywood/Fearless, 2006)

This oft parodied song was actually quite a legitimate success upon its release, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as topping the charts in over a dozen other countries, receiving two Grammy nominations, and landing on top ten lists from VH1 to Time Magazine for the year. Since then the tune has been sung with varying degrees of satire to Harry Potter, MacGuyver, Rihanna, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, and my personal favorite, "Hey There Vagina." (Most of these are available on YouTube, I'm told.)

6. "Daniel" Elton John (Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player, MCA, 1973)

For some reason a sizeable number of my closest male friends over the years have had the name "Daniel," from my best male friend in elementary/middle school to my best male friend in high school to a neighbor down the street my siblings and I spent a lot of time with growing up to the One Who Got Away whom I met while on a summer program in England. If I were much for sentimentality, I might have found many occasions over my lifetime wherein Elton John's classic of the same name might have seemed apropos. I do remember finding it a little odd to hear a man sing what to me sounded a lot like a love song to another man.

7. "Roxanne" The Police (Outlandos d'Amour, A&M Records, 1978)

Unlike the Cecilias of the world, the numerous namesakes of the heroine of The Police's legendary hit "Roxanne" might get justifiably annoyed by the occupation with which the name has been saddled in the pop culture mindset (hint: she walks the streets of the red light district). To make things worse, just as a new generation was emerging that barely knew of Sting the solo artist, much less his previous career, Baz Luhrmann made sure the next generation of Roxannes would continue to be known as hookers with the inclusion of the song in a particularly dramatic and memorable sequence in his film Moulin Rouge.

8. "Sassy" The Manhattan Transfer (The Offbeat of Avenues, Columbia Records, 1991)

Arguably the global standard of the co-ed vocal jazz/pop quartet has always been The Manhattan Transfer (another early musical influence in my life that stuck like glue). While the foursome enjoyed some chart success in the late 1970s and early 1980s with crossover singles like "Operator," "Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone," and top ten hit "The Boy From New York City," the late eighties and onward saw the group move away from pop and into both standard and experimental jazz and later into swing. Their 1991 album The Offbeat of Avenues not only resembles anything else in the Transfer's decades of repertoire, it remains peerless in its mixture of jazz, early '90s pop, funk/soul, hints of swing, and a heavy dose of bizarre. The second track, "Sassy," won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance.

9. "Stephen" Ke$ha (Animal, RCA Records, 2010)

Ah, yes, the inspiration for this lovely playlist. Some people are suckers for a high-pitched petulant voice on a male lead singer, and others can't get enough of a diva blasting her boobs off with a full-voiced high note; my ultimate weakness is in female close harmony (three parts or more). I can't count the number of horrendous pop songs I've been known to play on repeat in the privacy of my bedroom or iPod just to hear a few particularly appealing bars. That was why I started listening to "Stephen," but not why I've been singing it to myself incessantly for the past several days: that would be a result of the unexpectedly sweet, ironically over-sincere lyrics and performance that made me laugh out loud (on a bus, no less) while still ringing true in its basic meaning. I've also found my new pickup line: "I wanna wrap you up in my love." You have to listen to the song to understand.

10. "Alejandro" Lady Gaga (The Fame Monster, Interscope/Cherrytree.Streamline/Kon Live, 2009)

Okay, I'll admit it: I don't get "Alejandro." I know, with Gaga the whole concept of "getting it" is often beside the point. But I really like the song; it's quite possibly second only to "Bad Romance" among Gaga's entire repertoire for me, and therefore I kind of feel like I ought to know what the hell I'm singing along about. The best Alecia (my friend in Gaga) and I have come up with is a sort of post-coital lament in which the promiscuous narrator is not only suffering from buyer's remorse ("don't wanna kiss, don't wanna touch, just smoke my cigarette and hush"), but she's also less than 100% sure of the dude's name. Believe me, I've been there.

11. "Jenny From the Block" Jennifer Lopez feat. Lox (This Is Me...Then, Epic Records, 2002

Don't be fooled by the Loubitins that she got, she's still...oh, who are we kidding? Say what you want about the actress-turned-singer, but it's hard to deny that she made a not insignificant contribution to the pop happiness of the turn of the century with tunes like "Waiting for Tonight," "Ain't It Funny," "Play," and of course, this amusing attempt at keepin' it real.

12. "Maria Maria" Santana (Supernatural, Arista Records, 2000)

Remember back when Santana decided he felt like revisiting the Top 40 world he'd long since left for bigger and better things, as if just to prove he could still dominate in a world where teen bubblegum pop and wuss rock was king? And totally did, too? Although collaborations with Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch may have been heard more on pop radio, I think my favorite of the singles from Supernatural is this ode to the most common Spanish female name.

13. "Steve McQueen" Sheryl Crow (C'mon C'mon, A&M Records, 2002)

For the record, Sheryl Crow fell asleep in Memphis and woke up in Hollywood years before Miley Cyrus's tummy turned and she sang about dancing to a rapper she'd never listened to; and before Ke$ha had no money in her pocket but didn't mind seeing as she'd already arrived, Sheryl Crow had done that too. Although I've lost most interest in Crow since the days of "All I Wanna Do" and "Every Day Is a Winding Road" (but I'll admit it: I love "Tomorrow Never Dies"), she's still popped out a fun record or two here and there that I've enjoyed, including this escapist tribute to one of the more famous gay men of last century (if not exactly for that reason).

14. "Meet Virginia" Train (Train, Independent/Columbia Records, 1999)

This is one of the songs that will forever remind me of high school. I have always liked "Meet Virginia," since among other reasons I can remember feeling I actually might like very much to meet this sort of Eliza Doolittle-like titular female. As described through Patrick Monahan's smooth, accessible vocals, Virginia is not the kind of girl my parents might have wanted anywhere near me...which is actually pretty amusing in hindsight considering the time past.

15. "Mary Jane" Alanis Morissette (Jagged Little Pill, Maverick/Reprise, 1995)

Believe it or not, as I was looking up the label info on this track that was pretty much one of only two ballads that mattered back in middle school (the other being No Doubt's "Don't Speak," of course), I was amazed to discover that "Mary Jane" was never actually released as a single. Back then I didn't know the difference between singles and other tracks, really, and that was when people used to buy actual cds so I always thought it was a waste of money to shell out five bucks just for one song. Anyway, if there's anyone who grew up in the US and is now between the ages of, say, 24 and 28 who does not know every detail of just how hard Mary Jane's day was back in 1995, I haven't met him.

16. "Let It Rock" Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne (In the City, Cash Money/Universal Republic, 2008)

This song and the next are slight variations on this week's theme, as obviously neither one contains a first name anywhere in its title, but hear me out. I had to include Kevin Rudolf's fantastic pop-rock-dance crossover from 2008, not because it's a great song (which it is) but because of Lil Wayne's rap contribution. Lil Wayne seems to show up EVERYWHERE these days, but this is easily one of his best guest appearances: not least because of his hysterically WTF pronunciation of a list of girls' names that I was more than amused to find has stymied even some of the helpful online lyric websites, which of course means that there could be countless people out there who get this horribly wrong. I have to share one I found that's just too wretched not to:

Correct Lyrics:
"I sing about angels like Angela / And Pamela / And Samantha / And Amanda and Tamara/Ménage à moi."

What This Guy Apparently Heard (Not even joking; see for yourself.):
"And I sing about angels like angelock / And pay malock / And samida / And emida / And timera [he doesn't even try for the last bit]."

17. "Mambo No. 5" Lou Bega (A Little Bit of Mambo, Lautstark / BMG / RCA Records, 1999)

I know this showed up in the second playlist of the week (titles with abbreviations), but 1. I doubt any of you remember or were around, and 2. How could I leave it out? Forget picking one name for the title, this guy gives (intelligible!) shoutouts to all Monicas, Ericas, Ritas, Tinas, Sandras, Marys, and Jessicas in just one chorus!

18. "Sweet Caroline" Glee Cast (Glee: The Music, Volume 1, Columbia Records, 2009)

I selected this to close out this week's playlist first because it perfectly fits the theme, but secondly and more importantly, since this week's playlist is dedicated to Amanda it makes sense to slip in a little of the Glee cast I know she (and tons of other consumers, apparently) loves so much. Plus despite my reservations about the American Idol of scripted television, I'd much rather have the Glee cast grace my blog than Neil Diamond.

Hope you enjoy, and maybe some of you preggo ladies out there will get some ideas, too! Here's the playlist again, in case this novel I wrote instead of a track guide made you forget why you're here in the first place.

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