Category Archives: Music

Beauty in Song Form

Anyone who has been following this blog even for a little while gets that I am obsessed with music. And that I love to write about it. For reference, I blogged about my  appreciation for music here, here, and here.

True confession: I’ve always fantasized about being a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. That just might be the coolest job ever, in my opinion. Oh, the people I’d meet! The things I’d learn! The music I’d be exposed to!

I am also a huge fan of creating Google playlists. One of the many I have created is my “Beautiful Songs” playlist. This is the one utilized during those times when I feel the need for self care.  When I’m feeling contemplative. It is composed of songs that I want to hear when I’m by myself during a long drive. Or when I’m home alone, cooking a good meal to enjoy when Hubs comes in from work (a rare occasion, these days, and admittedly very traditional, in a Leave it to Beaver sort of way). These are the songs that I will stop whatever it is I am doing (unless of course I’m behind the wheel) and pause to enjoy until the last sweet notes.

My Beautiful Song playlist is a *WIP, just like me  (no, I am not finished with acronyms quite yet). Actually, all my playlists are WIP’s. That’s what makes them so much fun for me to create. They can be customized to my own personal moods and tastes.

Here’s a sampling of what you can find on my Beautiful Songs playlist, and why they belong there:

Wildflower, by Skylark: I’m pretty darn sure that Skylark was one of those one-hit wonder kind of bands. If they were destined to fall into the category of one hit wonder bands, they should be quite proud that this was that one hit, right? The lyrics bring tears to my eyes, as they remind me of someone I love very much who is struggling to find her strength as a young woman in this world.

Sunshine On My Shoulders, by John Denver:  When I hear the first few lines of this on the acoustic guitar, my heart fills up and my eyes begin to well up. Pure auditory beauty.

Nobody Does it Better, by Carly Simon: The melody and musicality of this one, accompanied by Ms. Simon’s powerful vocals blows me away every time I hear it.

Wonderful Tonight, by Eric Clapton: The first time I heard this song, it was at my Aunt Connie’s house. She was always a huge fan of music and frequently would insist we all shut up and listen to her favorite new song (think we share some genes? ha!). This was one of them. At her funeral (stupid fricking cancer), just a year ago now, once everyone was seated for the service, this song was played. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

This One’s For You-Barry Manilow: Yes, I will admit that I am a lifetime fan of Barry Manilow. I recognize that this statement is unlikely to entice anyone from Rolling Stone to come a’knocking on my door to offer me an opportunity to write for them. The first concert I ever went to was Barry Manilow. I went with my mom, my aunt, my cousin and a couple of other family friends.  My cousin Brett and I were totally over the moon (being the “hip” 12 and 14 year old children of the 80’s that we were) about seeing Barry live. We even created a big sign that was emblazoned with the words “We Love you, Barry”. This particular song of his may be the one I find the most beautiful. It is quite likely I’ll be adding more Barry Manilow songs to this playlist (remember it’s a WIP!).

Here we go again, performed by Ray Charles and Norah Jones: Okay, people. If you are still reading this stop and listen to this song. It’s smooth and sultry, like a fine wine for your ears. Trust me, it’s simply gorgeous. You can thank me later.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-Elton John: I gotta say, I’m a bit particular when it comes to Elton John. I dislike much of the music he put out from about 1985 to the present. But man, he really had some awesome songs before that. This one is probably my favorite, with the beautiful piano start and the questions: When are you going to come down? When are you going to land? Wow.

Harvest Moon by Neil Young: I think Neil Young is one of those artists, much like Bob Dylan, who people either really love or really dislike, voice-wise. Personally, I love his voice. I love that it’s not perfect. I love the way this song starts, with the simple ba-da, da-da-da-da-da and the percussion (you know that little brush they use on a drum).  And the harmonica then the trombone towards the end make it extra special, like the cherry on top. It’s just such a sweet tune to me. My sister and I recently enjoyed a performance of this song by a two man band while sipping craft beer at an outdoor patio in Duluth, Minnesota. I know now that I’ll always think of this moment with her when I hear this song again.

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So, fellow music fans:  What songs would you have on your own personal “Beautiful Song” playlist?

*WIP: Work in progress.

 

 

 

Que Sera, Sera

I’ve got an earworm these days. This is thanks to our receptionist at work who continually has the 60’s station playing on Pandora or Spotify or whatever the hell audio service she uses. I commented to her that I remember my mom singing this song to me when I was growing up.

Now, mind you, my mom cannot carry a tune. In fact, I recall a story she often told about her youth. It goes something like this: when she was in high school, back in the early 50’s, she desperately yearned to be a member of the choir. However, she was self aware enough to know she did not possess the ability to carry a tune. So her mother, one of my two Grandma Pearls (ironically enough), despite the fact that she and Grandpa were by all accounts quite poor, attempted to bribe the choir director with cold hard cash to get mom into the choir.
Unfortunately, for my mom, this plan didn’t work. She was still rejected.
As a kid, I couldn’t care less that mom lacked any singing talent. Her voice singing Que Sera, Sera, among other songs I can still vividly recall, was full of love and tenderness for me. That is all that mattered.
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Now, back to the song. The line that especially sticks with me is “Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera”. Repeating this to myself brings on a sense of calm. It compels me to focus not on the future, which none of us have control of, but on the present. On the now.
And in the now, I will be traveling to Minnesota to spend time with my mom.

Pondering my playlists

I’ve mentioned in at least one previous post that, inspired by a different sort of self-help book entitled “Soul Song Playlist”, I started to create my own soul-soothing, uplifting, personal playlist. What I’ve discovered along the way is that this playlist is a work in progress. For me, it isn’t something I could just put together in one fell swoop.

I’ve added songs that I later removed, because they didn’t speak to me on a soul level like I presumed they would (“Let it Go” from the animated movie Frozen is a prime example) when I initially chose them. I’ve heard songs while driving that jumped out at me as the perfect additions to this very personal playlist of mine. I think I will continue adding and subtracting songs over the course of a good long time.

That said, I found myself last week itching to hear full cd’s of my favorite artists. The ones I cherish the most, to give myself a needed break from the overthinking I’d been doing with creating my soul song playlist. I listened to my very favorite cd of all time, Raising Sand, with Robert Plant and Allison Kraus. I listened to Alanis Morissette’s “The Collection” cd. So many rocking tunes on that one with very thoughtful, purposeful lyrics. And I listened to Sheryl Crowe’s “C’mon, C’mon” cd, which is one of those that I thoroughly enjoy singing along with. Raising Sand is not one I sing along with, for the record, because the sheer beauty of the songs on this cd compel me to simply listen. Few cd’s are like that for me.

That brings me to the new playlist I’m going to start creating this week, in preparation for our big summer road trip to visit family in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hubs and I will be strapped in for two full days so I figure a rocking playlist is in order. We can listen to it as we wish, interspersing it with catching up on national and world news on NPR and various podcasts.

The genre of our road trip playlist is primarily classic rock. With a few summery  pop hits added in to enhance our freewheeling, relaxed summer vacation attitudes.

Here’s a few songs that are going to be “musts” on this epic summer road trip playlist.

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A depiction of Hubs and I on our epic summer road trip
  • “2 out of 3 Ain’t Bad”, by Meatloaf (I feel I should know his real name, being kind of a music trivia buff. But more importantly, how did he acquire the name “Meatloaf”?)
  • “Walkin’ on the Sun”, by Smash Mouth (interestingly, at least to me anyway, was that this is the band Hubs named recently when I asked him what band he most wants to see live before he croaks. Didn’t see that one coming.)
  • “American Pie”, by Don McClean. A classic sing along song we always turn up when it comes on the radio. Doesn’t every American, at least over the age of 40, do the same thing?
  • “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, by Twisted Sister. A classic song of rebellion that begs to be sung out loud with righteous indignation, which is wholly appropriate in our current political climate.
  • “Layla”, by Derek and the Dominoes (for me, never the one put out by Eric Clapton years later…it’s just not the same, man).
  • “Margaritaville”, by Jimmy Buffett. A carefree summer driving sing-along classic.
  • “We Built This City”, by Starship. I know that many, perhaps most, people hate this song with a passion. But for Hubs and I, it’s a rollicking tune that reminds us of our younger days.
  • “You’re my Best Friend”, by Queen. Hubs is my best friend and I am his. I used to think it was sappy and unoriginal to proclaim this. But over time I have come to realize that it’s the simple truth. Me and my best friend are bound to have ourselves a great time on this road trip of ours. And now we will have a soundtrack that will set the tone.

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Loving ’em while they are still here

I know a parent who often told her adult children, in reference to the parental relationship, to “Love us while we are still here”. Now, this may be a phrase that this particular parent uses to elicit feelings of guilt in her children, but no matter.

After the untimely death of Tom Petty not to mention Prince, David Bowie, and Glenn Frey,  I see that this phrase has an alternate meaning for me. As in, I want to enjoy the great musical artists that are still among the living. As in, let’s hear it for those senior citizens who are still rocking.

To celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary next month, Hubs and I will be attending a James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt concert at Fiddler’s Green in Denver. I’ve created a playlist of my favorite tunes from both of these artists to enjoy in the meantime.

Funny thing about James Taylor, for me, is that while I was certainly familiar with tunes such as “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend”, from my growing up years, I didn’t fully appreciate his music until I dated the biggest jerk in the world (for clarification, this is not Hubs) back when I was in college. In spite of his squirrely demeanor, unreliability, and general lack of couth, this dude had great taste in music. He introduced me to JT’s songs “Mexico”, “Sweet Baby James”, and “Walking Man”. Fortunately, I no longer picture his stupid face when I listen to the music of James Taylor, as these songs have been featured on my playlists for so many years now. Time is indeed a wonderful thing.

I endeavored to switch off between these two artists with my playlist, though towards the end it ended up leaning more heavily in JT’s favor. While there are a total of 21 songs on this playlist, I won’t bore you with anecdotes about each and every one of them. Just the ones that I am most looking forward to hearing them perform live.

  • James’ “Your Smiling Face”. This is one of those songs that has an opening that you remember. It’s an upbeat and endearing tune. I always like how the first line gets right to the point of the song, don’t you?
  • Bonnie’s “Something to Talk About”. Such a fun, flirty ditty. Love the story and the bluesiness of this tune. This woman is in a league of her own when it comes to quality blues music.
  • James’ “Fire and Rain”. Great metaphor for life. Bittersweet in that he “always thought I’d see you again”.
  • Bonnie’s “Thing Called Love”. She ain’t no queen of Sheba. And we ain’t no amoebas.
  • James’ “You’ve Got a Friend”. Originally written by the one and only Carole King, another one of my favorites. A special, sweet, simple song that everyone knows. Hard to beat that.
  • Bonnie’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Heart-wrenching, raw, tender, personal. I seem to recall a time or two back before I met Hubs of course when circumstances existed to make this song very relatable to me.
  • James’ “Up on the Roof”. Beautiful lyrics and piano music. It evokes that feeling one has upon arriving home after a long, hectic day at work where you just emit an “Ahhh”, take your bra off, and sit down with your favorite adult beverage. Except I’m too scared of heights to actually go up on the roof for real. Unless Hubs was up there with his ukulele. I’d have to make an exception for that.
  • Bonnie’s “Love Sneaking Up on You”. Such a fun, sexy song. One of the best lines: “Do you light up at the mention of my name?”
  • James’ “Something in the Way She Moves”. Wowser, what a love song! It’s on par with Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman to Me”. Soooo romantic.
  • Bonnie’s “Right Down the Line”. Gerry Rafferty wrote and originally performed this song. I love how Bonnie put her own, slightly reggae twist on this version. It’s a slinky, sultry, cool ass song. Like so many of her songs.
  • James’ “Mexico”. I love the tropical, laid back feel of this song and the pretty guitar opening.  I hope some day Hubs will say “Oh, Mexico, sounds so simple I’ve just got to go” with passion. Because he’s never been. I have, but likely would enjoy it much more as a grown adult woman with my Hubs than I did as a 7 year old searching for a pinatas and ponchos with my family.
  • James’ “How Sweet it is (to be loved by you)”. What a positively positive song, right? I just want to stop and thank you, sweet baby James, for this special song.
  • Bonnie’s “I Will Not Be Broken”. This song really speaks to me. I mentioned in a recent post that I had discovered a new self help book, “Soul Song Playlist”. Let’s just say this song is at the top of my soul song playlist.
  • James’ “Shower the People”. I ADORE this song. It should be everyone’s mantra because it would make the world a much happier place: “Shower the People you love with love, show them the way that you feel, things are going to be much better if you only will”. Truer words may never have been written in a song.
  • James’ “Steamroller”: This is the song that made me realize how much I love the blues. And to see it performed live would be simply amazing.

Mid-Week Random Ramblings

I have got so many ideas of things I want to write about swimming about in my head right now. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, I am an over-thinker. Which means I have a tendency to be indecisive.

What does this mean to me, today, right here, right now? I think it means that I need to go random with this particular post. Bear with me, patient readers. Once I get this out of my system, I will be able to put the final touches on the next couple of one-topic posts I’ve got waiting for me in my draft folder. 

True story: On Monday,  I didn’t allow my driving anxiety to get the better of me. I actually drove myself through Denver for a work meeting and then home afterwards on I-25 just at the beginning of rush hour.  I told myself that I could pull over at any time but I didn’t end up doing that even once. Heart pounding, palms sweating, mind racing, I pushed through and stayed the course. And I got home in one piece. Driving anxiety truly sucks, but now (here’s me being brave) it no longer means I won’t drive on I-25 or any other freeway for that matter. Not anymore. Gone are the days when I purposefully map out my route to avoid all freeways. I just have to accept that the anxiety may creep in and try to mess with my head. And keep moving forward in spite of it.

Later today,  I’m getting a major hair cut and color done by my lively, one-of-a-kind hairdresser, Angel. I’m bound to give myself whiplash from flicking my head back and to the side to keep my bangs out of my eyes if I don’t. I’ve had essentially the same haircut and style now for the better part of two years and with summery temps on the horizon, I think it’s time to go even shorter and lighten things up.

On a totally unrelated note, I’ve been thinking that it’d be some sweet justice if the con-man/bully/hypocritical/liar/fool-in-chief (no need to name names here, right?), ends up being taken down by a woman, or shall I say women, that he has undoubtedly wronged. This would further cement by belief in karma. I mean, something has got to happen for this all to come to an end right? I’d much prefer it be because of his lecherous, immoral, and sexist behavior (and of course because Mueller and his team have got enough to prosecute for obstruction of justice and God only knows what else)  than a nuclear war. Just saying.

I was awestruck this past weekend watching some of the speeches given by high school students at the March for Our Lives. Their poise and passion blew me away. Emma Gonzales will go down in  history as the voice of this movement, largely because of her purposeful, meaningful speech, which included a long period of silence equal to the amount of time it took for the gunman to kill 17 people at her high school on Valentine’s Day. I pray that we will see some common sense gun legislation very soon. All of our kids deserve this.

I’m really digging the new book I’m reading about finding your soul song playlist. The writer, Jessica Myler, points out that all of those self-help books that so many of us read focus on thinking positive thoughts. Which is all good and fine, but, as she notes (and I am paraphrasing here), feelings need to go hand in hand with these thoughts to be powerful enough to manifest true happiness. This concept really clicks with me. From my perspective, it’s all about the way the words and the melodies work in tandem to evoke emotions which inspire and energize me to create, to communicate, and to be a force for positive change.

I’m feeling that a blog post about my Google playlists will be coming soon. Or one about dieting and food. Or one about travel. I hope you all will stay tuned.

Happy Hump Day!

 

 

Surprises and Songs by the Hiatt’s

For one of our wedding anniversaries, Hubs surprised me with a trip to Madison, WI. He was very tight lipped about the itinerary. I went along with it, because I am one of those oddballs that actually loves surprises. And boy, was I surprised. In the best possible way.

Once we arrived in Madison and checked into our hotel, Hubs instructed me to get in the car with him and drive to our surprise destination. I seriously had no clue whatsoever what was in store. He slowed the car down as we approached our destination and he directed me to look to my right. We were directly in front of the Majestic Theater. As I looked up at the marquee, I was beyond excited.

We were there to see the inimitable John Hiatt perform. 

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Now, for several years prior to this, Hubs and I had been fans of this prolific, soulful, uber talented singer/songwriter/guitarist/performer. Mr. Hiatt is one of those artists who has had more critical success than commercial success. That seriously confounds me, because his music-the lyrics, the melodies, the beats, the feels it evokes-is just, well, everything to me from a musical standpoint.

And I learned recently, while live streaming MPR’s The Current that Mr. Hiatt also has a mighty talented singer/songwriter daughter. Her name is Lilly.

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Lilly Hiatt

First, however, for those of you who may not be familiar with Mr. Hiatt’s work, or for those of you who have an unabashed appreciation for him as I do, I’d like to highlight what IMHO are his truly best AF songs. Then I will introduce you to the music of his daughter.

 Thank you, Google Play. You rock. You have given me the best toy a girl could ask for. The joy I get from creating playlists of my favorite artists, like John Hiatt, is immense. 

Here are my top picks from Mr. Hiatt’s collection:

“Thing Called Love” was written and performed originally by Hiatt, though most folks likely are only familiar with Bonnie Raitt’s cover of it. Both versions are great, but I personally prefer Hiatt’s. My favorite line in this song is “But Baby, we can choose you know, we ain’t no amoebas”. And I love when he sings/screeches out “just a crazy little thing called love” towards the end. Supercool.

Thing Called Love

Most likely my “favorite” favorite John Hiatt song is “Feels Like Rain”. It is simply gorgeous. It is sensual. It is soulful. It is tragically beautiful. It is best appreciated during a moment of solitude. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here it is. You’re welcome.

Feels Like Rain

“Perfectly Good Guitar” is a stand out for me also. It features some seriously tight guitar riffs and an extraordinarily catchy melody. And it pays homage to Mr. Hiatt’s appreciation for the instrument. And I found the below video of him and his band playing it live. John Hiatt is probably the best performer I have or ever will see live. For reals.

Perfectly Good Guitar

I could seriously go on for eons about all the other John Hiatt songs I love (like “Riding with the King”, or “Crossing Muddy Waters”, or “Real Fine Love”), but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight Lilly. I was very pleasantly surprised when I learned of her existence. She surely has her father’s musical genes. She has her own sound nonetheless, which to me is an interesting cross between Liz Phair and Lucinda Williams. She, like her father, writes tremendously thoughtful, raw, and beautiful lyrics. Here is a sample:

If I’m lucky, one day I’ll be able to see her perform live as well. I know I’d jump at the chance to see her dad perform live again.

 

Monday Music Musings: Covers

I’m not generally much of a fan of song re-makes, aka covers. I prefer originality in my musical artists. It often appears to me that an artist is simply trying to make a buck the easiest way possible when they churn out their version of a classic song. It frequently feels disingenuous to me.

But, that said, I believe firmly that there are always exceptions to every rule. 

I could provide examples of truly terrible renditions of original songs but that would be negative and pointless. Instead, I’m going to highlight a few covers that IMHO are so well done that they might even surpass the original version. 

I also have proposals for original songs that I believe should be re-imagined by new artists. But first things first:

Killing me Softly-Originally sung by Roberta Flack with such vulnerability it brings tears to my eyes. The Fugees had quite a different, but very cool take on it:

Fugees killing it

Sweet Child ‘O Mine-Originally performed by Guns ‘n Roses. A classic rock and roll song from my younger days with one of the best guitar openings ever thanks to Slash. There’s a newer version that caught my attention while I was watching the movie “Captain Fantastic” (quirky, unconventional movie about a unique but lovable family which I highly recommend). This version is very stripped down and all about the harmony. And it’s freaking beautiful. Check it out:

Guitar Man-This song was originally performed by the 70’s mellow rock band, Bread. Growing up, I always loved it. I loved the melody and the story it told. Last year, I heard a much different, but quite brilliant version of this song by CAKE, a band of which I am especially fond. No one sounds like this band, no matter what the song is. Noone.

Guitar Man by CAKE

Sara Smile-To me, this has always been an absolutely gorgeous song, originally performed by the great pop duo, Hall and Oates. Hubs is a huge fan of the music of Joan Osborne (from “What if God was One of Us” fame). She crafted it into a sultry, soulful serenade yet didn’t stray far at all from the original version, for which I give her much credit.

Sara Smile by Joan Osborne

Sunny-Originally performed by Bobby Hebb back in 1966. It’s a sweet, simple, jazzy pop confection that stands the test of time. However, the version by Bryan Adams, which I first discovered watching Scandal (that scene with Olivia and Jake on a beach far away from their normally scandalous lives), elevates it to a new level thanks to the gravelly vocals of Mr. Adams. Btw, Shonda Rhimes and her crew are geniuses when it comes to choosing the right songs for the right scenes, especially in Scandal. 

Sunny by Bryan Adams

Proposals for new covers that my songbrain would so love to hear and see:

Imagine a cover of this song being done by, say, the Foo Fighters or Green Day. It would be so very timely given the political unrest in Trump’s America. Perhaps this could be the opening song for a televised fundraising event for the #resist movement? Or sales of this cover could directly go to the #resist movement? Or Planned Parenthood?

A Little Good News, originally performed by Anne Murray. This song is perhaps even more relevant today than it was when it came out in 1983. I would love to see a version of this (perhaps as part of the above mentioned televised fundraising event for the #resist movement?), with Anne Murray, along with Jewel, and the Dixie Chicks. How cool would that be?