Trying a New Topic–Top Fives

Music has always been a very large part of my life. From the time I was five until I was eighteen, music was my sole extra-curricular. And it was intense. First, there were three different kinds of music lessons every week. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized this may have been part of the reason why I never went to private school–$600 a month in music lesson tuition alone! Nuts. Next, there was the time commitment. Depending upon my age, that meant 3-5 hours a day of practicing. And that’s just practicing. There were also concerts to attend (which cost money), concerts to play in (for a non-girly girl, I know a ridiculous amount about ball gowns), competitions, upkeep of the actual instrument, master class lessons.

The kind of music you listen to when you’re in this world is very specific; moreover, it’s not exactly the kind of music most people (let alone teenagers) listen to. Maybe it’s the predominant lack of lyrics (or worse: lyrics in a foreign language!); maybe it’s the fact that the average song-length is much greater than what you hear on the radio; maybe it’s that it’s too structured. Still, I loved it. I double-majored in undergrad–with one major being music history and theory. And–another happy consequence of this life–there’s a catalogue of artists/bands/composers about whom I know more than is needed to win any game of bar-trivia.

But, at eighteen, I gave it up…for a variety of reasons. I think the kindest way to describe my feelings towards playing an instrument right now is “love/hate.” Too many memories, and too many not-great ones (at least towards the end of the run). Thankfully, though, my feelings towards music itself have not changed.

When I started college, I became involved with people who were equally as into music; however, they were definitely in a different scene. If you’ve ever seen High Fidelity or read any Nick Hornby novels–that’s a tame description of my social group. I knew practically nothing about the music with which they were obsessed, and vice versa. The one music “cred” I really had going for me was that I was a vinyl junkie; regardless of what type of music you’re into, being a vinyl junkie gives you automatic “I’m really not messing around” points.

These people opened my ears in ways I never could have imagined. There were of course the classic discussions of “What is the best two-disc album of all time?” and “What are the top five songs to listen to at 9AM on a Monday?” There were also the utterly ridiculous verbal cat-fights including a way-too-long “discussion” on the syllable weight, poetic meter, and general symbolism behind the Killers line “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.”

There was the punk/hipster who would go back and forth in ranking The Ramones or the Dead Kennedys as the best band of all time; who could tell you within five seconds whether you were playing a Smiths song or a Morrissey solo; who thought Wesley Willis had actual musical talent. There was the indie/hippie who still defends the statement that Bob Dylan is an underrated artist; whose favorite bands were the Cure and Death Cab for Cutie; who could sing along to as many Belle and Sebastian songs as Phil Spector girl-group hits. There was the musical “playa” of the group whose oldest piece of music may have come from 2002; who could give lectures on Amon Tobin and Glitch Mob; who had (perhaps illegally) obtained weeks worth of R&B and electronica tracks…maybe to the point where the university’s server crashed.

And then there was me. The sponge of the group. With very few exceptions (Wesley Willis among them), I inhaled everything those boys played. It was a very unique experience for me, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Mostly for fun, but also practically speaking since I’m traveling more, I wanna try doing “top five” lists. I have never been able to rank within top fives, so note that order really doesn’t matter to me. Also, expect everything from Bach to Outkast to be fair game. Of course, I will take suggestions for future top-five topics–and if you have a favorite track you think is missing or want to share, let me know!

We’re starting with the most cliche and over-debated topic: top five “love songs.”

  • “Piece of My Heart”, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

    Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man? Didn’t I give you everything that a woman possibly can? And each time I tell myself that I think I’ve had enough, I’m gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough. So come on and take another little piece of my heart.”

    This is probably one of the most famous covers most people don’t realize is actually a cover. The original recording was by Aretha Franklin’s sister, Erma. But honestly, I don’t think anyone could sing this better than Janis Joplin. She is so raw, so exposed. Her gritty, bluesy voice was perfect for the lyrics; she doesn’t care that you’re going to break her heart–she’s daring you to. And honestly, for hard/psychedelic rock, the instrumentation doesn’t over-power.
  • “Oh, Darling!”, The Beatles.

    “When you told me you didn’t need me anymore, you know I nearly broke down and cried. Oh, darling, please believe me, I’ll never make it alone.”Most people would say “Something” or “If I Fell” or some other Beatles song would be in a top-five romance list. And they are good romantic songs, don’t get me wrong. But what makes “Oh, Darling!” so special is its delivery. This song is the Beatles. The melody and lyrics could have placed this on “Hard Day’s Night”, but the instrumentation and vocal power only could have come from “Abbey Road.” Plus, Paul actually lets loose for once. Final note: Sara Bareilles does a kick-ass cover of this. Look it up. Seriously.
  • “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”, Jeff Buckley.

    “Maybe I’m too young to keep good love from going wrong. But tonight, you’re on my mind, so you never know. Broken down and hungry for your love with no way to feed it. Where are you tonight? Child, you know how much I need it. I’m too young to hold on, and too old to just break free and run.”Most people know Jeff Buckley for his cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which really could have gone on this list. The lyrics in this one are just too beautiful, though; I was seriously tempted to just copy and paste all lyrics above. This song is about a (young) man, reflecting on his life, realizing the mistakes he’s made in love and practically begging for another shot. And it’s friggin’ beautiful.
  • “Creep”, Carrie Manolakos.

    “I want you to notice when I’m not around. You’re so fucking special. I wish I were special, but I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”In case the above doesn’t convince you, this is the perfect “I am not worthy” song. Now, the Radiohead version does really come off as stalkerish-creepy. But this cover is something else. Manolakos really exposes the beauty and sexiness of the song in a way I don’t think Thom Yorke ever could. Special points also go to the harmonization–this backup singer is fantastic.
  • “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, Led Zeppelin.

    “I’ve really been the best of fools. ‘Cause I love you, baby, how I love you, darling…Since I’ve been loving you, I’m about to lose my worried mind.”OK, so lyrically, this is the weakest of the five. But it’s a blues song, so that’s allowed. With this one it’s all about the instrumentation. It’s almost like a hard-rock version of Ravel’s “Bolero”–this song does nothing but climax. Side note: check out Corinne Bailey Rae’s version of this.
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