Friday, January 29, 2010

The Beatles “A Day In The Life”

From time to time, I'm inviting other voices to contribute to Every Day I Write The Blog, to speak on their area of expertise. So without further ado, here's the All Time Top 5 Songs Mentioning Coffee, written by Guest Blogger Alex Scofield of Coffee Hero . . .

I began with the obvious (“Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze), so I’ll end with the dubious – or at least the ambiguous. Is a cup of coffee part of the working man’s daily ritual in this song?

Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found a way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late

A cup of … what? All my life, I’ve assumed it was coffee, but upon further reflection, this is England, so we can’t dismiss the possibility that it’s tea.
But I’ll stick to my original assumption. All the working man’s daily rituals are here – the wakeup, the daily news, the commute, and the cup. I think it all requires more caffeine than a cup of coffee can deliver.

Post-Starbucks invasion (yes, there are quite a few in London, too), he might have drank the cup after making the bus in seconds flat … and he may never have gone into a dream. … Maybe it’s just as well that this day in the life unfolded exactly as it did.

Alex Scofield
is a freelance writer who lives in Bourne, Mass. He is a contributor to

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beastie Boys "Intergalactic"

From time to time, I'm inviting other voices to contribute to Every Day I Write The Blog, to speak on their area of expertise. So without further ado, here's the All Time Top 5 Songs Mentioning Coffee, written by Guest Blogger Alex Scofield of Coffee Hero . . .

I like my sugar with coffee and cream.

The best line of what is currently (in my judgment) the Beastie Boys’ last pantheon-caliber song. I’ll forgive them for loading up perfectly good coffee with tons of sugar – besides, I have a hunch that this line, like many other Beastie Boys lyrics, is not to be taken at face value.

I was one of many who had major expectations of the Beastie Boys. By the time “Check Your Head” came out in 1992, I though they were The Ones – the band that was going to age gracefully as the musical standard-bearers for Gen X-ers, always cutting-edge, relevant, and several steps ahead of the rest of us. Now, I just hope for MCA’s/Adam Yauch’s success in battling cancer.

Alex Scofield
is a freelance writer who lives in Bourne, Mass. He is a contributor to

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Robert Cray, “The Forecast Calls for Pain”

From time to time, I'm inviting other voices to contribute to Every Day I Write The Blog, to speak on their area of expertise. So without further ado, here's the All Time Top 5 Songs Mentioning Coffee, written by Guest Blogger Alex Scofield of Coffee Hero . . .

The first two lines of my favorite Robert Cray song:

Coffee for my breakfast
Shot of whiskey on the side

Abject desperation conveyed in 10 words. These lines set the tone for a song that’s funny, grim, and moving – and the title’s great, too. A relationship is about to go south, and Cray is going to start the day with a jolt of caffeine and alcohol, and an otherwise empty stomach. Nothing good is going to come of this.

“The Forecast” kicks off Cray’s “Midnight Stroll” album, in which doomed relationships are a recurring theme. In this song, signs point to an empty future; in “Consequences,” the relationship is doomed in the present tense; on “Bouncing Back,” he’s recovering from a doomed love that ran its course sometime in the past. But it’s the empty-stomach coffee that launches “Forecast” that provides the most visceral sensation of the whole album. Don’t try it at home, kids.

Alex Scofield
is a freelance writer who lives in Bourne, Mass. He is a contributor to

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bob Dylan “On a Night Like This”

From time to time, I'm inviting other voices to contribute to Every Day I Write The Blog, to speak on their area of expertise. Here's the All Time Top 5 Songs Mentioning Coffee, written by Guest Blogger Alex Scofield of Coffee Hero . . .

Bob Dylan wrote and performed “One More Cup of Coffee,” but I still consider “On a Night Like This” to be his quintessential coffee song:

On a night like this
I’m so glad you came around
Hold on to me so tight
And heat up some coffee grounds

This is some true love for coffee. Dylan is going to spend the night with someone he loves. There’s much to talk about, and they’re going to brew up coffee for the long night ahead. Later on in the song, he says:

On a night like this
I can’t get any sleep

Further proof that Dylan was serious about getting caffeinated.

On a week like this, when the New Orleans Saints reached the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, I would be remiss if I didn’t make the following confession – my introduction to this song was not the original, but rather Buckwheat Zydeco’s awesome cover. And, with all due respect for the original, and all due apologies to extreme Dylan fanatics, I kinda prefer Buckwheat’s version.

Alex Scofield
is a freelance writer who lives in Bourne, Mass. He is a contributor to

Monday, January 25, 2010

Squeeze “Black Coffee in Bed”

From time to time, I'm inviting other voices to contribute to Every Day I Write The Blog, to speak on their area of expertise. So without further ado, here's the All Time Top 5 Songs Mentioning Coffee, written by Guest Blogger Alex Scofield of Coffee Hero . . .

Let’s begin with the obvious. This is the Alpha and the Omega of coffee songs, probably the first one that comes to mind for rock fans who think of “coffee tunes.” The title alone seems to speak volumes. Someone is clearly a serious coffee drinker – no cream, no sugar, and hard-up enough to drink it in bed.

Oddly enough, I’ve never been a huge fan of this song. Running down the checklist, this is the type of tune I should like; everything is there:

* ‘80s new-wave/Brit-pop song? Check
* Beloved by several friends with rock-solid musical taste? Check.
* Revered, but not overplayed? Check.
* Top-notch cameos? Check – Elvis Costello and Paul Young sing backup vocals on the studio version.
* Unquestionable coffee bona fides? Check.

Instrumentally, though, “Black Coffee in Bed” doesn’t sound like the work of a coffee fiend. The song is leisurely-paced, and just a bit too perky and bright – the kind of stuff that’s tough for me to stomach until after having downed a morning coffee cup or seven.

After scrutinizing the lyrics, I figured something out: This isn’t a song about somebody who drinks coffee in bed; it’s a song about somebody who used to drink coffee in bed – or, merely someone whose ex used to drink black coffee in bed.

There’s nothing of your love
That I’ll ever miss
The stain on my notebook
Remains all that’s left
Of the memory of late nights
And coffee in bed

So that’s why this song wields neither pre-caffeine grumpiness, nor post-caffeine wired-ness. Black coffee is drunk only in a memory, not in the present. The song essentially tells an ex, “I’m over you, and I’ve moved on,” although the truth of this is debatable. If coffee stains on a notebook dredge up such strong memories, is he really over this relationship?

Alex Scofield
is a freelance writer who lives in Bourne, Mass. He is a contributor to

Friday, January 22, 2010

The’s “Woo Hoo”

The gist of this blog is that I pick a song at random, or sometimes not at random, and write about what it makes me think of, be it a friend or a time in my life, a question it poses or a truth it speaks to.

Unfortunately, living such a visual age, the thing that springs to mind isn’t particularly personal at all. And horrifyingly, it’s often completely commercial.

I can remember when Eric Clapton offered one of his songs for a beer commercial, some time in the 1980s. I was horrified.

I was horrified that he would take a song I liked, and attach it forever in my mind, to a product.

Even more insidious, is the now ubiquitous use of unknown songs for commercials.

I know, had I heard this elsewhere, I would have been all over this punchy little slice of kitschy pop-punk, but the first place I heard this version of "Woo Hoo" it was in a commercial. And that commercial pops to mind every time I hear the song.

It’s so depressing that I just want to drink me a Michelob.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ringo Starr “Walk With You”

It’s easy to dismiss Ringo. But give him some credit. Can you name another non-songwriting musician, who, in the wake of his band’s breakup, has put out 15 solo records?

He only wrote 2 Beatles songs. He was not a composer. He certainly doesn’t need the money. But he presses on, writing songs, making records and touring.

I’m not saying that you should consider that he’s this amazing songwriter that we’re all over-looking. I’m just saying, Give The Man Credit For Trying, especially since he doesn’t have to.

Check out his new song, with Paul McCartney guesting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

J Geils Band “I Do”

Aging, and realizing you are aging, is a process of crossing thresholds and passing landmarks. I crossed a threshold this winter.

I was in conversation with an unnamed co-worker. Our music tastes have plenty of overlap, though I am slightly older. I felt we were peers on many levels, until she read a concert listing and asked:

“Who is J. Geils?” And she mispronounced Geils, so it rhymed with “miles.”

She’d never heard of them. Yikes.

Growing up, The J. Geils Band was one of my favorites, so a part of my life I could not imagine that a music fan who had even the tiniest bit in common with me, wouldn’t know who they were.

Then I realized: The last time The J. Geils Band had a Top 40 hit was when “I Do” came out in 1982.

My co-worker is a college graduate, but wasn’t even born in 1982!

I am apparently more than slightly older.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ryan Bingham “The Weary Kind”

While I have some pretty mixed personal feelings about Award Shows (too much emphatic attention paid to something so trifling), professionally, I do feel some need to pay attention. I mean, my job as a DJ, is to live between the songs on the air, and provide some context, to make the radio listening experience a level above that of just listening to your iTunes list.

So I do make an effort to watch the Award Shows that have a music category featuring mvy-related artists. And this year’s Golden Globe nominees had a few favorite faces involved, including Paul McCartney and U2.

When I watch the shows, I’m watching them both as a fan, and as a professional.

As a fan, I was very happy to see young Ryan Bingham win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. He is a great up-and-coming talent. The song was produced by T Bone Burnett, who’s work I love and respect enormously. And it features the underappreciated guitarist Stephen Bruton, who was dying of cancer as he worked on this song and the Soundtrack on which it appears.

But professionally, I felt a deep pain for my good friends at Lost Highway Records.

Lost Highway Records is a really wonderful label that features (mostly) Americana artists of the highest caliber---folks like Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett, and even Van Morrison. All of whom are enormously talented, but also famously difficult, known for being either for being picky, particular or prickly.

And the folks at Lost Highway are fully aware of who they are working with. I’d had a bad experience (minor) with one of their artists and was relaying my dismay. Assuring me he understood how I felt, my label friend joked, “Believe me, no one hates our artists as much as we do.”

So Ryan Bingham’s name is called as the winner at the Golden Globes. This is exactly the kind of spontaneous “who’s that kid who bested Paul McCartney and Bono” TV moment that can catapult an artist to a whole new audience.

T Bone Burnett ambles to the stage, looking lost. He stalls. He says a few words. He looks into the lights.

No Ryan Bingham.

I don’t know if Ryan was in the bathroom, or smoking a cigarette, or running scared, but I know that he was not on that stage, and that millions and millions of people were not watching this young talent.

And my professional self thought of my poor friends at Lost Highway, who, I’m sure, had gone from a tremendous high to a crushing low, in a matter of seconds.

Opportunity, blown.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cibo Matto "Birthday Cake"

I remember thinking this record was super-cool when it came out in 1996. Cute and clever and grooving and hip.

A dozen years later, I kinda think I was acting like a hipster jerk. The phrase that popped to mind as I was listening to this, was “off-key caterwauling” which I believe Mr. Burns used to describe the Beatles.

It’s harmless, but it’s silly to pretend that this is really, really listenable, and more than just a novelty.

I hope to God that when I hit 50, I don’t look back at what I like today and say “Ugh, I had such ‘forty-something’ hipster taste back in 2009”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Randy Newman “Rednecks”

Yesterday I was writing about this Randy Newman song in relation to a Bruce Hornsby tune, and I thought I’d continue on some of the thoughts started in that last post.

You may not have ever heard this song before if you don’t own a Randy Newman album, because it’s certainly never going to get played on the radio.

If I tell you that the song is a scathing indictment of hypocritical Northerners’ racism, from the perspective of a Southerner, you might think, “Hey, that’s something I’d be interested in hearing.”

But if I tell you that the song features, prominently and frequently, the word “Nigger,” are you less likely to want to cozy up to it?

Volumes have been written about the word and its uses and abuses, but in the musical world I live it, I don’t have to deal with it too much. It just doesn’t appear too often in the songs of artists we love at mvyradio.

But occasionally, I have to confront it. And, honestly, I find it hard to be consistent.

A few years ago, I received a withering rebuke from a listener who had heard me play Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” Someone had requested the tune that day, and I was happy to play it, but unsure of how to handle the Dylan lyric “he was just a crazy nigger.” When the line clicked by, I flipped the volume off and on, as a hand-made “bleeping” out of the offensive word.

The listener was extremely offended that I would a) edit Dylan and b) think that the use of "Nigger” in the context of Dylan’s narrative, was offensive.

I have to admit, I have made the “Context” argument before.

A friend of mine told me he was protesting a movie because he’d heard that it contained multiple uses of a slur he (and I, and probably you) found offensive. I asked him if context mattered, or if the word was never appropriate to use. He said Never. I asked if, in the movie, it was Hitler who said, “I hate those damn (slur)s!” Would it then be okay to use an offensive word, because it showed the character to be an offensive person? My friend thought about it, but held his position. Even in that context, he felt it was a word that no one should use. I disagreed, but do concede that there are lots of folks out there who hold his position.

I wrote the “Hurricane” complainant an email that explained that while the use of “Nigger” in the context of the Dylan’s story was entirely appropriate, he had to realize that most people are not immersed in a song and its story, when they’re listening to the radio. It was a hot summer day, and as I was spinning the track, I was imagining how that line, out of context, would sound coming through the speakers of say, The Black Dog Bakery, where they, like many, many other businesses, pipe mvyradio through the store speakers.

Context does matter. Not only within the lyrics of the song, but the context in which the song is heard, or only partially heard. There’s a great exchange in an interview with comedian Artie Lange, where he talks about someone who was offended by his act, but only because the person only heard part of the comedy bit.

My argument absolutely did not win over my critic, and he let me know it, one more time, with a disgusted follow up email.

I had another harsh critic that day. Myself.

If I feel the need to edit “Hurricane,” how have I allowed Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” to air all these years, unedited? Why is the line “One more widow, one less white nigger” any less offensive? Inconsistency undercuts any moral authority I might try to project.

So back to Randy Newman. Viewing it as a Program Director, there’s just no way mvyradio could play this. In any context, if I play it on the air it’s going to read as offensive.

It’s offensive in the simple use of the word “Nigger.” It’s offensive to Northerners, for calling them all racists. It’s offensive to Southerners, for portraying them as racists. It’s offensive in context and out of context. It’s hard to find an angle where it’s NOT offensive.

However, viewing it as a lover of art, that’s the beauty of this song. Randy Newman has crafted something that is viewed as offensive from all angles, an incredible feat unto itself. But most importantly, it’s offensive from the most important angle of all---his ultimate point rings incredibly true.

Hear clips from all three songs mentioned in this post:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bruce Hornsby “In The Low Country”

In my mid-20s, through a series of life twists and turns, I found myself working at a radio station in the most western part of the state of Virginia, right on the Tennessee border. I’d been a lifelong New Englander, and had my ideas about the American South.

My 7 years living there both confirmed my ideas, and completely challenged those ideas.

I worked for a bright, educated, well-read, thoughtful, liberal family. And at every opportunity, they caused me to consider the stereotype of a Southerner, and to reject it.

Does the stereotype exist? Yes it does. Yes, in the South there are pick-up driving, country music loving, under-educated, super-religious, right wing folks, who are pretty much exactly like the people TV might lead you to believe were in the South.

And truthfully, there are a lot of Southerners who embrace that image, and try to own it, whether they live up to it or not. Bright, educated, well-read, thoughtful, liberal folks who would still readily identify themselves as Rednecks.

My friends were quick to reject that kind of simplified categorization of themselves, or the part of the world they live in. And in a town full of doctors and lawyers and college professors, it became pretty evident to me that my preconceived notions about Southerners were pretty limiting. I, myself, learned to be vigilant about stereotypes, assumptions and pigeonholing.

I’ve especially kept an ear out for it in Country Music, where some artists will sing songs that are intentionally crafted to fit an anti-intellectual, jingoistic, good ol’ boy/girl image. Songs and artists like this serve to reinforce a stereotype that, like all stereotypes, at best over-simplifies who people are and at worst limits who they can be.

So what to do about this new Bruce Hornsby song, “In The Low Country”?

Hornsby is from Virginia, too, albeit from the other side of the state, in the eastern, Tidewater area. And in this new song, he sings in the first person, as a Southern stereotype. A gun-toting, squirrel-skinning, booze drinking, wrasslin’-watching, NASCAR conservative.

Certainly, this is a tongue-in-cheek performance from Bruce, that recalls, in a more subtle way, Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”

And that’s the problem. The subtlety. I think Hornsby is singing this tongue-in-cheek, but that’s only after listening to the song a number of times, and closely reading the lyrics.

That’s not how most people listen to a song on the radio. They’re driving or working or cooking with the radio on. They’re not listening with a critical ear.

And in that case, does a song like this serve to support the stereotype, rather than skewer it?

Does hearing the hook, “Having a ball in the Low Country” and picking up on lyrics like “Hunt ′em, kill ′em, put ′em on a mat” reinforce an unfair cliché?

I’m struggling with the idea about adding this song to rotation. What do you think?

See this previous post, for details on how a song gets into rotation on mvyradio, then let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ellis Paul “Annalee”

It’s nice to be reminded about why you like an artist.

My friend Scott took me to see Ellis Paul this weekend at The Narrows.

Ellis’ previous records have been on the Rounder/Philo label, but his new album “The Day Everything Changed” was funded thanks to over $100,000 in donations from his fans.

It’s always good to catch an artist in concert right around the time of a record release. The new songs are fresh, but not so perfect they become airless, and there is a loose, exciting vibe, as the artist plays around with the new material.

I’ve seen Ellis perform before, and if you had asked me before Saturday night, what makes him special, I would have said “He’s a really great songwriter, with a clear, beautiful voice.”

Seeing him this weekend brought those thoughts into sharper focus for me.

Ellis Paul has a clear, beautiful voice, that never gets in the way of what a great songwriter he is.

I started thinking about some of Ellis’ contemporaries, whose voices are The Show. With incredible range and control, their performance is about their voice. Which I’m not putting down. I love hearing an incredible voice, put to the challenge.

But in all of his performance on Saturday, never once did Ellis use his voice in anything but of service to his songs. There were no “Hey Mom, Look What My Voice Can Do!” octave jumps or vocal runs. Even though his voice has the range and the beauty, there were no theatrics.

And the new songs sounded strong. As a thank you to all who supported the making of this new record, he’s made the first single available for free download at Amazon. You’ll have to sign in to Amazon, and download their player (it only takes a minute), but it’s otherwise free.

And check this link some time after January 18th. mvyradio will post the concert in our Narrows archives, so you can stream it for free.

And here's a really funny video about the making of the album cover:

Watch through to the end, to get another free song.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jimi Hendrix “The Star Spangled Banner”

I had a real, visceral, reaction, to just seeing this song mentioned in print on a track listing last week. And as so often is the case, one post begets another.

I was doing research on “Rattle And Hum” by U2 last week, and was reminded that U2 used a snippet of Jimi Hendrix’ take on our National Anthem on their record.

And I was immediately taken back to what is perhaps the moment in my music career that I regret more deeply than any other.

It was just a couple of days after September 11th. And people were just, just, just barely coming out of shock, to begin to mount some level of emotional response to such an overwhelming tragedy.

Somewhere, someone came up with the idea that all radio station across the country should play “The Star Spangled Banner” at the same time, as a show of solidarity, patriotism and strength.

On any other week of the year, I would have discussed exactly how to handle the delivery of this piece of music, the words I would use around it, and the context to give it, with Barbara Dacey.

In the Fall 2001, Barbara was mvyradio’s seasoned, tested, thoughtful Program Director. She oversaw all decisions about what went on the air and how it was delivered. And had the terrorist attacks of 2001 happened on any other week, Barbara would have known the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, Barbara was on vacation, in New York State, no less, when it all happened. She was able to coordinate and shape much of our coverage that week by phone. And in hindsight, I should have talked to her about how to handle the playing of the National Anthem.

Instead, trying to take the initiative, I looked around the studio, and realized that the only version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that we seemed to own, was the Jimi Hendrix version.

My thought process went > “It’s Rock N Roll” > “mvyradio plays Jimi Hendrix” > “It will sound better than an orchestral version” > “I’ll play it.”

Not 20 seconds in, I knew I had done the wrong thing.

Jimi Hendrix’ version of “The Star Spangled Banner” is one of the most passionate pieces of modern rock guitar ever committed to tape.

Unfortunately, the passion being expressed is passionately angry. The song is violent and defiant and tremendously noisy.

It is not what we needed, so soon after such pain. And I knew it as soon as I heard it.

I got a call from a listener who was horrified, at the terrible, terrible version of our Anthem.

But even more vividly, my girlfriend at the time, who was also a co-worker, came into the studio, with an almost tearful expression, and said simply, “Not today. This wasn’t a song for today.”

I will tell you that I got compliments too. Encouragement from folks who thought “defiance” WAS the appropriate emotion of the day.

But I knew I had done the wrong thing. I knew that it was the wrong song for the wrong moment, and that people who had perhaps turned to the radio for solidarity and patriotism and strength, and the comfort that comes from having those things, were instead assaulted.

And when I hear that song, which is one of the greatest musical acts of rebellious patriotism, I can only hear the day I failed most egregiously at what I expect from myself every day on the air: to connect with people and bring them comfort and pleasure.

Hear the full version

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rodrigo Y Gabriela “Buster Voodoo”

One of those funny DJ challenges is what to do about foreign names. Do you translate them?

Rodrigo Y Gabriela is the name of the duo. But in one of the databases here at the station, someone changed their name to Rodrigo And Gabriela.

And that’s technically correct. I don’t make much sense to use the “Y” article, when you can just say “And.”

But then where do you draw the line?

Do you call them “The Lobos” instead of “Los Lobos”? Or just “The Wolves”? As in “You’re listening to mvyradio, and here are The Wolves singing that old Richie Valens song ‘The Bamba.’” (Okay, I don't know what a Bamba is)

And some DJs don’t get the translation stuff at all. It drives me absolutely crazy anytime I hear (and oh, yes, I’ve heard it many times) a DJ say, “Here’s a new song from The Los Lonely Boys,” which translates to “The The Lonely Boys.”

So please enjoy this sample of “Buster Voodoo” from The Rodrigo and Las Gabriela.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Eagles “Hotel California”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .

(I’ll just say up front: today’s entry gets graphic. So if you’re the kind of person that covers your eyes during horror movies and/or sex scenes, best skip today’s post)

I remember the disquiet I felt as a kid, hearing “Hotel California.” At 8 or 9 years old, I certainly could not have gleaned that the song was about the excess of the West Coast Music industry and the trap that the “Everything, all the time” (to quote a different Eagles song) could become.

Even at that tender age, I understood that The Hotel wasn’t a really place, but a spooky, spectral metaphoric location of the soul. The line, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” was like a line from a horror movie to my young self.

And the line “They stab it with their steely knives” was just more Slasher-movie imagery, for my early understanding of the song.

Much later, as I moved into my Song Nerd phase, I learned that “Stab it with their steely knives” was a playful reference to Steely Dan. The Dan had mentioned the Eagles in one of their songs (“Everything You Did”), so the Eagles returned the favor, by slipping in a sly reference.

My hazy 20s brought me to that part of your life where you discover Carlos Castaneda, Lester Bangs and Lenny Bruce, and William Burroughs. It was a Burroughs fan who filled me in to the fact that Steely Dan took its name from “Naked Lunch.”

In that book, the Steely Dan is a metal dildo. Which, in my 20s, was pretty funny, to think that this mainstream band was named after a self-pleasuring device.

But it wasn’t until many years later that I put all of this information all together, to form one, very disturbing image, that makes it hard for me to listen to “Hotel California” without feeling queasy.

“They stab it with their steely knives.”

If the steely knife is actually a metal dildo, and there is stabbing involved, then . . . well it’s just too graphic to describe any further. Sorry. Hope I didn’t permanently ruin the song for you.

Hear full live versions of "Hotel California" and "Everything You Did", here

From time to time on Every Day I Write The Blog, I do a week’s worth of my five favorite songs on theme. For the All Time Top Five rules, see this previous post.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

U2 “A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .


Yesterday’s post was about a U2 song that I thought was about a hotel, but wasn’t. I was ready to move on to what is arguably the most famous Hotel/Motel song, “Heartbreak Hotel” (you could make the case for “Hotel California” being as well known), but I was a bit stuck, feeling like I had nothing new to say about Elvis Presley. I went to the internet for some research and inspiration.

Was it just yesterday that I was mocking the completist-ness of the internet? That need to catalog everything that a band or a person or a chinchilla has ever done or said or thought?

I take it all back, because while looking up the Elvis song, I was reminded about this U2 B-side, from the same album at “Hawkmoon 269”!

“Rattle And Hum” was U2’s overt exploration of American music, and the American sounds of U2’s music. It also had no shortage of tributes to other artists and personalities.

There is the B.B. King performance on “When Love Comes To Town.” And the live take of the Martin Luther King tribute, “Pride.”

There are a couple of swipes at ugly Americans, as Bono “steals back” the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter” from Charles Manson, and castigates controversial John Lennon biographer Albert Goldman in “God Part II.”

Jimi Hendrix himself is on the record, in a snippet of his version of “The Star Spangled Banner” and U2 uses the Hendrix-style version of “All Along The Watchtower” instead of the simpler Dylan-style version.

But Bob Dylan gets his due with a co-write on “Love Rescue Me” and even makes an appearance on yesterday’s post, playing organ on “Hawkmoon 269” (Thanks again, Internet completists!).

And “Angel Of Harlem” is the band’s tribute to Billie Holiday.

I guess it should come as no surprise that, since U2 famously record many, many more songs per session than will fit on a record, that the B-sides might be tributes, too.

“A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel” was the B-side to the “Angel Of Harlem,” and rediscovering this track invites me to think about U2’s fascination with Elvis Presley.

The lyrics seem to evoke Elvis, or an Elvis-like character (yes, I mean Bono) who, like Judy Garland (whose also mentioned in the song), is willing to let the world suck the life out of him for the joy of attention, which actually only leads to the sadness of The Heartbreak Hotel.

And this wasn’t the first Elvis song U2 had created.

There was “Elvis Presley And America” on “The Unforgettable Fire” record, a few years earlier, which was recorded in one take, as Bono improvised lyrics about Elvis during his Fat Period.

And, under The Passengers moniker, U2 and Brian Eno wrote the cheeky “Elvis Ate America” whose lyrics push even further to parody.

While the band also loves Johnny Cash, you’d have to think that a large part of deciding to record the studio tracks for “Rattle And Hum” at Sun Studios in Memphis, had to do with their love of Elvis.

So where does Elvis fit in to the U2 picture? If you’re one of the biggest bands of all time, you’d have to take a moment and draw some parallels between yourself and perhaps the most famous of all famous folks.

And while you might be tempted to connect what makes both of you successful or beloved or memorable, that’s not what U2 seems to do.

Instead--if these 3 songs are here to make the case--Elvis comes as a cautionary tale, to remind U2 that success and excess are a path to self-parody and isolation.

My wife said something about Bono many years ago, that I’ll paraphrase here. She was making a counter-point to someone who had talked about what a big ego Bono has.

She pointed out that his ego was enormous, compared to the average person, but so was his amount of humility and empathy, and the hugeness of that side of Bono, provided ballast for the ego, making it alright.

So when you listen to these songs, wonder if Bono isn't imagining himself as Elvis, glad that it's just a character in a song, and not what he's become.

Hear "A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel" and most of the rest of the songs in this post, here.

From time to time on Every Day I Write The Blog, I do a week’s worth of my five favorite songs on theme. For the All Time Top Five rules, see this previous post.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

U2 “Hawkmoon 269”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .

Throwing a monkey wrench into this post: Turns out this song is not really about a motel room.

I’d heard, years and years ago, that this song was inspired by an experience Bono had at a hotel called “The Hawkmoon” in room #269.

And I’d always assumed that to be the truth. If you check out the lyrics, it would make perfect sense that Bono (or the narrator), who is desperately begging for “your love” would be telling you how much he needs it, in a hotel room. What other explanation is there for the name?

Well, it turns out there is quite a handful of explanations.

While trying to research where this non-existent hotel might be, I ended up down the rabbit-hole of U2 fan site theorists.

Maybe the title has to do with the number of times the song was remixed (269 times). Maybe it has to do with a Sam Shepard book. Maybe it is something only in Bono’s head.

What’s fascinating is that this information exists at all. The internet is just an amazing thing. To have access to this information is incredible. That someone, and groups of someones, took the time to compile this information, gleaned from interviews and articles and appearances and such, to provide definitive answers to questions of U2 minutiae, is stunning, particularly because, until you stop and think about it, here in 2010, such things are pretty mundane.

Imagine if the internet were available when something like “Ode To Billie Joe” came out in the 60s?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Paul Westerberg “A Star Is Bored”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .

It’s hard to feel bad for rock stars when they complain, mope or moan.

Like star ballplayers or actors, if you get paid handsomely to be creative, do a job that most folks would love to do for free, and get to live is a general state of arrested development, you really aren’t going to garner much sympathy from me, or from the general public.

But I think that disdain for the complaints of the wealthy, the successful and/or the gifted, are because we judge the surface circumstances of these famous folks.

No doubt, there is much glamour to the existence of folks who make a living singing songs. It ain’t diggin’ ditches, that’s for sure.

But I wonder what it would do to the humanity of any of us, to live like a rock star for six months.

Paul Westerberg seems to hit that right on the head, here, with “A Star Is Bored.”

The title of the song, right off the bat, seems dismissive and sarcastic, toward the rock star (Paul, himself?) that he paints in this song.

But again, what would become of you, if every night you woke up in a different hotel room, not sure of what city you were in, or where you were.

Would you become completely depersonalized, if people on the street reacted to Your Fame when they saw you---without any concept of who You are? And especially, would you not feel out of your body if folks were simply interested in you, not because they admire your work, but because they wonder “Are you famous?”

Is there something soul-crushing about having meal after meal served by strangers in your strange room, then leaving the dishes in the hall, to be removed by folks unseen?

Again, “Rock Star” doesn’t make the list of 100 Worst Jobs You Could Have. Maybe not even the 1000 Worst Jobs.

But think about the 22 hours of the day you’d live off stage, and wonder what toll it might take on your psyche.

Read the lyrics to “A Star Is Bored.”

See Paul sing it live, here

From time to time on Every Day I Write The Blog, I do a week’s worth of my five favorite songs on theme. For the All Time Top Five rules, see this previous post.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Big Star “Motel Blues”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .

From time to time on Every Day I Write The Blog, I do a week’s worth of my five favorite songs on theme. For the All Time Top Five rules, see this previous post.

This track is from a live, Big Star CD. Which means I am compelled to say two things:

First, I’ll point out that I think this is the first time where I am repeating an album. I wrote about the song “In The Street” a while back, when a listener told me that it was the worst song he’d ever heard.

Secondly, any mention of Big Star comes with a requisite background explanation.

Big Star was a band formed in Memphis in the early 70s. Despite critical acclaim, their records were poorly promoted, and subsequently sold few copies. They broke up, but became an influential cult favorite to artists like R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, The Gin Blossoms, Wilco and more. This Cult Cred culminated this past year, with a huge boxed set, issued by Rhino Records.

Part of the first Big Star renaissance, when Rykodisc records reissued their 3 proper albums in the early nineties, included the album simply titled “Live,” a long lost live-on-the-radio appearance by the band.

Big Star was led by Alex Chilton, who, at the time of the recording, was already an industry vet. As a 16-year-old, he became the lead singer of The Box Tops, and recorded the vocals for one of the all-time great Rock N Roll songs, “The Letter.” Unfortunately, the exploitation of his talent, at the hands of The Biz, left the now 22-year-old Chilton pretty jaded. When asked by the WLIR radio host on this live recording, what the music business was like back when he recorded “The Letter,” Chilton responded, “Kinda scummy. Like now.”

So it seems only fitting that the band would take on another famously blunt, occasionally cranky songwriter’s tune. Loudon Wainwright The Third’s song “Motel Blues” had only been released a year earlier at this point, but the attitude was right for Chilton.

It’s only a few lines, but, like so many good songwriters, clean strokes paint the images clearly and quickly. World weary, deglamorized and just a little desperate, Big Star makes this song fit nicely alongside similar tracks penned by themselves like “Thirteen” and “I’m In Love With A Girl.”

Hear clips of all the songs mentioned in this post:

Hear the song, set to some rare, random Big Star footage, and hear Loudon Wainwright sing it 30-plus years after he wrote it.

And read a recent interview, where Loudon suggests how he might update the lyrics (at the bottom of the article).

Buy Big Star “Live” or buy ”Keep An Eye On The Sky” boxed set.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Aerosmith "Krawhitham"

This, right here, is what being in a band is: The Reality.

The Reality is not about the music video dream of limousines and screaming fans and smashing hotel TVs.

The Reality is not the Rock N Roll Fantasy of playing your songs with passion under hot lights and exploring your artistic sensibility.

Here's what it's really like to be in a band.

You're in the rhythm section. Sure, you write. But you're in the band with some superstar talent who can really create the A material.

Unfortunately, you're band is also in the throws of deep drug and alcohol abuse. Sure you've rented out a convent to record your new album, but what are you supposed to do when your principle songwriters are off somewhere self-medicating?

Well, you can fart around in the studio, I guess.

"Krawhitham" is Aerosmith's Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton, killing time in the studio. When they were waiting for Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to show up with what would become Aerosmith material, they'd lay down grooves, to keep themselves sharp, occupied and interested.

Killing time. That's the reality of being in a band.

Hear the whole song on Youtube.