Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: I Am Stretched On Your Grave

In case anyone’s forgotten that Sinéad O’Connor is a genius

On Neko Case’s newsletter Entering the Lung (which I recommend to everybody, even if — or especially if — you’re not already a fan of Neko Case!), she’s been writing about how profoundly she was affected by Sinéad O’Connor’s albums Lion and the Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

That reminded me of the first time I heard the latter, over 30 years ago (!), and how striking it was to be expecting a late 80s/early 90s pop album and to suddenly hear O’Connor’s version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave.”

It’s remarkable even on the surface level, and this clip from a concert video shows why. In case it gets removed from YouTube: It’s just O’Connor alone on the stage, singing a haunting folk song over a recording of a drum loop and bass. Occasionally the lights will flash along with the accented drum beats, casting huge shadows on the back wall as if to visually represent what an outsized presence O’Connor has on stage. I love the song, and it’s my favorite from a record I’d only bought because one track was such a big hit that everyone in the US in 1990 was required to own a copy. The traditional fiddle solo by Steve Wickam at the end indirectly introduced me to The Waterboys, which hit me right at the peak of my obsession with the Pogues and Irish folk/punk/pop music.

I only learned today that O’Connor’s version wasn’t a contemporary take on a traditional folk song, but a cover. The words are an English translation of a 17th-century Irish poem, and they were set to a folk tune by Philip King of the band Scullion in 1979. This counts as a Tuesday Two-Fer because the two versions are similar on the surface, but put into context, are remarkably different. The difference reveals the brilliance of O’Connor’s version, which I’m only just appreciating now.

Both are essentially a capella, to accentuate both the power of the singer’s voice and the power of the original poem. It’s full of the dark, sinister imagery of a gothic romance. And it’s resolutely Irish, celebrating and preserving the culture by reinterpreting it for a contemporary audience.

If Sinéad O’Connor had just done all of that and thrown “Funky Drummer” into the mix, it would’ve been brilliant enough. But she takes ownership of the song, not just as a showcase for her voice and her talent at production, but as a creepy interlude on an album full of songs about the things important to her. It’s easier to see now how it fits into the work of a defiantly anti-pop-star artist who was too talented not to be famous. And how she insisted on using her fame to highlight the things she felt passionately about, even as that fame was working hard to destroy her.

For one thing, it’s telling that it’s on the same record as “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a pop song that can’t help being good just because Prince wrote it, but still feels shallow in comparison. That song still wallows in the romanticism of someone pining over a failed relationship, while “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” goes hardcore into all-consuming obsessive grief. Like Kate Bush’s deliberately eerie voice in “Wuthering Heights,” O’Connor howls to suggest not a grief-stricken man, but a banshee doomed to eternally haunt the grave of her lover.

And there’s another layer when it’s put into the context of an album with songs about divorce1“The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” is my second favorite song on the record. Damn, what a good record!, pregnancy, motherhood, independence, and identity. O’Connor doesn’t change the gender of the poem, and leaving it intact acts as an indictment of entrenched misogyny that could be easily overlooked if it were presented as a man singing a traditional folk song:

Oh, and thanks be to Jesus
We did what was right
And your maiden head still
Is your pillar of light

Without changing a word, she drains it of any capacity for being interpreted as a love that transcends death. It becomes the lament of a madman who based his lover’s value on her virginity and her fertility. It comes across not as the loss of a soulmate, but the loss of property.

And yet, it’s not just a simplistic, facile rejection, either. I love that at the end of that concert performance, at the point the traditional fiddle solo takes over, she doesn’t turn the stage over to the soloist. Instead, she does an Irish dance over the recording. It seems to suggest that this isn’t just about the music itself and her arrangement; it’s about her. It’s a part of her heritage, one that she wants to share and celebrate.

The media tried hard to reduce Sinéad O’Connor to all the things that made her weird, as if she were nothing more than an angry bald-headed woman who made grand-standing gestures like tearing up a picture of the Pope on live TV. But there’s a complexity implicit in her music and the way she presented it, deeper than the nihilism of punk and deeper than the simple dichotomies of the present, when people seem eager to reject outright everything they find problematic. I don’t see any hint of irony in O’Connor’s Irish dance; I think she genuinely loves the spirit of rebellion and love of music and poetry that’s part of Irish culture, even if it’s a culture that had a history of trying to destroy people like her. Now I respect that she remained defiantly herself; her version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” suggests “in a couple of decades, you might be able to understand this.”

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    “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” is my second favorite song on the record. Damn, what a good record!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Kutiman Mash-ups

Today’s episode of Tuesday Tune Two-fer is unique, and requires a special introduction.

Kutiman, master of the video-remix, embraced the spirit of Tuesday Tune Two-fer by posting a ton of short mash-ups using video clips of famous musicians jamming.

My favorites are “Herbie Collins” with Herbie Hancock on organ and Phil Collins on drums, and “Sabbath Boys” mashing up “Intergalactic” and “War Pigs.”

YouTube isn’t letting me embed the latter one, though, so instead I’ll include this short, pleasant combination of two eras of Eurovision.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: It’s Tricky

Two tangentially-related tunes for Tuesday, to remind me how I was so much more blissfully ignorant before Wikipedia

There’s a new 10-year anniversary version of Foster the People’s album Torches out now, which is weird because I’d swear it only came out 5 years ago, and also because I’m still somehow 35 years old. That made me think of my favorite track from an album full of great tracks, “Houdini.”

Which reminded me of the first time I heard the song, while watching my boyfriend (now fiance) play SSX Tricky at his apartment. Except that song wasn’t in Tricky, it was in the version of SSX that came out 10 years later in 2012.

But that already had me thinking about the record producer Tricky, who as I’ve known for years, produced my favorite Björk album, Post, with his style being most evident in “Army of Me.” Except he didn’t; that song was produced by Graham Massey and Nellee Hooper.

In reality, Tricky is credited as producer on “Enjoy.” Which isn’t my favorite track on the record, but it’s memorable and great for the album’s overall pacing. Plus I appreciate how much she commits to the subjunctive in the lyrics. Is “I wish this be enough” grammatically correct? I dunno, but it doesn’t matter if you can make it work!

This wildly careening train of thought is proof that my memory isn’t the most solid, but instead of thinking about that, I’m going to focus on my abilities!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Bring Me to Torn

What could be worse than an earworm? Two earworms!

The only thing worse than getting an earworm is getting it in the form of a mash-up. This week I’ve had “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence drilling its way through my brain, and I made the mistake of listening to the version sung by Goofy (by ProZD) and then that got stuck in my head.

And because viruses mutate, over the week, this has gotten merged with “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia to form a horrible, millennium-spanning Aussie Pop/Nu-Metal hybrid:

Wake me up!
I’m all out of faith
Can’t wake up!
This is how I feel
Save me!
I’m cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor

Edited to add: I hadn’t heard any mash-ups of these songs before, but of course it’s not surprising at all that they already exist. The best one I’ve found is “Bring Me Torn Life” by Jed K.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Pop Songs 89

These next ones are the first song on their old albums

I was a freshman in college in 1988, and I had a CD player and two CDs: Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits, and Green by REM. It’s odd how even now, over 30 years later, the opening of “Rhiannon” transports me back to that dorm room, when I had no clue what I was doing but was still arrogant and optimistic enough to believe that I did.

And because I had those two CDs on constant — and I mean constant — rotation, I’m sure the opening of “Rhiannon” means something very different to my poor roommates and our neighbors. We had a downstairs neighbor who was straight-up obsessed with the song “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction, and would play it in a constant loop, to the point where that beginning bass line sends shivers up my spine to this day. I hope I managed to instill in them the same dread over the beginning to “Pop Song 89.”

Later I would go on to UGA, where cosmic justice was delivered to me in the form of having to hear “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” at least twice daily by the REM-obsessed youths of Athens, after I’d kind of gotten tired of them.

The video for “Pop Song 89” must’ve had a lot of horned-up UGA undergrads extremely twitterpated, seeing as how it had a long-haired Michael Stipe dancing shirtless in harlequin leggings (along with three also-topless women, which was likely stated to be a bold statement about the hypocrisy of American prudishness about the human body but was more likely just an excuse for Michael Stipe to dance shirtless in a video).

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Do You Remember

September 21st… that’s today!

There’s only one tune appropriate for this Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire.

For his final September 21st video, Demi Adejuyigbe made a short film about a guy who started making videos for fun until it became an annual obligation to the point where he enlisted the help of friends in TV and movie production to go all out with multiple sets and choreography and secure the song rights instead of having to use a heavily remixed/amateur version and also getting a shout out from the members of the band.

Once again, he’s used the video to promote charity donation, this year emphasizing three immediate causes: protecting access to safe abortions in Texas, recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida, and campaigning for responsible climate policy.

Try to remember to donate if you’re in a position to do so! Hey, that reminds me of a song. I was unaware that Harry Belafonte had done a fairly well-known version of “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks, which is nice to discover. I’ve liked the song ever since I had to sing it for an audition once1I did not get the part., but every version I’ve ever heard is almost cringingly white, like it’s not incidental but they’re leaning heavily into the whiteness of it.

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    I did not get the part.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: The Swedish Side-Eye

Continuing a theme for the week, I guess, with two songs from ABBA

If I’m sharing my odd pre-adolescent crushes with the internet, I should probably mention Benny Andersson. I was obsessed with ABBA as a kid, even by gay boy standards.

I’m not sure how exactly I first saw their videos — we didn’t get cable until after I’d “outgrown” them, so I guess it was Night Tracks? — but I was still impressionable enough that the one for “Take a Chance on Me” was hugely formative. One of my favorite songs being performed by a beardy man who dressed kind of like Han Solo? I was completely on board.

I’m also not sure exactly how obsession with ABBA became stereotyped as a gay thing. Obviously, the costumes were over the top, but it was the 1970s. There were plenty of glam pop and rock groups that were even more extravagant but weren’t publicly made up of straight couples. Still, the stereotype is pervasive enough that I know of multiple stores in predominantly gay neighborhoods catering to gay customers, called “Does Your Mother Know?” Which is a song that almost sounds more like Cheap Trick than ABBA.

It used to bug me that so many of the most common stereotypes applied to me; nobody likes being a basic bitch. But now there’s something kind of comforting about realizing you’ve got a common frame of reference with so many other people. As I’m looking through old videos, hearing songs that I’d completely forgotten about but somehow I can still sing along with every single word, it feels like I’ve had Agnetha Fältskog floating over my shoulder all this time, coming to me in times of trouble to whisper about good days and bad days.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Surfin’ to Space and Back

Surf Guitar and Outer Space are two great tastes that taste great together

Today’s theme for the Tune Two-Fer: Space Surf Guitar!

Although I’d heard examples of it previously, the first time I became aware of combining surf rock and sci-fi was on Space Mountain at Disneyland, when it debuted the soundtrack with Dick Dale doing a space surf version of Carnival of the Animals. It seemed like such a novelty, even though it made perfect sense: the “golden age” of surf music roughly coincided with the popularity of sci-fi B movies and TV series.

“Out of Limits” by The Marketts is the most obvious example I’ve heard; a frankly shameless surf guitar riff on the Twilight Zone theme.

I admit that I’d always just assumed that combining space and surf guitar was a novelty the Pixies invented, on Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde. In my defense, if you compare their cover of “Cecilia Ann” on Bossanova with the original by the Surftones, it does sound like the song had spent decades Earthbound until the Pixies added otherworldly organs and echoes.

The above links are from Apple Music; here are the Spotify versions, if that’s your thing:

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Ain’t No Brother Like the KID

In honor of Biz Markie, two tracks from one of my favorite albums.

“Intergalactic” from Hello Nasty (as opposed to the video version) ends with what sounds like Biz Markie demoing the style that the boys kind of ended up using in the song. (“Is that an echo?”)

Hello Nasty is easily my favorite Beastie Boys record, and it’s one of my top 10 of all time, so even if I’m mistaken and that’s not what was going on, nobody tell me. I like the memory better.

Biz Markie died last week, from severe complications from diabetes. The memorials I saw online all talked about his hit “Just a Friend,” but I’ve always thought about him in relation to Hello Nasty. That’s not back-handed or condescending. It may not be his album, but the album wouldn’t have become such a classic without him. He’s got such an outsized presence — or at least my favorite tracks — that in my mind, it’s a collaboration, not a guest appearance.

Maybe even more than “Body Movin'” and “Intergalactic,” I think my favorite track on Hello Nasty is “The Grasshopper Unit (Keep Movin’)”. On the Deluxe version of the album, there’s a neat outtake called “The Biz Grasshopper Experiment” that gives an idea how the track came together. You probably can’t go wrong if you’ve got an echo delay effect and Biz Markie as your hype man.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Groovies

If ever this country needed Cartoon Network to be cool again, that time is now

If I were to tell you that there’s a piece of music that’s running on a constant loop in the background of my brain, it’d be reasonable to assume that it’s the Innoventions Area loop from Epcot, or the theme from Space: 1999, or even Pump Up the Jam.

And those do frequently take over my capacity for thought for weeks at a time. But the one tune that lies, Cthulu-like, in the depths of my subconscious, waiting for its time to strike, is That Time Is Now by Michael Kohler. It was broadcast as a commercial bumper in the golden age of Cartoon Network, when all of us nerds of a certain age were so happy that a bunch of hipsters had gotten control of the Hanna Barbera and Warner Brothers libraries.

That remix of the Superfriends theme is what I heard in my head as a child, all the power and bombast and excitement of a show that simply didn’t warrant such cool music or Ted Knight voice-overs.

There were a ton of other impossibly cool ones, and it’s hard to pick a second favorite. The collage video warning that Atom Ant was the only thing saving us from nuclear annihilation? The impossible board game with Jonny Quest? The one that takes Josie and the Pussycats through various stages of music from the 60s to the early 2000s? I mean, their Betty Boop video for “Rolling” by Soul Coughing is what made me love the band.

But I think the one that made me feel like there was infinite potential for creative people to remix and re-imagine was Jabberjaw Running Underwater, with a song by the band Pain and a video re-imagining the Neptunes as hipsters on a lunchbox.