Two tangentially-related tunes that came out when I was 21
One of the only things that Bluesky has over Mastodon is that it’s a better home for hashtag games and “what’s your favorite?” style threads. A recent one asked everybody to name a perfect album from when they were 21, presumably for identity theft purposes, but also for fun.
It turns out that a surprising number of pretty great albums came out when I was 21 years old. One of them was Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys. I always think of that one as being one long uninterrupted song, plus “So Whatcha Want,” so it’s kind of hard to pick a stand-out. All of the tracks blend with the interstitials and samples, and I never remember individual titles.
Hard to pick a stand-out, but not impossible: “Stand Together” picks up from Peter Sichel’s comfortable study (“Mmm, it does go well with the fish.” “Delicious again, Peter.”) and builds up energy to carry through the final third of the album. I vividly remember driving through Marin County with this playing as loud as my car’s cheap stereo could handle.
That wasn’t when I was 21, though. I wasn’t cool enough to appreciate the Beastie Boys until Hello Nasty came out. In 1992, I was still heavily invested in my favorite bands from college, including the Indigo Girls. That was the year Rites of Passage came out, and the big hit from that one was “Galileo.”
I always thought they were a little underrated, even though the truth was probably more that they’ve always been exactly as successful as they wanted to be, making folk-pop songs about reincarnation. In any case, it was nice to see them have another song get as much attention as “Closer to Fine” did.
Two tangentially-related tunes to listen to while waiting for Silicon Valley to collapse
I don’t know about y’all, but I was already pretty disillusioned with Silicon Valley several years ago, when I was working as an app developer in San Francisco. I was shuffling between BART and MUNI trains with a bunch of hoodie-wearing maniacs pacing back and forth like caged tigers who couldn’t wait one more second to get to their open-office-plan desks and start disrupting shit.
And that was before I really appreciated the incredible magnitude of egomania that was running rampant among the guys making way over my pay grade, who acted like bypassing governmental regulations and selling people stuff they don’t really need were revolutionary ideas.
In fact, neither moving fast nor breaking things were all that novel. Look at Fiona Apple! Maybe no other public figure besides Sonic the Hedgehog understood what it meant to move as Fast As You Can.
Corny dad-level analogies aside, every time I hear a Fiona Apple song, I think “this is brilliant; why don’t I listen to Fiona Apple all the damn time?” And then I listen to a bunch and I remember why. She’s brilliant, but I don’t feel like I have brain chemistry balanced enough to mainline too much of it at once without going into a depressive episode.
I need to break it up with a song like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue, which I try to listen to at least once a month to keep my spirits up. If I go too long without hearing it, the never gonna get it never gonna get it starts to pick away at my brain until it’s satiated. I can’t say I’m that familiar with the rest of their music1Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent, but this song is a bona fide classic.
(One thing I’ve never understood about this video: they’ve got four of the most beautiful women working in music, with some of the most iconic costumes from the history of music videos, so why the hell do they keep cutting away from them? I understand that at this time, having quick flashes of silhouetted dancers against a solid color background was required by Music Video Law, but they could’ve just done a couple and left more time for the stars. And I tell you what: if I’d gone to the trouble of putting on a tight dress and a wig, and they told me they were going to cut away to some guy dancing in a gimp suit, I would’ve been out the door!)
And now it’s time for a breakdown!
Although “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” is also excellent
Two tangentially-related tunes to make you think of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and alternate realities
Back during my college years in Athens, a friend introduced me to the band Poi Dog Pondering, and I quickly became a big fan. They’re not so much my thing anymore — listening to them in the 2020s makes me appreciate just how much they were a product of the 1990s — but a few of their songs are still favorites, and seeing them at the Georgia Theater is still one of my all-time top concerts.
This week it seems appropriate to recall one of the best songs from their album Wishing Like a Mountain and Thinking Like the Sea, which is called “Thanksgiving.” It’s about the priceless moments that can result from bad choices, which is a recurring theme with all the multiverse stories going on these days with the Marvels and the Daniels and so on.
In college I was also introduced to the Pixies by seeing the video for “Here Comes Your Man” on 120 Minutes, buying a copy of Doolittle, and then being incensed that I’d been promised a fun college pop record and instead gotten a CD full of some guy screaming. It makes me wonder whether my life would’ve been different if I hadn’t needed to mature into an appreciation of the Pixies, but instead had understood them immediately and gone to their concert in Athens when I’d had the chance.
Probably not, although I did find out a few years ago that before I met my fiancé, we’d both been at the same Pixies concert, which makes me think that our paths were probably fated to cross at some point.
I think in all possible universes, though, my favorite Pixies song would still be “Levitate Me,” from their first EP, Come on Pilgrim. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates!
Two tangentially-related tunes we need to keep out of the hands of Zack Snyder
Today’s two tunes have something very obvious in common: I listened to them a lot during college.
“Superman” was the last song on Lifes Rich Pageant, which is REM’s best album. Anyone living in Athens in the 80s or 90s was required to be at least a passing fan of REM, but I stayed true until around Automatic for the People, which is when they lost me. Their take used Superman as metaphor, unlike:
“Superman’s Song,” which was a minor hit from Crash Test Dummies’ first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me, before they hit it pretty big with God Shuffled His Feet. They were always dancing along the razor’s edge between “interesting college radio” and “absolutely insufferable and twee,” even back in 1990s when that was The Style. I approved of this song mostly because it mentioned Solomon Grundy in the chorus.
Solomon Grundy is the best villain and never got as nearly as much radio airtime as he deserves. If you don’t recognize the title of this blog post, by the way, it’s a reference to the best thing Cartoon Network ever did.
One thing that is driving me crazy about “By Design” is that the sample of horns that gets repeated throughout sounds frustratingly familiar, like I’m this close to recognizing it from a different song, but I can never quite place it. Even if it’s not directly sampled from another song, though, it feels very much like the kind of stuff I was listening to in the early 2000s, when it felt like I was starting to discover new music again after a long hiatus.
That was around the time I got into the Beastie Boys, since I was a latecomer and only started being interested around the time of Hello Nasty1Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.. Money Mark started collaborating with the Beastie Boys starting with Check Your Head2Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet. That was enough to get me to check out his solo album Push the Button, which is still pretty solid.
My favorite track from that record is the instrumental “Destroyer,” and to this day I don’t know how he got that drum sound3I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!.
Still my favorite of their albums, not that anybody asked.
Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet
I asked him on Threads and got no response. Some people act like they’re “too busy” to respond to randos asking them open-ended questions about 20+ year old records!
Two tangentially-related tunes spending Halloween night hiding under the covers
This Tuesday lands on Halloween, so that calls for a pair of spine-tingling spooky songs raised from the very depths of… well, Van Nuys.
That’s the hometown of The Ghastly Ones, a surf guitar band that made A Haunting We Will Go-Go, which starts with a brilliant opening track assuring the listener not to be alarmed if they find themselves transformed into an evil space robot or some other monster. It instantly became a lifelong favorite just for the correct pronunciation of “robot.”
And also because of “Ghastly Stomp,” which is kind of but not exactly a surf guitar cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the theme to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I still love how much they commit to the bit, making the whole thing feel like an artifact from the 1960s, as if the vinyl release had surf rock on one side and spooky haunted house sfx on the other.
Two tangentially-related tunes in honor of my new commute
This week’s two-fer is an entry in the “this blog is a public diary” category: I got a new job, about a month ago. It’s for a company I’ve been a huge fan of pretty much my entire life, and every single person without exception was friendly and personable and welcoming throughout the whole interview process1Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area, and it pulls in aspects of every job that I’ve had to date, and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Over the past few years, I’ve frequently been reminded of just how significantly my life changed when I escaped Telltale the second time. Most significantly in terms of how I think about work: before that point, I kind of assumed that the only interesting thing about me was my job. I’ve worked on some really cool projects, for some companies I’ve liked a lot2And also some other ones!, and since that’s where I was making the most impact, that’s what I primarily focused on.
But really, that’s not good for anybody. Companies get the most long-term benefit from people who are well-rounded, and who can find ways to be productive and creative regardless of who’s paying them. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m happily keeping my job and personal life separate.
But I will say that I was interested enough in the job that I was even willing to start commuting again! I’ve been happily unemployed for most of this year, and I’d been working from home for several years before that. I’d sworn that I’d never take a job again unless I could work remotely. But now, I’m driving to Glendale!3Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
I’m pretty sure that the first I ever heard of Glendale, California was from the song “Debra” by Beck, where a guy used his Hyundai and the promise of Zankou chicken to start a three-way with a store clerk and her sister (I think her name was Debra). There’s something comforting about the fact that people have been relentlessly mocking the San Fernando Valley since before I was born, while I’m finding that it fits my sensibilities perfectly4And I aspire to own a Hyundai, thank you very much..
And now that I’m pretty regularly commuting in the 21st century on the Ventura Freeway in my electric car, I can’t help but hear “Nation on Wheels,” often known as “The Monorail Song,” but not the one from The Simpsons. Industry! The Lifeblood of America!
Which was a huge shock after my experience interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area
And also some other ones!
Which is a mercifully short commute by Los Angeles standards.
Two tangentially-related tunes for Tuesday, bringing back a series that’s just fun to do.
The other day, I fell down my own rabbit hole, so to speak, when I wanted to remember the name of a song and consulted this very blog you’re reading now! I ended up reading all of my old entries in the Tuesday Tune Two-Fer file — which was supposed to be an indefinitely ongoing series — and essentially got re-acquainted with myself from a couple of years ago, reading stuff I’d forgotten I’d written.
I wondered why I stopped doing them. The obvious reason is that my job got crazy busy, but I think the real reason is that I forgot what this blog is for. I’m happy when people read it and especially happy when they’re entertained by something in it, but mostly it’s for me. For writing practice, sure, but also as a diary that’s just public enough to encourage me to try and keep it interesting.
So I’m going to see how long I can keep it going this time. (Not to ruin the mystique of this blog or anything, but scheduling posts in advance is a huge part of the magic).
First is Three MCs and One DJ by The Beastie Boys from Hello Nasty. Back when I was getting acquainted with Mastodon, I did a little series where I posted one of my favorite music videos every day for a few weeks. It annoyed me that after I wrapped everything up, I realized I’d completely forgotten this one, which is certainly one of the best music videos of all time. (And it would’ve been the best video from the album had “Intergalactic” not existed).
I remember at the time feeling slightly annoyed that this video and the one for “Body Movin'” both used versions of the song that were different from their album version. Now, I’m really, really happy that this video, this extended gag, and this live performance (from the look and sound of it) exist as their own thing. Even if those of us who listened to the album enough to memorize it will never be able to resist adding our own “Bug out to the mic all the time!“
Continuing the theme is It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) by Eurythmics. I’d completely forgotten about this video, which suggests that Dave Stewart would keep Annie Lennox in cryogenic suspension while he went off and lived in a 1980s anime. It’s not my business to judge anybody else’s relationship, but you can kind of understand why they broke up.
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.”
“The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” is my second favorite song on the record. Damn, what a good record!
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.
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!
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.