Song of the Week- “Raymond and the Wires” by Robyn Hitchcock

When I’m not writing and recording custom songs just for you, I’m usually listening to music and I love to share what I’ve been listening to! My Song of the Week may or may not be a recent release. It might be the new discovery of a missed jewel, or a past love that has resurfaced. Regardless, it will always be the song that I listen to the most during any given week.

The last few weeks have seen an avalanche of really good new material from some classic artists. Ray Davies has released the best work of his solo career, Blondie have a solid new pop song, and I also discovered that Cindy Wilson of the B-52s is releasing new material (and touring). But the grand slam of all the recent vintage delights is the latest from Robyn Hitchcock .

 

 

I occasionally encounter people who do not like the Beatles. One trait that all of them seem to have in common is that they’re itchin’ for a fight in regards to the Beatles being considered the greatest band in rock history. One can usually silence these naysayers by asking if they can name another musical acts that has;

  1. the sheer number of great songs that the Beatles have.
  2. never put out a bad album/recorded 13 great albums in a row.

This usually elicits a series of harrumphs and guffaws, but rarely does it elicit an actual answer. I always win these arguments—but that’s because no one has ever countered my query with Robyn Hitchcock.  Whether it be with The Egyptians, The Venus Three, or by his lonesome, he has never put out a bad album, and he is possibly unmatched as far as quantity of great songs is concerned.

Whereas the Beatles became the model for pretty much every rock band that came after them and spawned a billion imitators in terms of song writing style, Robyn Hitchcock’s music and his songs are unique to the point that they’re nearly impossible to imitate. I speak with authority here because I’ve tried. He is truly one of a kind. Deceptively complex, brilliantly strange.

As rockers age, they can fall into a number of traps. Trying to re-create something they’ve lost or evolving into something that no one wants to hear are two common pitfalls. But Robyn Hitchcock has managed to remain consistent in style and quality  throughout his long career. Proof in the pudding is his new song “Raymond and the Wires”. It sounds like it could have been on 1984’s I often Dream of Trains. It is a floating low key psychedelic affair.  Lyrically he knocks it out of the park again, infusing the mundane with  poetic surrealism— matching observations with words like no one else.

So, if you see me out somewhere, you should immediately start bad-mouthing the Beatles. When I come up to you and begin my smug routine—asking you to name an artist that can match the Beatles, come at  me with Robyn Hitchcock. I will yield and let ye pass.

Song of the Week – “Wash Me Clean” by Lillie Mae

When I’m not writing and recording custom songs just for you, I’m usually listening to music and I love to share what I’ve been listening to! My Song of the Week may or may not be a recent release. It might be the new discovery of a missed jewel, or a past love that has resurfaced. Regardless, it will always be the song that I listen to the most during any given week.

Lillie Mae Rische’s accomplishments as a musician are vast. Her abilities as a fiddle player, rock solid singer, and multi-instrumentalist  have been enjoyed on A Prairie Home Companion, in Jack White’s touring band, and many places in between.  Now the world is getting to experience her skills as a songwriter!

“Wash Me Clean” has everything that I need from a country song: a straightforward structure, rich acoustic sounds, and carefully constructed lyrics. I have come to rely on alt country as a comfort zone in which I can always find words that have been carved, shaved and shaped until they express something familiar in a slightly new way. “Wash Me Clean” works through themes of regret and past traumas—but I’m not nearly as interested in analyzing the words to this song as I am in singing it, especially the catchy as hell chorus!

I heard a lot of good new songs this week. The Shins, White Reaper, Karen Elson, and The New Pornographers all graced my playlist with tracks that were contenders for my song of the week, but I had to go with the one that got me singing along. So, warm up your pipes, give “Wash me Clean” a listen and hopefully you’ll find yourself singing along too!

Here’s a running playlist of all my Song of the Week picks.

 

Song of the Week – “Tears on Fire” by Weyes Blood and Ariel Pink

When I’m not writing and recording custom songs just for you, I’m usually listening to music and I love to share what I’ve been listening to! My Song of the Week may or may not be a recent release. It might be the new discovery of a missed jewel, or a past love that has resurfaced. Regardless, it will always be the song that I listen to the most during any given week.

 

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Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood

 

There’s a lot to like about “Tears on Fire,” the lead track from Myths 002, the new collaboration between Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood. It’s weird, it’s beautiful, it’s surprising, and at times it’s even funny.

 

This four-song EP was my introduction to Weyes Blood (pronounced Wise Blood), which is the pseudonym for musician Natalie Merring. A quick perusal of her substantial solo catalog reveals an accomplished folk artist with classical leanings and a stellar voice. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with her music, not only as a means of discovery, but also because it might give me some insight into how the songwriting duties on Myths 002 were split between these two ultra-talented individuals on the EPs two original tracks.

 

I’ve been a long time admirer of Ariel Pink, but this EP has turned me into a bona fide fan. He has an incredible ear for melody, an ability to resurrect forgotten pop culture tropes and give them a modern twist, a gift for writing quirky (or not) lyrics and a sense of humor! Maybe the thing that impresses me the most about him is his ability to use the studio as an instrument to create songs with structures that twist and turn in seemingly impossible ways.

 

Tears on Fire showcases all of these skills. The lyrics are surreal and wrapped in an alluring melody accompanied by a relaxed synth and acoustic guitar. They pleasantly float by and then WHAM!—you get Weyes Blood’s soaring, otherworldly vocals fronting an explosion of sound! Ennio Morricone! Opera! Distorted guitar! There and gone before you have time to process!

 

I’m glad I heard the song before seeing the video, which emphasizes humor—and it is funny. Even without the video, Ariel Pink aping the classic rock blues yowl (think Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run”) gets me every time. But Tears on Fire is much more than funny. It’s a genuinely gorgeous and intriguing piece of music.

 

I like every song on Myths 002. I could have picked any of them to be my song of the week. But sometimes your first love is the one that breaks your heart the hardest, and in this case, that would be Tears on Fire.

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Song by Marc Meyers (Book Review)

In addition to being a custom songwriter, I’m also an avid music fan, an avid reader, and a bookseller. Here’s a review of a fun music related book that I read recently.

If, like me, you spend a lot of time in bars talking about music, you’ll find plenty of fuel for your conversations within the pages of the 2016 book, Anatomy of a Song. Say you plop yourself down at your favorite watering hole, order your drink and then “Proud Mary” comes on. You can turn to whoever’s sitting next to you (in my case, almost always a dude, wearing a Residents T-Shirt, probably talking about the X-men) and say, “Hey, did you know that the intro to this song is based on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?” If you’re friends with the bartender, you could probably get her to rewind and play the intro again. You might even be able to divert the conversation away from Wolverine and co.

 

Author Marc Myers has a clear, concise writing style and an obvious passion for music. It’s no wonder that the editors of The Wall Street Journal enlisted him when they conceived of having a column that profiled classic songs with compelling back-stories. Anatomy of a Song is a collection of these columns. Each vignette profiles a song through a short introduction and then an oral history.

 

The book’s strongest segments are the ones in which Myers gets creative with his interview choices and includes an assortment of people involved in various aspects of the song’s creation. For instance, the chapter on The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” has interviews with one of the track’s writers, the producer, a studio musician, one of the singers, and even Darlene Love, who recorded a later version of the song. It’s refreshing to hear from some of the people behind the scenes and from lesser-known performers. You not only get great anecdotes, but also glimpses into the writing process, studio techniques and more. In one case (Joni Mitchell’s  “Carey”), Myers interviews the person that the song was written about (Carey himself), which I thought was gold! Unfortunately, with some of the more prominent artists (Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, stegosaurus, iguanodon), the interviews are limited to a single person and are less intriguing. You can read interviews with rock stars anywhere. I’m more interested in the guy who played the maracas.

 

The book’s subtitle is “The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop.” Although Meyers does a great job of providing a historical backdrop for the songs, he doesn’t provide clear explanations as to how or why some of the songs live up to the subtitle’s bravado. The introductions spend a lot of time listing accolades and parroting things that are later presented in the oral histories instead of spelling out how on God’s green earth “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan changed rock (or R&B or pop). It’s the type of thing that makes me think maybe if I were smarter, I’d be able to read between the lines and understand it. Maybe people who read The Wall Street Journal are that smart. Well, as Grace Slick says on page 99, “I’m not a genius but I don’t suck.” I read a lot and know my way around rock music, but I don’t see any solid proof that “Darling Be Home Soon” by John Sebastian altered the trajectory of any genre. Maybe it does in one of those new agey “you changed the world the moment you were born” kind of ways, but not because of its content, musical structure, instrumentation, etc. I would need hard, concrete evidence presented very clearly to convince me that a number of the songs included in this book could be considered iconic much less game changers. Or maybe I just need better medication. Who knows?

Grace Slick ca. 1967
Grace Slick-She’s no genius but she doesn’t suck.
In Anatomy of a Song’s introduction, the author suggests listening to the songs from the book in chronological order to “see how the music’s branches split off into other genres.” (I did this, and you can access my playlist here.) Again, I was compelled to take Mr. Myers at his word. The songs listed are pretty baby boomer-centric and don’t shine enough light on these “other genres.” The book gives a nod to the ‘50s, focuses mainly on the ‘60s and ‘70s, barely acknowledges the ‘80s and ends arbitrarily in 1991. The list clings too tightly to classic rock, country, and soul, especially in the ‘70s, where only twice (with Blondie and The Clash) does the tide flow away from AOR and classic oldies.  The branches he mentions are presented as mere twigs, when they should have been long, luscious and full of leaves…or pine needles, depending on how much you like prog, glam, early electronica or any of the other genres not represented.

 

I appreciate that Anatomy of a Song gives heretofore undocumented perspective on the songs it details. Its succinct introductions and tightly edited oral histories can be enjoyed in snippets, anywhere, at any time. You can learn all about “Please Mr. Postman” while waiting for your coffee to brew. You can read the story behind “Runaround Sue” while you’re on hold with your credit card company. Although Marc Myers and I march to the beat of a different drum in terms of taste, I like to have my tastes challenged and generally found the book very entertaining. I picked up numerous rock trivia nuggets, and it really got me engaged and thinking about music, which is the whole point, right?

 

 

“Rose Parade” by Elliot Smith Tutorial for Guitar

In addition to being a songwriter, I’m also a music fan and a teacher. Therefore, I was happy when a longtime client approached me with the possibility of creating video tutorials and tablature for some of his favorite songs, including this one by Elliot Smith. Incidentally, they are some of my favorite songs, too.  This tutorial is fairly thorough, moves pretty slowly, and doesn’t assume a lot about your guitar skills. I hope that you’ll find it a useful tool!

If you enjoy this free tutorial, please look around Custom Serenade and consider getting a custom song from us!

 

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Singer/songwriter Elliot SmithIn 2004, some months after Elliot Smith’s untimely passing, I was asked to participate in a tribute concert in which musicians from the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh area performed some of Smith’s songs. It seemed like a nice way to deal with a lot of the feelings that come up when someone you admire so much passes away, and I was eager to participate. When asked what song I wanted to do, my immediate response was “Rose Parade.” Unfortunately, it was the first choice for numerous other acts, and someone had already claimed it. It was and is probably my favorite Elliot Smith song. It’s kind of amazing that the main pattern  is comprised of all major chords, yet sounds so melancholy – the ever-present riff within the pattern emphasizing the emotion. Then there are the lyrics. Imperfect, mysterious, and gritty. There’s a lot to like about this sad but beautiful song, and I hope that you’ve gleaned something from this tutorial.