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.

 

arielweyes-142
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!

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 11.54.11 AM
Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 11.56.15 AM

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 12.00.48 PM

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.

 

 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! A Collection of Gun-Themed Vintage Valentines!

Valentine’s Day is a big deal here at Custom Serenade. Personally, one of my favorite things associated with this romantic holiday are vintage cards, and I have a special affinity for the strange ones. In perusing numerous old valentines, I started noticing that tucked amongst the flowers and cute puns were a lot of guns. Yes, that’s right, guns! And ammo! And even artillery! Deadly weapons don’t seem like natural companions for hearts and candy, but the past often seems weird, and weird is good, right? So, here for your viewing pleasure, is a collection of gun-themed vintage valentine cards.  If you’d like to celebrate VTD with a little less explosive powder and a lot more romance, consider ordering a custom song from us!

vintage valentine #1
Nothing says love like being hunted by a bug-eyed boy with a loaded rifle!

…except maybe being held at gunpoint by someone in a black mask.

strange vintage valentine #2

strange vintage valentine

Perhaps the abundance of available gun puns is the reason that they were so popular?

But then they struck gold with “aim”…

Would you like to get a custom song for 25 dollars? Follow this link!

Finally, we have two suicide-themed valentines.

Pretty sick, huh?
If you enjoyed these vintage valentines and want to see something equally bizarre, check out this post that features meat-themed valentines! If you’re looking for a fantastic Valentine’s Day gift that doesn’t involve meat or guns, how about a ordering a custom song? Regardless, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day full of cards, music, and love!

 

Great music videos that you missed in the ’80s!

If you love ’80s music and cheesy music videos, then you’ve found gold! Here are ten songs that you’ve probably never heard before that will expand your ’80s playlist and keep the crowd dancing, while giving Men Without Hats a well-deserved break. They mostly come from Europe, where pop music and fashion thrived in the ’80s. They contain all the signature sounds you’d expect, and the videos take the clothes, dance moves, and hair styles to a whole new level! It’s hard to believe that some of these songs weren’t international hits, but then, if they had been, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of discovering them now!

trans_x

Wish Key – “Orient Express”

This is the song that started me down the path of ’80s Euro pop and Italo Disco. The video made a little splash on social media, mainly for its retro kitsch factor, but I personally really liked the song. The hard-driving bass, the melodic riffs, the train sounds, the dramatic vibe, and the subtle backing vocals overshadowed the fact that it looks like they’re performing in a basement with weightlifting equipment. In most English-speaking countries, Italo Disco is a term used to describe a strand of synth-heavy European pop music from the ’80s, and although the genre did originate in Italy, a lot of the music came from elsewhere. But Wish Key were real deal Italians, and “Orient Express” is a great place to start this musical journey!

Silent Circle – “Touch in the Night”

A widow’s peak that puts Eddie Munster to shame is just the tip of the iceberg that is vocalist Jo Jo Tyson’s hair, which is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the visual treats this video has to offer. Music-wise, a prominent bass line and electronic percussion work alongside an almost Caribbean-sounding synth in this danceable love song from West Germany’s Silent Circle.

Rockets – “Galactica”

Rockets hailed from France and were the kings of a genre called space disco that had its heyday in the late ’70s. Here they are bridging the gap between the two decades, looking more than ready to embrace the future. Outrageous doesn’t begin to describe their look or their cosmic analog sound. Gotta love a band with a theme!

 

Shanghai – “Ballerina”

Enter the keytar, enter the mullet, and top it all off with a fluorescent cut off t-shirt and you have Shanghai, who were actually from Sweden. Featuring an androgynous look and some really tight vocal harmonies (keep in mind this is well before any auto-tuning or pitch correction was available), this group is perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come for Sweden, which is now the pop music songwriting capital of the world. Side note – if anyone has any idea what kind of guitar that is, please let me know!

 

Vanessa – “Upside Down”

All right, I’ll admit it. This song by Dutch diva Vanessa is my favorite song on the list. The video offers a gazillion watts of eye candy coming from all directions (Vanessa herself once posed for Penthouse), but the truth is, I’ve listened to the song a lot more than I’ve watched the video. I love the basic progression, the electro percussion, the Sweet meets Abba vocal harmonies, the sweeping strings, and the overall uplifting feel of the song. (Go here to get a cheap custom song.) For me, it went from being the cheeseball Youtube find of the year, to a guilty pleasure of sorts, and has since graduated to being my go-to “get cheered up or wake up in the morning” song. Put this on at a party and see if it doesn’t get a reaction!

Stop – “Wake Up”

Here’s the only instrumental on the list. The origins of the group Stop are hard to suss out. Wake Up was recorded in Los Angeles but seems to have had the most success in Spanish-speaking countries. As someone who was a voracious fan of music in the ’80s, I can tell you that it never saw the light of day in the U.S. At any rate, this song is sure to please fans of Gershon Kingsley, Herbie Hancock, or anyone interested in the origins of EDM. The video is AMAZING! Stop motion, claymation and flying records – need I say more? It’s a true gem. Even the most cynical hipster would have to raise an eyebrow over their glasses for this one.

Lian Ross – “Fantasy”

More Käse from Germany! A keytar produces a dramatic and catchy groove on top of which vocalist Lian Ross can do her thang, which consists of rocking an intense mullet in an outfit that makes her look like a garish triangle. She’s a good singer though, and as recently as 2009, was making records that still topped the charts in various parts of Europe. But 1985 found her in mismatched gloves dancing in the midst of a modern art installation with a proto-goth bassist and an ubernerd keyboardist. Welcome to her world of Fantasy!

Trans-X – “Living on Video”

Let’s momentarily leave the old world as we feast our eyes on Canada’s Trans-X. This video transcends kitsch and lands in the realm of pure surrealism. Backing vocalist Laurie Ann Gill’s minimalist dance moves in front of a bank of televisions in combination with her INSANE hair are PURE GOLD! The song itself may or may not be a nod to the Buggles’ similarly themed tune, but it’s definitely a hypnotic minor key ostinato sprinkled with all kinds of tasty electronic flourishes and even robot voices! The lyrics are kind of cool, too.

 

Kazino – “Around My Dream”

Now for Belgium’s only entry into the fray. “Around My Dream” was originally performed by Italian disco singer Silver Pozzoli, and although musically Kazino’s version differs only slightly, the video for the song is much sillier than the original. In fact, it’s one of the only videos that I came across in which the band seems to have a sense of humor about what they’re doing. We get to see artsy shots of mannequins, a tongue-in-cheek Saturday Night Fever dance, and wow! That bass player looks great in drag!

 

Propaganda – “Duel”

This song is markedly more complex than the others gathered in this post. With jazz chords and lyrics such as “The first cut won’t hurt at all, The second only makes you wonder,” this song, and Propaganda’s music in general, is less focused on the dance floor and more concerned with deeper musical exploration. The video follows a nice film noir narrative interspersed with the band performing in a Maxfield Parrish-influenced set. “Duel” charted in a handful of countries in Europe and it’s almost baffling that it didn’t find its way to MTV and the charts here in the U.S. 

Here's what I looked like in the 80s!
Here’s what I looked like in the ’80s!

During the process of reviewing songs for this post, I’d often find myself thinking, “Wow, this is more ’80s than the actual ’80s were.” If you were raised in rural America like I was, then MTV was your window into the pop world, but the songs and videos collected here took things a step farther than MTV was willing to go. The hair was bigger, the songs more repetitive, the outfits more outlandish, and then there’s the dancing. Some find it funny, some would say unprofessional, I say it’s just really human, and I’m kind of drawn to it. I’m guessing the resources weren’t there for choreographers or to hire professionals, so the performers (who were probably singers first and foremost) just put on their weird clothes and danced! If you think it looks silly, try filming yourself dancing! There was no shortage of great material for this list and I tried to pick songs that I thought were good and had an accompanying video that was somehow noteworthy. I also tried to avoid having too many videos from any particular country (I could easily have done ten from Germany alone). I hope that you enjoyed these aural and visual delights from a bygone era! Please feel free to leave a comment!

Custom Serenade is a custom songwriting service. We write and record original songs as gifts or for any reason at all. Please poke around our website and keep us in mind for any occasion that might benefit from a custom song! You could even reference one of these songs or genres in your order, as in, “make it sound like Italo Disco!”

Here are some additional Italo Disco songs that you might enjoy.