You have to really appreciate a songwriter’s ability to express their ideas in music. While it is fairly common for lyrics to be written from a narrator’s point of view, there are also those songs which use first-person point of view.
Two neat examples of this are Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, and King Crimson’s “Dig Me”. The first song is about a serial killer, and it’s meant to be his thoughts as he goes about murdering various people. The second song is written about a car in a junkyard, but it is from the car’s point of view.
Both songs are interesting musically, but it’s the lyrics that really bring them together. Listen for yourself, and pay attention to how the point of view affects the overall tone of each song.
“Psycho Killer” (Live on The Old Grey Whistle Test)
I became a teenager at the end of 1981 so many of the songs of that era have a special hold on me (one of my faves from ’81 is below). However, I am not an elitist when it comes to music, so there’s no pretending that it was the best music ever made; nor will I say that today’s music is worse.
No. Anybody that does that (in regards to any ear or genre of music) is missing out on a lot of potential enjoyment. For example, there are many people who will only listen to classic rock, and they are perfectly happy hearing the same 50 songs over and over again. You know, those songs are great, but why limit your listening pleasure to such a small window?
There is about 60 years of rock music that you can listen to, and in tons of subgenres. You couldn’t hear it all in a lifetime, but you could discover a lot of great songs. It requires a bit of an open mind, but you don’t need to be an expert (I’m not). Listen to rock music as a fan. Find something new to you. Open your mind, open your ears, and enjoy!
Now…for one of my favorite songs from 1981. It’s fitting because it combines several different genres, and it was way ahead of its time.
One of the defining features of rock and roll is that it has a strong back beat. This is almost always due to having a drummer, but there are some rock and roll songs that don’t use drums. Still, they rock just as much as any songs that use drums.
Here are a few examples of rock songs that don’t have drums.
The first one is Elvis Presley’s version of “That’s All Right” (Elvis’ very first single)
“Brand New Day” by Young Marble Giants
“Glycerine” by Bush
While it may be difficult to find rock and roll songs without drums, they do exist. The above examples are each of a different style, and from a different era. Drums may be an integral part of rock and roll, but rock and roll is also flexible enough to go without them every now and then.
War is a band that uses elements of funk, latin, rock, jazz, and reggae in its music. This is all blended together in a smooth way that belies the real mesages often contained in their songs.
According to Lonnie Gardner (keybords and vocalist for War), the song “Spill The Wine” came by as the result of an accident. Apparently, someone in the studio had spilled wine on the mixing console, and this was the inspiration of the song.
Here is their live performance of it from the German TV show Beat-Club. Don’t you just love the vibrance in this version of the song?
And here’s “Cisco Kid” from the U.S. TV show Midnight Special. Listening to the song on record, you may think that it would be difficult to play live, but War nails it!
Remakes of songs can be funny things. There are times when they work, times when they don’t, and times when they take on a life of their own.
“Blinded By The Light” is a perfect example of a remake that becomes its own song, so to speak.
I was familiar with the remake by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for years before ever hearing Bruce Springsteen’s original version. Needless to say, Springsteen’s song sounded inferior…at first. It took some time, but now I appreciate the talent of Bruce’s writing. Also, the original version has more lyrics, which makes it more enjoyable.
Manfred Mann’s version uses a more standard timing, so that makes it better in its own way. The guitar solo is a nice touch, too.
Here is Bruce Springsteen’s original version of “Blinded By The Light”
Have you ever received a phone call from a freind who has a question about rock and roll? Perhaps they need to know who sings a certain song, a snippet of lyrics, or the name of the guitarist. Whatever it is, it’s always a pleasure to be able to answer such questions.
I still get phone calls from people I worked with years ago. They are usually with other people, and they are talking about music. Then a point of topic comes up that they don’t know the answer to. So, they remember me and say, “Hey, I’ll call Mike. I bet he’ll know!”
My most recent call was from a friend who wanted to know who sang “Brand New Pair Of Roller Skates”. I knew they meant “Brand New Key”, so I corrected the title right away. Then I mentioned it was a #1 song for Melanie in 1972.
My friend was happy, but then wanted to know what other songs she sang. So I mentioned “What Have They Done To My Song Ma”, “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)”, as well as her version of “Ruby Tuesday”.
“Thanks, Mike. I knew you would know.”
If you ever get phone calls like that, then you know how good it feels. It’s also a sign that you are a reaal rock and roll fan. If you don’t get calls like that, then you may still be a rock and roll fan; just not one that goes around bragging about how much they know about music. ;)
That’s right! I just said YouTube sucks. But that’s actually a good thing for us music fans.
Oh, I should clarify.
I don’t mean that YouTube sucks in that it is inferior or not worthy; what I mean is that it sucks so much time out of your day. How often have you visited YouTube to check if they have a certain song, only to find that you have just spent the past two hours clicking on videos?
Some people would consider that a waste, but we are the exception.
I have found so many cool songs on YouTube, songs I have never heard before, that I find it to be an indispensable website for any fan of rock and roll music.
Not that you need it, but you now have full permission to browse YouTube to your heart’s content.
By the way, what songs have you discovered lately?
Tiny Mix Tapes is a site that lets people list the songs of a themed mix tape. Here are a few examples of what people have come up with for the titles of their mix tapes.
“I can’t wait to move in with you even though we’re both poor from college.”
“I’m 34 tomorrow but mentally I am 12.”
“I am becoming a working robot, but I’d rather be a snowman in an empty cornfield right now.”
And that’s only a small taste. The fun is in trying to find just the right songs and artists to fit the theme. Oh, and if you have an idea for a theme but don’t know what songs to put on it, you can submit it to the website and maybe the editors will choose it.
What makes the site fun isn’t just seeing the zany ideas people have, but also being introduced to new music. Popular songs are represented, but the site has a nice blend of lesser-known bands and songs, too.
Anyway…it’s a cool site for rock and roll fans. Check it out!