Archive | April, 2010

A panegyric for John Darnielle

30 Apr

If you do not like laudatory discourse look up Axl Rose on the blog and go far away from this post. I have spoken many times of John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats on the Music Court. They found their way at the top of my list for best album of the decade (however steep that ranking may have seemed to many). I have never said one bad thing about the band. Why? There is nothing bad. Some people may not enjoy Darnielle’s goat-like croon, but, because I enjoy it, I have nothing bad to say about them. Their beats are catchy and Darnielle’s lyrics are so good that he will not be written about on the top lyricists section for a long time (we are descending from 100 in case you did not know). Darnielle is a master. His band is good. The songs are wonderful, and often biographical. I can’t get enough and you must all check him out. If you enjoy lyrics (and you all know I do) and you have not checked out Darnielle, you will be arrested by the song poetry police if you do not listen now!

The Goat Pig

Anyway, all kidding aside, if you haven’t caught my drift, I really enjoy The Mountain Goats’ music. They are an extremely underrated band and Darnielle’s seemingly endless collection of songs is just unprecedented. He is the Mary Faulkner (Kathleen Lindsay) of the music industry. And, like Mary Faulkner he remains unfortunately unknown by many. I would like to profile one specific song today that I think is just a beautiful piece of music and story. Some fantastic lyricists would make excellent fiction writers. Darnielle is certainly one of them.

The song I will profile is off of his 13th release with the Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree, which is heavily rooted in Darnielle’s memories of his abusive step-father. “Pale Green Things” tells of his step-father and a time they shared together at a racetrack. It is an interesting end to an album that tells so many negative stories of beatings and drunkenness. The song is oddly hopeful. It is soft, somewhat evanescent, and Darnielle’s fleeting, pensive voice set in front of a light cello marks a strong end to the album; a tender moment with a tint of forgiveness that only fantastic lyricists like Darnielle can master.

Search pale green things on google. This is what you get

My favorite lyrics from the song:

“You watched the horses run their workouts
You held your stopwatch in your left hand
And a Racing Form beneath your arm
Casting your gaze way out to no man’s land
Sometimes I’ll meet you out there
Lonely and frightened
Flicking my tongue out at the wet leaves
Pale green things
Pale green things”

It would seem in this verse that “lonely and frightened” is left rather ambiguous. He could be stating this his father was, in all reality, a scared man stricken with loneliness, or he could be referring to himself. I would support the former. I really enjoy the wonderful imagery of the separated father and son gazing out into “no man’s land.” I believe the motif of pale green things represents Darnielle’s mixed feelings of the death of his step-father. He juxtaposes negative and positive ideas. Pale, the negative, and green things (lively) the positive. This works quite well.

Listen to the song:


Sir Paul McCartney: ‘Blessing’ Beatles never reformed

29 Apr

Pic: PA Photos

The always enthralling Paul McCartney admitted in an interview with Q magazine that the Fab Four all discussed  possible reunions, but nothing materialized and this was for the best.

“What used to happen was three of us would fancy it and then maybe George or John or I wouldn’t,” McCartney said. “In a way it was a blessing. We’d done it, why spoil it? Whether it’s god given or not those four people was a pretty good mix.”

I can see where McCartney is coming from. There is no need to continue tapping from the perennial well of success. Yes, the Beatles’ well is lined with gold and would have made them an outstanding amount of money, but there was no need to spoil a career which shot the Beatles’ to the status of best band ever. There is not much higher that you can go.

McCartney also stated in the interview that he is a better emotional lyricist compared to the late John Lennon, who wrote more shocking political commentaries, especially after the Beatles’ split. “Love songs like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. That’s my forte. I’d love to write more protest songs, but I don’t think I have the knack for it that other people do. I’ve complained about situations but they’re not necessarily my better songs.”

I agree. McCartney could never have written a song like  “God” or “Give Peace a Chance.” And, similarly, if Lennon tried “Maybe I’m Amazed” it would come out, well, pretty awful. That is why they made for such a dynamic lyric duo. Their weaknesses fell into the other’s lyrical strength. They went together like peanut butter and jelly, or, better yet, a guitar and a bass guitar.


McCartney at his best:

Lyric of the Day #78: Top 100 Lyricists #69 – Stevie Nicks

28 Apr

Stevie Nicks has said that her vocal style evolved from female singers like Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. She was inspired after seeing Joplin live. Nicks’ career success has inspired such modern artists as The Dixie Chicks, Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crown, Tori Amos, and the list just goes on. If one judges artists by who they were inspired by and who they inspired themselves, Nicks is a prime example of a tremendous musician. Artists obviously aren’t judged this way, but, in Nicks’ case at least the conclusion is true. Nicks is a fantastic musician and her musical, lyrical, and even clothing and jewelry style has been an influence to many modern musicians. In this post, we will specifically focus on her lyrics.

Nicks was born in Phoenix, Arizona, to a corporate executive and a homemaker. Her grandfather, Aaron Jess Nicks, was a struggling country singer. He taught Nicks how to sing quite early in her life (try before the age of five). After receiving a guitar for her 16th birthday, Nicks wrote her first song “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost, and I’m Sad But Not Blue,” and joined her first band while attending Arcadia High School in California. While attending Menlo Atherton High School as a senior, she met Lindsey Buckingham at a Young Life social event. He was playing “California Dreamin'” and she provided some harmony. They became a unit and eventually started recording duos together. They were signed briefly to Polydor records who helped release an album Buckingham Nicks in 1973. It was not a commercial success and the label dropped them. Nicks was sent into a stage where she worked several jobs and even wrote one of the songs I will be profiling today “Landslide” while debating whether to continue to pursue music. But, like every successful and lucky artist, Nicks and Buckingham caught their break on New Year’s Eve, 1974, after playing their track “Frozen Love” for Mick Fleetwood in Studio City, California. He originally only extended the offer to Buckingham, but, after Buckingham insisted they were a duo, Fleetwood caved and allowed Nicks to join the ride. This was most likely the best decision he ever made. No, seriously, passed the cliché, if he did not allow them to join no one would know the name Fleetwood (unless they were using the home company).

Why? Well, in 1975, with Nicks’ voice and lyric at the helm, the band released the eponymous Fleetwood Mac which hit number one and had three top 20 songs. After the album was released, Nicks ended her relationship with Buckingham and the band went into to the studio to record Rumours. The sessions for Rumours were lined with band tension, drug use and various other issues. This, oddly, was the formula for success. Rumours was released in 1977 and is now considered one of the better albums of all time. Once again, Nicks’ work was instrumental to this success.

She became a symbol. Yes, there were problems along the way (the band did eventually fall apart). Nicks’ personal love life and drug use did certainly

Like so.

take a toll. But, her music and lyric are extraordinary. They are rich with emotional symbolism and they are delightfully airy and ethereal. She is also known for the image she created for herself. This attributes to her status as an icon or, as Rolling Stone Magazine called her, “The Reigning Queen of Rock N’ Roll.” Nicks is known for her somewhat anagogic wardrobe that is Gothic and almost witch-like. Hence, witchcraft rumors that have followed her. Nicks humorously is known to have stated, “I am not a witch. Get a life!” Her dresser is full of chiffon skirts, lace, top hats and platform boots. Her style has been worked on by Californian designer Margi Kent since the 1970’s.

But, this is not an article about clothing. So, how about some lyrics. Let’s first explore “Edge of Seventeen,” which was released on her 1981 solo début album Bella Donna. The song focused in on the grief she was feeling because of the death of her uncle and the murder of John Lennon which occurred during the same week in December of 1980. It features a simple chord structure and great, noticeable riff. The lyrics hit you right away:

The white winged dove (Mark A. Hicks, illustrator.)

“Just like the white winged dove… sings a song …
Sounds like she’s singing…

Just like the white winged dove… sings a song
Sounds like she’s singing…
ooo…baby…ooo…said ooo

And the days go by….
like a strand in the wind
In the web that is my own…
I begin again
Said to my friend, baby…Nothin’ else mattered”


Nicks has said that the “dove” in the lyric represents the spirit leaving the body after death. It is a wonderful portrayal of grief. Nicks stated in an interview with BAM in 1981, ” The most recent [song on Bella Donna] is Edge of Seventeen, which is also my favorite song on the record…. Edge of Seventeen closes it [the album] ~ chronologically, anyway ~ with the loss of John Lennon and an uncle at the same time. That song is sort of about how no amount of money or power could save them. I was angry, helpless, hurt, sad.” She portrays this with her rich symbolism quite well.

My favorite Nicks song is definitely “Landslide.” It was released on Fleetwood Mac’s first album. Nicks said in an interview, “”looking out at the Rocky Mountains pondering the avalanche of everything that had come crashing down on us…at that moment, my life truly felt like a landslide in many ways.” She wrote the song while sitting in a friend’s house in Aspen, Colorado. Good setting! Here are my favorite lyrics:

So, take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide will bring it down”


These lyrics are sung so delicately by Nicks that you cannot dislike them. But, the symbolism is certainly there. She feels like she is falling. She dedicates this song to her father. Great song. Great artist. Great lyrics.

Top 25 Guitarists of All Time: # 23 Bo Diddley

27 Apr

Bo Diddley, Long Beach Blues Festival (1997). Photo: Masahiro Sumori.

Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates on Dec. 30, 1920. He was called “The Originator,” for he had a key role in changing the trend of blues to rock and roll. He has influenced greats such as Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton. The driving rhythms and harder guitar sounds he produced became well known. He would often employ a technique in his music in which there were no chord changes. In other words, all excitement was generated by rhythms rather than harmonies and harmonic tension. Because of his musical inventiveness and skill, Bo has won many awards. They have ranged from a Grammy, Lifetime Achievement Awards and the most prized Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. His work impacted the music scene so powerfully. And, of course, he also had that trademark rectangular guitar.

Bo Diddley’s orginality, musicality, and impact on so many musicians has earned him an immense level of respect in the music community. With an extensive discography and an even more extensive fan base, Bo Diddley has definitely shown the public who they love. For his powerful impact on music, his amazing musicality, his wonderful originality, and that unmistakeable guitar, Bo Diddley finds himself as #23 on the Top 25 Guitarists of All Time list.

Don’t Forget….Who Do You Love????

SWOD (Song of the Day/Word of the Day) #17 Empyrean

27 Apr

Today’s Word

Empyrean: The highest heaven, in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light. Paradise.

Musical Example:

Wow! That is a large picture. But, because it is supposed to resemble something heaven-like, I am going to keep it an enormous size. There are numerous songs about paradise. Heck, if I decided to document a Christian Rock song, I probably would be swarming in messages of heaven. But, I thought it would be a little more effective if I talked about a song that is a little more vague.

The Lighthouse Family – one of those great bands many have never heard of – were a British duo consisting of vocalist Tunde Baiyewu and keyboardist Paul Tucker. They became popular in the mid 1990’s and remained active through the early 2000’s. Their brand of soul/pop was both infectious and bubbly. One of their better songs is entitled “End of the Sky.” Baiyewu sings:

Would you like to go somewhere unbelievable?
Where the great big blue sky seems to last forever
Cos I feel like I’ll leave it all behind
Living’ in the sunshine, that’s where I’m going
And I don’t think there’s anything here that I’ll be missing, do you?
No, I don’t think there’s anything else to do

It sounds like he is singing about the Empyrean. I would assume that is what the end of the sky brings. Unless, similarly to the universe, it brings us an atypical restaurant; which to some may be considered an Empyrean. Anyway, the song is quite hopeful and Baiyewu’s voice is just wonderful. More people should listen to this band. Here is the video:

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