Tag Archives: Lyrics

Top 10 Songs of 2013: #4 – “Recovery” by Frank Turner

23 Dec

Frank Turner

Frank Turner is no stranger to this whole music thing. His road to get to now was just a slight bit unconventional. You see, Turner’s first music love was Iron Maiden metal. Yes, the picture above does juxtapositional wonders: tattoos on his fingers hugging an acoustic guitar. His folk fervor came after his initial band, Million Dead – a post-hardcore effort with songs like “Murder and Create” and “Pornography for Cowards” – split up. After coming across Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Turner had an apotheosis: fuse his hardcore roots with a punk-infused folk style and see what comes of it. Five albums later and fit with a full backing band, The Sleeping Souls, Turner has just reached the pinnacle of his solo career with his 2013 effort Tape Deck Heart, which coincidentally was inspired by another break up; this split was of the love variety.

Turner, of Meonstroke, Hampshire, has developed a unique style based on his illustrious and diverse career. It seems that when you blend hardcore and folk together, you get an esoteric form of punk. His music is laced with an acute acoustic vibe that maintains punk angst and power. Think Violent Femmes mixed with celtic punk mixed with Bob Dylan. It doesn’t seem to mesh, but Turner skillfully does it, and he does it particularly with the #4 song on our list – “Recovery.”

In 1962, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield penned the song “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and this ditty concisely stated a fact of life. Breaking up is indeed hard to do. Turner wrote and recorded his new album after the collapse of a long-term relationship, and this adversity sparked some tremendous music. “Recovery” is not your usual break-up song, though. Turner’s lyric is jam-packed with candor and passion. In a sense, Turner, whose vocal is that of a strained raconteur, is pleading throughout the song, and the subject of his emotional petition is skillfully placed as the conclusion of the piece when he sings “Darling, sweet lover, won’t you help me to recover.”

Turner, in an ode to Dylan and other folk songs of the past, packs in so many words in each verse that the song plays like a short story. The music permits this lyrical burst. The Sleeping Souls help drive the piece, which is carried by a swinging piano and heavy percussion. The acoustic guitar glides with Turner’s busy vocal. Musically, the climax comes at around 2:15, when the Turner’s vocal falls out after the bridge in favor of a small piano solo and rising guitar. The strength of this song, though, is Turner’s masterful lyric.

Perhaps the strongest lyric is the full second verse.

“And I’ve been waking in the morning just like every other day
And just like every boring blues song I get swallowed by the pain
And so I fumble for your figure in the darkness just to make it go away.
But you’re not lying there any longer and I know that that’s my fault
So I’ve been pounding on the floor and I’ve been crawling up the walls
And I’ve been dipping in my darkness for serotonin boosters,
Cider and some kind of smelling salts.”

Fumbling for his ex-lover’s figure in a daze and then realizing that it was his fault that she is gone. Then following this pursuit by searching for anything (serotonin boosters, spiked cider, and smelling salts) to lift him up from the crippling depression he is feeling. Talk about truth, right? Turner does not want to paint an optimistic picture here. Before hitting the last chorus, where Turner sings of the long way to recovery, he croons, “Because I know you are a cynic but I think I can convince you. Yeah, cause broken people can get better if they really want to. Or at least that’s what I have to tell myself if I am hoping to survive!”

He, like most after break-ups, cannot shake the thought that perhaps if he changes he can convince his ex to come back. But, in honest fashion, he realizes that he is only telling this to himself to “survive.” He intertwines the metaphor of drowning into this piece, and that is a smart decision because while the listener drowns in the sound and words of this piece, Turner is quite literally drowning in his words, trying desperately to rise up into recovery but undergoing a song-wide realization that he may not be able to do it without his “darling, sweet lover.”

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The Folk Monsters of Yellow Red Sparks

21 Jul

Yellow Red Sparks

Speaking about the self-titled debut album of his folk band Yellow Red Sparks, Joshua Hanson said, “I don’t believe that it’s possible to share everything a writer is feeling or trying to convey within 3 ½ minutes of a track.” Wise words from a singer/songwriter who comes close to doing the impossible with each of the emotion-packed pieces on the album. Hanson, and fellow band-mates Sara Lynn Nishikawa (upright bass/vocals) and Goldy (drums/vocals), pack in so much Indie/Folk goodness in each song that hitting play is much like popping the cork of an expensive bottle of champagne.

Yellow Red Sparks originally started as the moniker of Hanson, a solo musician from California. After adding two members – which accentuated the Indie sound – the band released its debut album in January of this year. In the Spring, Hanson was notified that his song “Monsters with Misdemeanors” won the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC). The song was selected from more than 20,000 entries. High praise for a rising folk songwriter – and a totally deserved reward for a folk song saturated with raw emotion.

A soft acoustic riff sits over light percussion and Hanson’s mature vocal. Hanson’s style hits with a similar force as singer/songwriters like Greg Laswell, Ben Gibbard, and Joshua James. The strings help add to the song’s powerful melancholy. The song’s melody, which has a DeVotchKa feel, climaxes during the bridge in a similar manner – with rising strings and crying vocals. It would be a crime to not discuss the award-winning lyrics of the piece. The lyrics tell a story of relationship turbulence, but do so in an original manner – almost minimalistic in the short verses that feature such gems as “there’s a parked car that won’t let me over
And there’s one thing I’ll regret, but you’d be the last.” The song is true tour-de-force.

Make sure to check out the rest of Yellow Red Sparks’ excellent debut release here. You can track the band on its Facebook, Twitter, and Website.

Top 100 Lyricist #67: Robert Smith (The Cure)

12 Aug

Did you know that Robert Smith of the Cure can play guitar, bass, flute, trumpet and violin? Yes, the 51-year-old rocker is not just a pioneer of New Wave rock, but, he is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. I think many overlook Robert Smith’s ability. A constant member of the The Cure since their start in 1976, Smith ensconced into the lead vocals and principal song writing role a long time ago and has shown consistent success. His melancholic, somewhat depressing, style of song writing compared with his stage dress has been looked at as an early style of “Goth,” everything. But, don’t tell that to Smith.

“It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged onto the name The Cure,” he said about the relationship.

The Cure’s modus operandi may seem quite “Goth,” but, like most predecessors of style, it does not mean that they are actually what they created. Smith is actually an incredibly talented musician whose gloomy, punk performance style is infectious. He is also a particularly cogent lyricist. Hence, his spot as #67 on our lengthy top 100 lyricist list.

The above video is of The Cure’s “Killing An Arab,” a frenetic punk allusion. Smith, a sucker for good literature (well, I mean who isn’t), displays his ode to “The Stranger,” the existential classic by Albert Camus, in this song. Here are some lyrics to abate your insatiable lyric appetite.

“Standing on a beach
With a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel
At the arab on the ground
See his open mouth
But hear no sound

I’m alive
I’m dead
I’m the stranger
Killing an arab”

Here, Smith places us on the beach with Meursault, the protagonist of “The Stranger,” after he has killed the Arab. Do you want a reason for why he did it? Well, I am sorry that I can’t provide you with one. Still, an excellent read and a true existential masterpiece. English major 101. Give me an e-mail and we can discuss the contents. I have only written two essays on Camus’ novel. Well, we are not supposed to be talking about literature here. This is just supposed to be the poetry of song writing. It is a great lyric in that it portrays the utter crisis that Meursault finds himself in, unknowing and rather uncaring.

On to the next lyric…one of my favorite Smith lyric.

“The most perfect of songs, few words, little music.” Smith said this about “Accuracy” and he is absolutely right. It is short and, well, not so sweet. But, its surrealist lyric is most definitely a thing of beauty.

“We sit in the same room
Side by side
I give you the wrong lines
Feed you

Look into my eyes
We both smile
I could kill you
Without trying

That’s accuracy
Practice all day for accuracy

Mirror mirror on the wall…”

This is the entire lyric. Could it be a lyric exploring a concupiscent attraction? A, sort of, surreal look into fatal longing and pin-point seduction. The odd archery of love. It is brief, but, it invokes numerous questions, and, good lyrics do that. For that, Smith has worked himself 33 spots in on our descending list.

Top 100 Lyricists #68: Jimi Hendrix

14 Jul

I don’t know if the crowd who came to see an obscure band in the basement of Temple De Hirsch in Seattle in the late 50’s really respected what they saw. Well, considering that this particular band was fired because of too wild playing, I am sure just one or two true rock n’ rollers in the crowd really enjoyed the concert. Around 10 years later, the band’s young guitarist played in front of a slightly larger crowd at White Lake, NY and propelled himself into the prestigious slot of the top 5 guitarists of all time. I am talking about the sultan of amplified guitar skill himself, Mr. Jimi Hendrix. And, after he received a $5 acoustic guitar from one of his father’s acquaintances, he simply did not turn back. Well, he did eventually switch to electric. Hendrix single handedly re-shaped the electric guitar and how it is even heard today. That is how influential he was…and that was only with the guitar.

Okay, now listen…I can go into an entire Hendrix biography and trust me I wouldn’t mind doing it. But, I will contain myself and show all readers that I can resist sharing tidbits of music minutia. Okay, maybe just one.

Did you know that Hendrix formed a band called the Blue Flame in 1966? The Blue Flame featured a 15-year-old guitarist named Randy Wolfe. It also featured a bassist who shared Wolfe’s first name. Hendrix, anticipated confusion and began calling Wolfe Randy California because he had just moved from there to NYC. Randy California would go on to form the band Spirit with his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy. Spirit, perhaps, is best known for being a huge inspiration to Led Zeppelin. Ed Cassidy often played extended drum solos with his bare hands which influenced John Bonham, Zeppelin’s drummer, to do the same. Also, Spirit’s “Taurus” is often cited as being “Stairway to Heaven” without the huge success. The famous Zeppelin riff is eerily similar to Spirit’s classic. Personally, I think “Taurus” is a better song. Shoot me. Now, back to Hendrix

The reason this post is being written is not to celebrate Hendrix’s guitar ingenuity. That post can be read here: https://musiccourt.wordpress.com/2009/10/17/court-polls-defense-for-jimi-hendrix/. This, instead, celebrates an art that Hendrix fans do not usually comment enough on. Hendrix was a pretty skilled wordsmith.

Let’s look at one of my favorite Hendrix compositions, “The Wind Cries Mary.” Supposedly, Hendrix wrote this song after he and his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham had an argument over her cooking. Kathy, I am so very happy your cooking did not please Jimi. Kathy, whose middle name is Mary, stormed out of the house and Jimi was left with a decision, eat the unpleasant food or write the song. Just kidding of course. Maybe Jimi was just not very hungry. Here are some lyrics:

“After all the jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red
And the wind whispers Mary

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary”

Hendrix demonstrates a great adroitness for metaphor and sensitive repetition. I, obviously am partial to the court references, but, they work quite well in the song. “Somewhere a queen is weeping, Somewhere a king has no wife.” These two lines in the second verse are by far the best in the song. The words elevate the song to an ethereal level and help represent Hendrix’s situation mystically. And they said Hendrix was only good at the guitar. Well, the guitar definitely helps.

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