Song of the Week: “Starry Eyes” by The Records

by Douglas Cowie on 19 October 2018

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Starry Eyes” by The Records:

Last weekend I stumbled onto this obituary for John Wicks, the singer/songwriter behind The Records, a band I’d never heard of, and for reasons that will be obvious if you read the article, that lead me to “Starry Eyes.” There’s a small but real thrill in hearing for the first time a perfect–let’s get that straight, perfect–piece of guitar pop from long enough ago that it’s hard to believe I’d never heard it before. It’s somehow old and faded and brand-spanking new all at once. Musically it bears a nodding resemblance to its contemporary, “Do Anything You Want to Do” by Eddie and the Hot Rods, though its tone moves towards pretty where Eddie’s song aims rough. Lyrically it falls into a category with which I have a minor obsession: the rock/pop song about rock ‘n’ roll and/or the rock ‘n’ roll music business. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by the Byrds, for example, or “The Late Greats” by Wilco (not to mention several other Jeff Tweedy songs), “Range Life” by Pavement, and on and on; it’s a varied subgenre, or whatever you want to call it. I feel a little giddy to have another song to add to my collection, to reshape my joy. And what a perfect gem.

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Song of the Week: “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M.

by Douglas Cowie on 12 October 2018

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M.:

Bear with me here. I was listening to High on Fire the other day, and for reasons I really don’t know, it got me idly thinking about Taj Mahal, and in particular, about Taj Mahal as a kid, listening to music from around the world on his shortwave radio. The thought offered a brief moment of happiness, the idea of all that music channeling down the antenna and through the circuits and back out of the speaker into Taj Mahal’s ear, into his mind, and back out, eventually, through his guitar, his voice, his musicianship. It seemed a little absurd to be thinking about that while listening to loud and fast metal, but then again, I thought, that kind of eclecticism–not metal per se, but eclecticism–suits the music and legacy of Taj Mahal, so maybe it’s not quite as silly as it at first seemed to me. Then again, maybe it is. Anyway, I’ve posted High on Fire in the past, and I posted Taj Mahal’s wonderful interpretation of “Stack O’ Lee” a couple years ago, so I thought a song about the radio might be an apt alternative to one of those, and here you are with some early R.E.M. When you listen to this live version, and hear the way Michael Stipe sings “in transit,” you hear a little of where from Kurt Cobain was taking some of his vocal cues.

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Song of the Week: “All Your Love” by Otis Rush

by Douglas Cowie on 5 October 2018

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “All Your Love” by Otis Rush:

Chicago blues legend Otis Rush died last weekend. This guy was on the radio and on the stage all the time during my growing-up years.  More even than Buddy Guy, at least in my impression and recollection. Otis Rush and his music are part of the cultural fabric of Chicago, and the places its radio airwaves reach, and pretty much right around the world. I picked “All Your Love” because I love the interplay between the guitar and the easy cool saxophone that starts the song out, and I love that tempo change partway through. You know these kinds of sounds almost like the back of your hand, and the reason, or anyway, a big part of the reason, is Otis Rush.

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Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Toledo” by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach:

My work colleague and friend Nick was talking to me about this version of “Toledo” the other day. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach seem like an unlikely pairing on first thought, but I often think that Elvis Costello is a more varied or multifaceted musician than people sometimes think with that first thought. Anyway, that line, “But do people living in Toledo know that their name doesn’t travel very well,” comes close to perfection, opening up a line from two far away cities, and a huge space for your imagination in what you might be tempted to shrug off as a little easy listening love song ditty.

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