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Murder songs Vol. 2

June 1st, 2010 3 comments

It has been a while since I inaugurated this series of songs about murder. In the three songs for the second instalment, we observe a musician killing in self-defence, a crime of passion, and a family making excuses for their very fucked-up son.

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Bill Brandon – Rainbow Road (1969).mp3

This deep soul track by the little known Bill Brandon used to be very rare. Thanks to the Internet, it is now accessible to a wider audience. And what an absolutely breathtaking record it is. The song apparently was written for Arthur Alexander, who has previously featured on this blog, but Alexander recorded it only in 1973. In the song, a down-on-his-luck singer is discovered and takes the fork in the road marked success, the Rainbow Road of the title. The mentor pays of his debt, clothes our friend in finery. “And then one night a man with a knife forced me to take his life,” Bill tells us. As bad luck would have it, he finds himself before an unsympathetic judge who clearly does not buy the self-defence line. So instead of his signature shining in bright lights, he is wearing a number instead of a name. But “I still dream about Rainbow Road”.

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Conway Twitty – Ain’t It Sad To Stand and Watch Love Die (1968).mp3
The killing of passion was a staple in 1960s country. Porter Wagoner based a whole, excellent album on it. One can understand what drive the narrator to murder: not only was his woman cheating on him, but he caught her in the act with his best friend. So it’s not only a sense of jealousy and possessiveness the triggers the killing, but the anger of a double betrayal. There isn’t much confrontation: the narrator shoots them “were they lied”. He records his unfaithful wife’s last words, which evidently do not elicit mercy from our friend, because having watched love die, he is not open to negotiation.  The neighbours are coming over, posing the reasonable question: “Oh my God, what have you done?” His response is unnerving; putting the gun to his head, the narrator asks repeatedly: “Neighbour, ain’t it sad to stand and watch love die?”

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Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy (1978).mp3
The great Zevon imparts a valuable lesson: if your son mistakes Sunday lunch for an occasion to rub pot roast all over his chest, don’t laugh it off. And when he bites the usherette on the leg, don’t put it down to the high japery. Because next, he’ll take little Suzie to the junior prom, then rape and killed her, and take her home. And his idiot family still thinks it’s because he’s just being “excitable”. After ten years he is released from custody at an appropriate facility, and promptly goes to Suzie’s grave, digs her up and take her bones home. And guess what the family is saying?

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More Murder Songs

Being in love again – Part 2

February 13th, 2010 7 comments

To aid the Valentine’s Day scramble of many lovers to find the right song to express their sincere love, here is the second lot of songs about being in blissful, requited love (the eagle-eyed reader may have seen this post up incompletely for a few hours in the week thanks to a mis-clicked button. Looks like the Elton song is very popular). If none of these and none of the first part’s songs do the trick, try the two mixes linked to at the end of this post. As promised, next week we’ll do break-ups.

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Elton John – Seasons (1971).mp3
Written for the 1971 film Friends, this is Elton John at his musically most articulate. I the brief lyrics we have a friendship blossoming, through the seasons, into romantic love. It’s the song that cures the dreaded disease of frienditis (so brilliantly explained on the Todger Talk blog). “Oh, it’s funny how young lovers start out as friends.” Or older lovers, Elton and Bernie.

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Terry Callier – I’d Rather Be With You (1973).mp3
The folk-inflected soul man lays out his options in this rather lovely ballad. “I could take my guitar and hit the road, try to be a star.” He even explains the method by which he would aim to accomplish that goal (basically involving playing gigs as a one-man band). He further points out that he could — just like that — take a Greyhound bus west “to watch the sun set on San Francisco Bay.” Oh, there must be loads of things he could do, but — and here the song’s title sort of scoops the punchline — he’d rather be with her (her being, we fervently hope, the friendly lady on the album cover).  And like any lovestruck fool, he launches into sappy metaphor: “It’s your bright sunshine that lifted all the shadow off my mind and your sweet love led me to a brighter day.” Hence his reassurance: “So you never have to worry ’bout me leaving you behind.” Don’t want those shadows returning. And then the peculiar challenge: “Wait and see, I won’t ever turn away…” He asks her to await and then observe nothing happening? Hell, if he chooses to sacrifice the potential for loads of groupies (presuming that one-man bands attract many of those), she should trust his sincerity. And if that doesn’t do, then his insistently repeated promise of the title should persuade her.

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Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty – You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly (1982).mp3
You wouldn’t guess it from the title, but this is in fact a country song. Loretta and Conway are in a good-natured slanging match, blaming one another for their diminishing finances and good looks — and the apparent hideousness of their kids. Though, if I may interject, Loretta, your kid’s baldness isn’t Conway’s fault — androgenetic alopecia is passed down the mother’s genes. So Conway complains: “You’re the reason I changed to beer from soda pop”, and Loretta moans: “And you’re the reason I never get to go to the beauty shop”. But all that is not as important as what they have: “looks ain’t everything, and money ain’t everything. But I love you just the same”.

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The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You (1959).mp3
Originally sung by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in the 1934 movie Dames, this is the only version one needs. The introduction, “My love must be a kind of blind love, I can’t see anyone but you” is filled with tension. The singer seems desperate about the debilitating effects of being love. Having nervously ascertained that the present status of the sun is of no concern of him, our friend relaxes and croons that he has eyes only for her (though with careless positioning of the word “only”). So dazed is he that “I don’t know if we’re in a garden or on a crowded avenue”, which can be quite dangerous — you might fall down a well or be knocked over by an Acme delivery van. But of what menace are such perils when a man is with his girl, and “maybe millions of people go by, but they all disappear from view. And I Only Have Eyes For You”.

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Ray Noble’s Band with Al Bowlly – Midnight, The Stars And You (1932).mp3
We previously encountered Noble and singer Bowlly in the Sinatra special of The Originals with their 1936 hit version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin. This song precedes that by four years, and is probably best known as the song that plays out The Shining (the scene in which we see Jack Torrance’s face in the old ballroom photograph). The lyrics are brief and elementary: “Midnight with the stars and you, midnight and a rendezvous. Your eyes held a message, tender saying: ‘I surrender all my love to you.” A few more platitudes, Noble fulfilling his job description by leading the band, and we’re done. Time enough then to have a look at the trailer for the upbeat version of The Shining (“Meet Jack Torrance…).
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Maxine Nightingale – If I Ever Lose This Heaven (1975).mp3
In one of at least four versions of this song released in 1975, English soulstress Maxine Nightingale is on a paranoid trip. See, her man seems to be a bit moody sometimes, and she interprets that as an immediate threat of impending dumphood. “If you’re foolin’, only foolin’, all I ask is ‘Why’?” His love has built her up so high that should he drop her, she’ll be in freefall. “If I ever, ever, ever lose this heaven… I’ll never be the same.” With the vulnerable honesty/emotional blackmail out of the way, let’s accentuate the positive: “You’re fascinating, more fascinating than the dark side of the moon.”  Yeah, okay, if that floats your boat. But even if potential references to overrated snoozefest LPs fail to flatter, this line should ensure that Maxine won’t lose her heaven: “You’re so exciting that I’m re-writing the book of love called You.” After that, pal, you cannot possibly dump her.

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Badly Drawn Boy – Magic In The Air (live, 2002).mp3
Ah, the falling in love… At this point, Damon Gough pays no mind to the consequences of all the heartaches it may later produce. He’s giddy, and it seems she is giddy too. “We laughed so much, then we cried all night. And you left your shoes in the tree, with me. I’ll wear them to your house, tonight. Magic in the air, tonight.” There is not much evidence of embarrassment or inhibition here. At the end, the singer notes: “Love is contagious, when it’s alright.” Now, with all the romantic buoyancy, why does the melody sound so pensive?
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Heatwave – Always and Forever (1977).mp3
People in love should be counselled not to make promises you can’t keep (and not to lie about love to get laid!). “I know tomorrow will still be the same, ’cause we’ve got a life of love that won’t ever change.” Yeah, wait till the serotonin wears off. So he expects it all to be sunshine and melting smiles, and that is all very nice, dear. But he has also hit on an essential ingredient in sustaining the love, communication and sharing: “Take time to tell me you really care. And feel sad tomorrow together.” So perhaps he’ll keep his insistent promise: “I’ll always love you, forever, forever.”

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Lisa Loeb – Sandalwood (1995).mp3
This is the song where the singer tells us that none of the above applies to the love she has for her man. “She [random singer, possibly a singer-songwriter with a guitar] can’t tell me that all of the love songs have been written, ’cause she’s never been in love with you before.” Oh, fresh true love, deluded that it is so different from all the other true loves. But no doubt, Lisa is in love. The fear and the passion and the clumsy idealisation. The fear: “I’m trying to keep cool, but everyone here likes you. I’m not the only one.” The passion: “I want to kiss the back of your neck, the top of your spine where your hair hits, and gnaw on your fingertips and fall asleep.” Less promisingly, she threatens: “I’ll talk you to sleep.” Not in a restaurant, presumably. And the clumsy idealising: “Your skin smells lovely like sandalwood. Your hair falls soft like animals.” I may seem cynical, so let me make it clear that I do think the final verse is quite lovely: “Your hand, so hot, burns a hole in my hand.”

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Any Major Love Mix Vol. 1
Any Major Love Mix Vol. 2

More Songs About Love (happy, unhappy, ending etc)