Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shorties: How To Find a Shorty

In the course of finding songs for this week’s theme, and reading other people’s posts, I have developed a set of rules for finding shorties. If we ever decide to do a second week of shorties, I hope this will help.

1. Find a song by an artist or band who are known for short songs.

When They Might Be Giants first got together, they had a common problem; no one would sign them. They came up with an unusual solution. They recorded songs that were under a minute long each, and put a different song each day as an answering machine message. Then they plastered signs all over New York City to let people know about their Dial-a-Song service. It caught on, and was even reported in the New York Times where I first heard of it, and soon enough They Might Be Giants were signed to the Bar-None label. Many of the Dial-a-Song tunes found their way onto their early albums.

They Might Be Giants: Token Back to Brooklyn


2. Go with a TV theme or a cover of one.

Spiderman has been made into an animated TV series many times, but this Spiderman theme comes from the first series, made in the 1960s. The original Spiderman cartoon was animated by Ralph Bakshi, who went on to make the movies Fritz the Cat and Wizards.

Moxy Fruvous: Spiderman


3. Use a kid’s song.

From My Head comes from an episode of Sesame Street. It is a rare example of a jazz singer doing anything in less than two minutes. Kid’s songs often come in at under two minutes; there seems to be a widespread belief that no kid will pay attention for longer than that.

Betty Carter: From Your Head

[unreleased, no purchase info]

and, 4. Go with an older song.

Generally speaking, the older a pop song is, the shorter it is. That is because recording and transfer technology limited the length of a recording that would fit on a vinyl single and still sound decent. At the time that the Clovers cut their classic, the upward limit for a single was 2:30. But Love Potion #9 is even shorter.

The Clovers: Love Potion #9


Shorties: Accidentally Daisies

Danny Schmidt: Accidentally Daisies

[purchase] (first 100 pre-orders will receive an autographed copy!)

By now, you are all aware of my inability to do anything in 25 words or less - I confess that I am also an easier-to-get-forgiveness-than-permission kinda woman. I am about to beg your indulgence in advance - to paraphrase my first post to this collaborative blog way back in late-October, what's a few seconds among friends?...

I have written of Danny Schmidt (one of my favorite songwriters) here before - I am eagerly anticipating presenting him in my concert series in a few weeks....

His management sent me a copy of his soon-to-be-released (March 10) CD, Instead the Forest Rose to Sing, a few weeks ago... and I was of course prepared to love his deeper, denser tunes - however, I didn't expect to be hit in the heart so hard with Accidentally Daisies, a simple yet substantial song, clocking in at mumble mumble... two minutes and six seconds... mumble, mumble...

Lots of meaning there for me, as daisies have always been my favorite flower, I used them in my wedding... and my china pattern has a daisy border - the sweet words of devotion... coupled with tender harmonies... accompanied by a swell (my attempt at a DS pun) string section... reduce me to tears every single time I listen...

It is a lovely memory jog of the chain that binds (or unfurls, as he sings) - accidentally daisies fill my eyes... indeed...

Shorties: Car Bomb / Over the Hiccups

Negativland: Car Bomb

Negativland: Over the Hiccups


Long-standing cultural remixers and early anti-copyright activists Negativland don't make songs or albums so much as they create collections of sonic collage experiments, many of which call to particular genre approaches even as they challenge our sense of what a song is.

Here's two of my favorite such moments: a hilarious and tender a capella recording of a small child with hiccups singing Over the Rainbow which I once kept around to fill time on the end of mixtapes, and a faux thrash-punk litany of automotive nouns punctuated by a ticking drum beat, a clock, and a series of ever-larger explosions.

Both come from Negativland's most album-like album, 1987's aptly titled "Escape from Noise", better known for introducing the world to a song called "Christianity is Stupid".

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shorties: The Oz Edition

The Wizard of Oz original motion picture soundtrack:

Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead

As Coroner I Must Aver

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Optimistic Voices


"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again." ~ TV guide summary, Marin Independent-Journal

My love for all things Oz has been chronicled here - the original motion picture soundtrack has many songs that are under two minutes (most of them under sixty seconds!)... and these are my favorites...

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

Shorties: The Taste of You

Erin McKeown: The Taste of You


Erin McKeown is one of those wonderful artists who does not precisely fit into any genre. The case could be made for folk, tin pan alley, even jazz, but none of these labels does her justice.

The tracks I have chosen highlight McKeown’s jazzier side, but this is only one of the flavors her music comes in. I would encourage all to explore further.

Bonus track:

Erin McKeown: Honeysuckle Rose

The purchase link above applies only to the song The Taste of You. As far as I know, this version of Honeysuckle Rose is only available from Erin McKeown’s Daytrotter session.

Honeysuckle Rose is a cover of the classic Fats Waller tune.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Shorties: Absolutely Cuckoo

The Magnetic Fields: Absolutely Cuckoo


There are many bands that seem to be partial to the "short but sweet" song. Magnetic Fields are excellent with this, especially when it comes to their infamous "69 Love Songs" set, a set of four discs containing, yes, you guessed it, 69 love songs. I suppose when you're writing that many songs, making them shorter makes it quicker to reach your goal.

This song, in particular, is about a minute and a half long. It is fast and upbeat in pace, but like most Magnetic Fields songs, is actually very cynical and dark about the prospect of love, and also a bit comical. This was the first Magnetic Fields song I ever heard and remains a favorite.

Shorties: Tiny Little Song

Barenaked Ladies: Little Tiny Song


The last year has been a strange one for Canada's lovable pop group The Barenaked Ladies.

First it was the drug arrest of singer Steven Page... then the plane crash of singer Ed Robertson. Now there is the news this week that Page is leaving the band to "pursue solo projects."

As someone who used to love BNL for their sheer goofiness and knack for producing a well turned phrase, I have been very saddened by some of these recent developments.

Here's a song from happier times and 1994's Maybe You Should Drive. Bassist Jim Creeggan takes a rare turn at vocals.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shorties: Presto #1 In G Minor After Bach

Bela Fleck and Evelyn Glennie: Brahms: Studies, Anh 1A/1 - Presto #1 In G Minor After Bach


We don't do much classical music here on Star Maker Machine, but I think the Brahms study is a perfect example of a timeless shortie that transcends its genre. The simple, startlingly successful duet of banjo and marimba really captures the way the Presto bursts into existence, fizzes around like a firecracker, and finally slams to a halt.

Popular music fans are more likely to recognize Bela Fleck's name, but Evelyn Glennie is worth knowing, too: the profoundly deaf Scottish percussionist is a Grammy winner in her own right, and a Dame Commander of the British Empire to boot. You can learn more about the world's first full-time solo percussionist here.

Shorties: A Bone To Pick

Those Poor Bastards - A Bone To Pick


Death's theme song.

Shorties: Dookie

Green Day: Coming Clean
Green Day: Emenius Sleepus
Green Day: In the End


When I heard about this week's theme, the first thing that came into my head was punk music. Being a teenager in the mid-90's, my introduction to punk came by way of Green Day and their album, Dookie.

I bought the album a few months after it was released and quickly became hooked. I had never heard anything so raw that still retained such a melodic quality. There was a certain finesse behind the fury. I went out and bought their first two albums as well (Kerplunk is still my favorite), and they became one of my favorite bands during my high school years.

The last few songs off Dookie (the album ending "F.O.D." excluded) all clock in at less than 2:00 and are all included here. I still pull this album out from time to time on a late night drive when I need a little extra something to help keep me awake. It always does the trick.

Shorties: Testimony

Frente!: Testimony


Frente! is an Australian band that is best known for it's cover of New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" that charted in the mid '90s. They made really great, simple, often acoustic, pop music. Now, frontwoman Angie Hart has moved on to do other projects, including fronting a duo called "Splendid" and now does solo work. I've always thought this band was wildly underrated, as they made superb and creative pop music that was undeniably catchy.

This song appeared on the EP for their song "Labour of Love". The whole EP was wonderfully acoustic and simple. This song features only Hart's sweet vocals, one acoustic guitar and some hand claps for percussion. It clocks in at around a minute and a half.

Shorties: Alphabutt

Kimya Dawson: Alphabutt


"A is for Apple."

It's one of the first things we learn as a child. Our parents taught it to us, we teach it to our children, and so on. It's as basic as "2 + 2 = 4" and "See Dick run."

In the hands of Kimya Dawson, however, it's something completely different.

WARNING: This song is not intended for anyone who may be offended by "Huge Gorilla Farts."

Shorties: Lucky in Love

Jill Sobule: Lucky in Love

[Purchase info not available]

Jill Sobule had a hit some time ago with the song I Kissed a Girl. This is not the same as the recent Katy Perry song, but guess where Perry got the idea.

For Sobule, this has meant that bills get paid, but she has also gotten typecast as a singer of novelty songs. That’s a shame, because there is so much more to Jill Sobule’s music than that. Posting Lucky in Love is my attempt to try to set the record straight.

As noted above, you can not buy the album that Lucky in Love comes from. The song made its only appearance on a Valentine’s Day EP that Sobule put out in 2000. Jill Sobule doesn’t even sell this item on her own website. So I’m very happy to be able to present the song here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shorties: True Love Will Find You In The End

Daniel Johnston: True Love Will Find You In The End


Basia Bulat: True Love Will Find You In The End


More fragility, though at a decent if stumbling pace this time. As I noted this summer, Johnston is cited as an influence by a vast number of emotionally broken artists, and this heartbreaking tune is among his most covered. So many have heard so much in this song, and his body of work in general. I think you will, too.

The Basia Bulat cover is a bonus, from a 2008 Daytrotter session. It's short enough, and true to the original in its irregular pacing and warbling vocal. Broken beauty, all of it.

Shorties: Alex Chilton Edition

The Box Tops - Chilton standing center

Big Star (as trio) - Chilton slouching right

The Box Tops: The Letter [purchase]

Big Star: I'm In Love With A Girl [purchase]

Alex Chilton has had his hand in a few pithy pop classics. As the 17-year-old lead singer of The Box Tops, he pushed his voice way down soul deep for The Letter. The result was the second shortest No. 1 hit in the history of pop music. (Guess the shortest No. 1 hit in the comments below.) As a kid and teenager I probably heard The Letter a hundred times before I realized that it was sung by a teenaged Chilton. The guy sounds at least 24.

When Chilton actually did reach 24, he was still churning out catchy little pop numbers. On I'm In Love With A Girl, Chilton pushed his voice in the other direction, up into the falsetto range. It's hard to believe it's the same singer.

Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to prevent Big Star from timely receiving the popular success their music deserved. The consolation prize was to be adorned with cult-like hipster status by the college rockers of the 1980's.

(OK. I better stop now. This post is getting too long for me.)

Shorties: Riding My Bike

Lisa Germano - On The Way Down From The Moon Palace

Lisa Germano: Riding My Bike


Lisa Germano is known for her dreamy and dark music, most of which I've always found deeply affecting.

On her first album, 1991's On The Way Down From The Moon Palace, you'll find "Riding My Bike," a song which barely makes it under the two minute prerequisite for this week's theme.

Initially, the song seems sweet enough; acoustic plucking and Germano's unmistakable soft voice, as she sings in first-person. Then a deep stomping and suddenly, her voice deepens.

And thus, you'll discover Germano's amazing ability to conjure up something as innocent as a childhood past-time and turn it into something haunting, but heartbreakingly realistic. All under the time it takes to brush your teeth.

- - - - - -

I was riding my bike across the street
Just riding my bike

I was riding my bike across the street
Just riding my bike

Then this man came up to me
Was driving his car

Riding my bike across the street
Just riding my bike

Something was wrong
Just didn't feel right
My heart beat fast

He said "Which way is Adams Street?"
My heart beat fast

"Hey little girl, you sure look cute riding your bike."
"Hey pretty girl, you want a little of this? You sure look cute."

He followed me home
He knows where I live
He knows my name

He followed me home
He knows my name

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shorties: Why Don't We Do It in the Road

The Beatles: Why Don't We Do It in the Road

The Beatles: I Will


These two songs could not be more different melodically as well as emotionally - however, they are tracks 15 and 16, respectively, on Disc 1 of The White Album... and are both less than two minutes long...

Another pivotal album for me - my high school boyfriend used to sing Rocky Raccoon, still one of my favorite songs (and now my dog's name... :-)

Shorties: All Mod Cons

[Image removed by request from the creator]

The Jam: All Mod Cons


All Mod Cons (short for All Modern Conveniences) is the title track to what is certainly one of my 20 favorite records of all time. In this short 1:20 song, Paul Weller rails against those in the music industry who glom onto every hot band, but abandon them just as quickly if the money stops coming in.

Seen you before, I know your sort, You think the world awaits your every breath. You'll be my friend, or so you say, You'll help me out when the time comes.

And all the time were getting rich, You hang around to help me out. But when were skint, oh God forbid! You drop us like hot bricks

Artistic freedom. do what you want. But just make sure that the money ain't gone. I'll tell you what, I got you sussed, You'll waste my time, when my time comes.

Shorties: Come On

Chuck Berry: Come On [purchase]

Chuck Berry, sublime guitarist and avowed master of the short rock song, had no patience for mis-dialers.

(Miscellany: The female vocal part is by Chuck's sister Martha. The static you hear is on the master tape.)

Shorties: After the Operation

Eels: After the Operation


After the operation
I didn't have a care
I'd spend whole afternoons
Just layin' there
While I stared
At things in the room
That made me think

I love the way Mark Everett's hushed bedroom performance and vague lyrics evoke the dreamlike haze of post-operation lethargy. And how the song fades into first lyrical and then sonic nothingness just before the two minute mark, aptly reflecting the timelessness of a long recovery.

Shorties: Tea for the Tillerman

Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman


Okay... I can just hear all of you now - "this week's theme has the Folkie Woman stumped", you are thinking...

I am here to say that not all folk tunes are droning, whining, navel-gazing, train- or mining-disaster-related... and not everything in the genre clocks in at 4+ minutes long - we do have some short, sweet and simple songs to offer up..

Exhibit A - aaahhh...

Tea for the Tillerman came out in 1970 when I was a sophomore in high school - to say it was captivating is an understatement. Such a pain to have to turn that pesky album over to hear Side 2 - hooray for CDs...

When I met my soon-to-be husband in college, the first thing I thought was that he looked like Cat Stevens - Tillerman was a huge part of our life together then as well...

In fact, the whole family was listening to it on our way to vacation on St. George Island this summer... and I was excitedly describing to our kids its far-reaching impact... such that I missed the turn and we went an hour out of our way - Cat Stevens still has the power...

I don't know what this shortie *means*... other than the piano and the chorus and the switch in tempo make me feel good - happy day!

Bonus song from the same album, also less than 2 minutes...

Cat Stevens: But I Might Die Tonight

Shorties: Tony's Theme

Pixies: Tony's Theme [purchase]

This is a song about a super hero named Tony. It's called Tony's Theme.

Shorties: Mariposa

Prescott Curlywolf - Mariposa [purchase]

"Don't you cry, Mariposa
Flutter by, butterfly
You will live for awhile, then you'll die."

I loved Prescott Curlywolf for many reasons, not the least of which was their ability to pack 3-4 minutes worth of song in less than 2 minutes. If 1:27 was all a song needed, then that's all it got. "Mariposa" was just such a song.

It barely missed the cut in my Prescott piece from last November. Written and sung by bassist, Tim Kinard, the lyrics wonderfully capture that moment when public drunkenness turns from comedy to tragedy. It sounds like something The Pixies might've done circa Surfer Rosa, Kinard's fractured fairy tale offset by Rob Bernard's Frank Black-esque punk squall in the left channel and Ron Byrd's laid back, Joey Santiago-esque accents in the right. Funny, touching, ironic, subtly sophisticated, and fist-pumpingly anthemic in less than 90 seconds.

PS - It's Prescott Curlywolf Day at Adios Lounge HQ, where another classic shortie is being celebrated.

Shorties: Old Sad Songs

Lucero - Old Sad Songs


Short songs deserve few words. This is from Lucero's 2002 album, Tennessee and I quote it all the time as I'm leaving my wife to go to a show.

Shorties: Freight Train Blues

Jack Guthrie: Freight Train Blues


Last week, I wrote about how my father’s child memories led me to discover western swing for myself. And last week, we learned in the comments that some people love pictures of trains. So this is a two-for-one special.

Growing up, I remember my father singing Freight Train Blues all over the house at odd moments. I don’t know if this is the version my father remembered, but Jack Guthrie sings it the same way my father did. So what made such an impression on my father, that he could still sing the song forty years later? I think it may have been the first time he ever heard yodeling.

Jack Guthrie was a cousin of Woody, and Jack was the more popular of the two during the short span of his career. Jack Guthrie and his family migrated from Oklahoma to California in the Dust Bowl years, and there he began to perform in public. Jack had his first success performing songs inspired by his memories of Oklahoma for transplanted Oklahomans. It is likely that this music found its way onto the radio in Oklahoma, where my father would have heard it.

Jack Guthrie’s career only lasted from 1944-48. He performed and recorded almost until his dieing day; this kept him from seeking treatment for his tuberculosis until it was too late.

Shorties: Story In a Nutshell

Bettie Serveert: Story In a Nutshell


A little over ten years ago this song was one of my go-to songs. This was a time when I made mix tapes for myself and for friends and liked to cram as much on there as possible, and we all know that "shorties" are the mix tape makers friend. They conveniently fill that space at the end of a side where there's not enough room for a regular length song. It allowed you to skip the hassle of fast-forwarding to have the tape switch sides, which was especially nice when making mixes for the car so I didn't have to fiddle with the stereo while driving. After making enough mixes you were able to tell just by the width of wound tape left about how much time you had left, and clocking in barely over a minute long, this song almost always fit and made a welcome addition. I never felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something that fit.

What better title for a brief but power-packed fun rock song than something involving a nutshell. Concise. Short but sweet. This song appeared on the Dutch rock band, Bettie Serveert's, 1997 album "Dust Bunnies". It compacts the full pop/rock style and the fun of a little love song into a song that lasts barely over a minute in length. Impressive, if you ask me. So, thank you, Bettie Serveert, for making a fun pop song that kept me safe on the roads!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shorties: The Ramones

The Ramones: Do You Wanna Dance

The Ramones: Teenage Lobotomy

The Ramones: Cretin Hop


The Ramones might have been a Punk band, but underneath, they secretly were masters of the two minute Pop song. Here's a few examples from their 1977 masterpiece, Rocket To Russia - if you find yourself headbanging along, it's okay, just mind the walls.

Shorties: Lullaby

Emitt Rhodes: Lullaby


I love this theme. There are so many great shorties out there, and all of them have a special appeal to me. I like short songs because they are usually made up of essential stuff and only essential stuff. My first thought was, "Would it count to post the entire second side of Abbey Road?" [Most of it, anyway].

Speaking of Abbey Road, right about the same time as The Beatles were winding down, Emitt Rhodes recorded his mostly piano-based self-titled album at his house on a 4-track recorder. It was released in 1970 to some minor acclaim, but not enough. This is a very nice album with lyrical and melodic gems strewn throughout. There's only one shorty on the album and it is a guitar tune.

Short and sweet. It gets to the point. Sings you a lullaby. Then it's over. It leaves you wanting more.

Shorties: Mah Nà Mah Nà

Piero Umiliani: Mah Nà Mah Nà

[purchase for $125 dollars]

The American cultural origin of this familiar tune is definitive. The vivid imagery of the Muppets frames the song as a story, played out between the earnest chorus voices and the smarmy, interrupting lead. It's hard to shake the association, and harder still not to see the song as innocently playful as a result.

But Italian film composer Piero Umiliani originally wrote the song for a sauna scene in a mock-documentary about wild sexual behavior in Sweden. How does this challenge our sense of the song's playful innocence? Our image of Jim Henson himself? Discuss.

Bonus trivia points: singer and surf guitarist Alessandro Alessandroni, whose nasal voice can be heard on the original track above, also did the whistling for the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Shorties: Koka Kola

The Clash: Koka Kola [purchase]

It's the pause that refreshes in the corridors of power!

There's a lot going on here in 1:48. We're in an elevator at an advertising agency. There are snake skin suits and alligator boots. A snub nose .44 comes through the door. Someone leaps from from a window.

Musically, there are verses, choruses, and even a bridge.

Just goes to show that if you keep the tempo moving, a couple of minutes gets the job done.

Good line: "Coke adds life where there isn't any."