Saturday, August 13, 2011

Useful Numbers: 3

Bob Dorough: Three Is A Magic Number


De La Soul: Magic Number


Jack Johnson: The 3 R's


My first choice for this theme has already been blogged, and Anne described my attachment to it so well. But this eleventh-hour 3x3 submission, while a bit minimalist and tongue in cheek, is nonetheless as important as a phone number. And the song tells you why.

Bob Dorough is a great Jazzman, but he's best known as composer and occasional vocalist for the Schoolhouse Rock series, from whence this came. Playful hip hop pioneers De La Soul sampled and remade for their 1991 seminal 3 Feet High...and Rising. Jack Johnson transforms, rewiring the lyrics for a modern, green society.

There's good covers out there from Elizabeth Mitchell (gentle) and Blind Melon (grungy), among others. But then our numbers would've come out all wrong.

3. It's the magic number. No more, no less.

Useful Numbers: # 807

Pieta Brown: # 807


Number 807 is a street address, and Pieta Brown takes us to the front door, and then opens it. This begins a series of slides which show a man living on the bad side of town. The song may present one character or a series of different men, and the ambiguity is deliberate. We the listener see their poverty, but also their humanity. The slides are in black and white, but are no less real for that. The bluesy groove that accompanies this slide show is perfect.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Useful Numbers: 1865 (96 Degrees In The Shade)

Third World: 1865 (96 Degrees In The Shade)


This song has both date and temperature – a twofer! It describes the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica, a protest turned riot turned massacre, in which over 400 black citizens were killed and a further 300 executed without trial by the English colonial government.

Reggae band Third World, riding the wave of reggae-love beyond their Jamaican shores, released the title track of their second album in 1977, and it became one of their most popular songs.

Useful Numbers: 853-5937

Squeeze: 853-5937


853-5937 is one of those songs I liked as a child and I can look back on and say I am proud of childhood me for choosing Squeeze (I liked their other single "Hourglass" from their 1987 album Babylon And On even better) over a lot of the other stuff they were playing on the radio. I remember thinking back then that when I was older and had my own phone I would want to sing the chorus of this song as my answering machine message. Oh, how things change, but this song is still fun to sing along with.

Squeeze is a pop rock band from England that was making music from the late '70s, so when Babylon and On came out they weren't a new band, but new to most American ears, as this song and the previously mentioned "Hourglass" became their only hits in the U.S. The song is cute and catchy. A cute little story of a guy freaking out because he keeps calling his girlfriend's number and she never answers, and then he calls his best friend and he doesn't answer either and he starts getting paranoid that they were off somewhere together. They just don't make songs like this anymore.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Useful Numbers: 14th Street

Laura Cantrell: 14th Street


The picture above says it perfectly. You are looking down the middle of 14th Street in New York City. On one side of the street, the buildings are all a washed out brown color. On the other side, the buildings look vibrant and alive, decked out in that rich reddish brown. 14th Street marks the northern border of Greenwich Village, the famous Bohemian enclave. In Laura Cantrell’s song 14th Street, her narrator seemingly comes from the brown side of the street, while the man she walks behind is from the reddish side. Most of Cantrell’s songs are on the folk or country side of things, but this one is pure timeless girl-pop bliss. That works perfectly for this tale of a woman who is trying to find the courage to act on a crush.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Useful Numbers: 2541

Robert Forster - 2541


  When Husker Du broke up at the end of 1987 it was drummer Grant Hart who released the first solo recording, an EP named "2541". The following line pretty much sums things up:
 "Now everything is over /Everything is done/Everything is in boxes/ at 2541"

  A little googling identifies 2541 as the street address of the old Husker Du office and practice space, but Grant Hart told Spin Magazine that, coincidentally, it was also the number on a house he shared with a lover.

   "I wrote the song while waiting for the truck to move me out of this apartment where me and this person had just split up. And there were so many parallels with the dissolvement of (Husker Du)'s office and our being a  band."

   Must have been some place: "Billy put down the money and I picked up the keys/We had to keep the stove on all night long so the mice wouldn't freeze".

   As you've probably already noticed, I'm not offering Grant Hart's version . (You can hear it here.) I have a soft spot for a cover version by The Go-Betweens' Robert Forster. It's from an album of mostly obscure covers called I Had A New York Girlfriend.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Useful Numbers: 24-7-365

Keni Stevens: 24-7-365


24-7-365 is the number that “gets you on the loveline” with Keni Stevens (except, presumably, in Olympic years). It’s the sort of lyric one might expect from a 1980s soul song. But don’t let this slive of cheese mislead you about the soul stylings of the sadly underrated Keni Stevens.

The British soulster of distinctive style and voice released only three albums of sophisticated, cool soul. The debut, 1987’s Blue Moods is the best-known of them. The song here comes from the 1988 follow-up, You, which I consider to be the better album. Indeed, the first side of You is absolutely exquisite (when Stevens sings about the pain of heartbreak in 'Hurt This Way', you feel it with him), as good as any soul LP first side released in the 1980s. It's a superb laid-back soul album by a self-assured independent singer who never got his due.

Things could’ve gone better for the son of a US serviceman. Two singles he released on the independent Elite label in 1985 attracted interest from a few majors. Polygram reportedly offered him an £2,5 million contract. Stevens turned it down in favour of maintaining artistic independence. He became something of a favourite among British soul fans. Though he never bothered the UK Top 75 singles charts, Blue Moods sold 150,000 copies in Britain, and a reported million worldwide.

The saxophone on '24-7-365' is by Mike Stevens, who also did guitar duty. I presume that this is the same Mike Stevens who served as musical director for Take That and released a jazz-fusion album.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Useful Numbers: October 26

The Pretty Things: October 26


This 1971 single sounds like one terrific hangover from a party so "happening" it must have been revolutionary.

   October 26, 1917 is the day after the Bolsheviks took over Russia and began spreading Communism in the 20th Century. The plan was to implement worldwide revolution. It didn't quite happen that way.

   But aside from the date, this song appears to be about the end of another revolution. This one was orchestrated by hippies and it ended after a ten month span in which The Beatles broke up and Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Altamont concert-goer Meredith Hunter all died.

   For The Pretty Things "October 26" ends a string of remarkable albums ( S.F. Sorrow, Parachute) and singles cut at Abbey Road. At this point vocalist Phil May was the only original member of the band left. The single made no impact in the UK but broke the Top 30 in The Netherlands. You can find "October 26" on the re-issued Parachute album.

Useful Numbers: Dayton Ohio 1903

Randy Newman: Dayton Ohio 1903


Randy Newman has become known for full band pop and lushly orchestrated soundtrack music. He does both things with wonderful artistry. His songs in recent years, especially the ones used in the Pixar films, display a tenderness that very few songwriters can match. But I first heard Newman in ballads like this one, arranged for just voice and Newman’s piano playing. All of the tender emotion of his later work is here as well. This is a sepia-toned song, with a wonderful nostalgic feel. The song is short, under two minutes in fact, but that’s all Newman needs to set the mood.