Saturday, January 30, 2021

Over: Move It On Over


purchase [get  some Hank Williams  ]

This week SMM's contributing vloggers have done a remarkable job skirting the obvious- we have seen all sorts of <Over>s that remained remarkably apolitic. Kudos to all - Maybe Biden's middle of the road approach will work? 

This song actually has its own Wikipedia page in which we learn that it is considered to be one of the earliest examples of rock and roll. The date? 1947. Note that: the start of Rock is '47.  The page also informs us that another contender for earliest example of rock and roll, Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock, bears several technical similarities.

If you already know about 'Hank" Williams, you are a step ahead of where I was earlier this week. I knew the name, knew he was associated with country and maybe had even once read the story of a life that was over too soon. Not quite a member of the 27 club of musicians, as incidentally was Robert Johnson [see last week], as were Janis, Jimi, Kurt and Jim.

In addition to Williams' original, there are a number of others who have recorded it, including George Thorogood on an album of the same name. That said, for whatever reason, the version that caught my attention before I even learned that it was a Williams original was this one by Willie Nelson. There's something about the story told in the lyrics that just fits what little I know about Nelson. It seems like a song he ought to sing.



Thursday, January 28, 2021

Over: The Go-Gos, Head Over Heels

Purchase Head Over Heels--skip the middleman, buy from the band! 

I love songs that work in dichotomy. Particularly, when the upbeat melody and sound of the song in no way matches the lyrics. Some songs are so happy, so poppy, that it's hard to relate the sonic sensation that listening brings when you actually listen to what the singer is on about.  I recall this was a point of criticism in 2002, when Springsteen put out the September 11th response album, The Rising. Mixed into those soaring, elegiac and hymn-like sounds were songs of tragedy, pain and heartbreak. Some too-stiff typewriter trolls found that unforgivable.

But, then, music is meant to be a healing force, and I think that a sad lyric put to a bursting, energetic melody is the perfect combo. 

Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" never fails to uplift, despite the near-suicidal evocation in the lyrics. Springsteen's "The Rising" is a prayer of gratitude and awe for those who risk their lives to save others, and "Mary's Place" is a hell-with-it-all promise to the self, made at a turning point in grief and a personal decision to move on and find the beauty in life, a soul-fused, dance floor banishing of sorrow for affirmation of the fact that life goes on. 

Catharsis measured by sing-alongabiltiy, release in turning the volume up. There is just an ineffable magic about something sad that still makes you feel good. It's the magic of the music whispering the lyrics in one ear, and in the other, the gentle admonish, "Don't be sad..." 

I can't think of a better place to turn when I'm done than my record collection. 

I can write you a nice long playlist to help you out of emotional jams...

Which takes us to the song I've picked for the theme this month, which is 'over'. Over it, over done, overwrought, over and out? "Head over Heels," as done by the four album power pop, cute-punk California girls of my adolescent dreaming, The Go-Gos. A band that never got taken seriously, much to the "Doh!" of many of us who wrote them off as cream puff radio wannabes.

I love a lot of what the Go-Gos did, especially on their first album, where there was a lot of new wave grit to give the bubble gum some snap and sizzle. They made radio history with distinctly cool, distinctly genre leaning pop-punk tunes. There's glitz, and glam, but their music had a California vibe that would serve as the melodic precursor to your Green Days and your Blink 182s, abhorrent as it is to think punk could be pop, listened to by the masses and blared on commercial radio. Such is the way these things go--I mean, how many people who wear a Ramones t-shirt know the Ramones were a band? Music, as a cultural force, isn't exclusive to any one tribe, and the chameleon like appeal some bands carry is tribute to the universality of sound and the resistance we should all have toward arbitrary labels.

But, back to the Go-Gos.  They got short shrift for being the first Billboard charting, all female band to write all of their own songs, and play all of their own instruments. That sounds like a backhand slight, disguised as a compliment, but given the politics of pop music, and the exploitation that went along with so many of the hits that will forever be staples in our cultural history, the Go-Gos were a real band. With talent, and hooks, and looks.

"Head Over Heals" comes from Talk Show, their last album before they split up. It's the most commercial album they did, yet reflects the pressures of fame, and the lead single in particular speaks to the struggles the band faced with big label pressures, finances, substance abuse, and personality conflicts. Like any juggernaut pop band, the Go-Gos were put on a running cycle of touring and producing that brought fame very quickly. So many cautionary tales come from the world of pop and rock--young talent, driven by labels to repeat early flashes of magic, and then the trappings of fame, in the guise of sex, drugs and all the other glittery delights. It did the Go-Gos in, like so many other acts, but they managed four great hybrid albums in that run that reward listeners with fresh appeal, almost 40 years on. 

The Go-Gos certainly had a bright flash across the pop landscape, top 10 hits and fun videos. But, it came at a cost, as it did for so many bands, over the years. In a New York Times interview, lead singer Belinda Carlisle said "We were run ragged, we didn't know how to say no. ['Head Over Heels'] has an upbeat, cheerful melody and lyrically it really captures the darker side of fame and fortune - I had an appreciation for the lyrics then but not like I do now in hindsight." What make "Head Over Heels" such an interesting song--aside from it's confectionary of the opening piano riff to its tub thumping drums and static robot signal guitars, is the very dark nature of the lyrical content. 

Any song talking about head going over heels would most likely be about love, and while there is an intimation of romance here, "Head Over Heels" is a far darker, more plaintive song about being overwhelmed and out of control. It's a heavy ditty disguised as a light one, and the timelessness of the angst and the fear at being out of control has a universal appeal. You can tap your toes and snap your fingers to the song, but maybe it's a nervous tic rather than a signal of how into the groove you got. 

"Been running so fast
Right from the starting line
No more connections
I don't need any more advice
One hand's just reaching out
And one's just hangin' on
It seems my weaknesses
Just keep going strong..."

I know the song just went on repeat in your head--it's catchy, to say the least. But what I find most striking, again, is the dichotomy: here we have a dark confession of how fear and anxiety seem to rule the mind, and the lament that, despite best intentions, one's weaknesses are often stronger than our intentions not to be ruled by them. But, if there's anything to this song, it's the embodiment of hope and perseverance in the music. And music itself is sometimes just the thing we need to take one more step towards something better than the slow, sad moment we find ourselves in. Our weaknesses might be the only thing that has any strength, but keep working--you're doing fine, and it will get better.


Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Can there be a more evocative intro to a song? The pizzicato guitar plucks, with then the rolling riff of the lead guitar, sounding exactly how a shiver feels, creeping up your back(bone), standing all the hairs up on end. It's glorious. But the version you know is possibly not the version I know, the original failing to cross the atlantic at the time. Which is a pity, as it that rarity, a song of the early pre-Beatle 60s that can still hold its head up, undrenched in the syrupy strings that would spoil most of the UK's rock'n'roll output, often a tawdry and anodyne bowdlerisation of the real thing.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were huge during that short period of homegrown rockers, their calling card being their appearance, always in pirate costume, Kidd sporting an eyepatch and a cutlass. With the line up including the now legendary session man on drums, Clem Cattini, the guitar motif, both bits, was provided by one Joe Moretti, a Scot who also played on Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac. Number one in 1960, Kidd and his band couldn't hold on to that momentum, each further follow-up bringing diminishing returns, the line-up frequently changing until Kidd was killed, in a car accident, in 1966. For trivia lovers, also injured in that same crash was then Pirate, Nick Simper, later to be a founder member of Deep Purple. The Pirates weren't finished though, and I saw a revived version perform at the famous London pub venue, The Hope and Anchor, in the late 70s. A trio including the dynamic guitarmanship of Mick Green, he was one of the first players to play in a hybrid lead/rhythm style. Somehow, despite their age and portliness, they were lumped into the punk movement, mainly due the speed and precision of their sonic assault. Green was a key influence on Wilko Johnson, who picked up and ran with that style in first Dr Feelgood and then is his own band and with Ian Dury. I remember they did play Shakin' All Over that night, and I was bemused, knowing the song but not why they were playing it, other than the fact it was fast and ferocious. Green later became an integral part of Van Morrison's band, in the days when fellow 60's survivor, Georgie Fame was musical director and organist supreme. He died in 2010.

Wilko Johnson is then a link to the next version, courtesy his still fairly recent album with Roger Daltrey, the excellent Going Back Home, from 2014. Daltrey, of course, the then, the very much earlier and the still vocalist of the Who. Often cited as one of the best live albums of all time, their Live At Leeds, their version is a little slower and has a harder rock sound, with less roll. Legend has it that the only reason they played the song, was to get over the sometime confusion between themselves and Canadian band, the Guess Who, who had had a big North American hit with the song, in 1965. If a confused section of the audience were to muddle them up, and to call out for the song, it was easier to just play it, rather than have to explain. 

(By coincidence, and possibly for the same reason, guess what song the Guess Who played on their possibly less well remembered 1967 Live in Winnipeg opus? Good stuttering practice for a  later collaboration, too.)

Another noteworthy version was by from veteran rockabilly shouter, Wanda Jackson, who possibly shared a stage with Kidd at some time in the late 50s or early 60s. Better perhaps known for another song about shaking, she gave it a delightfully retro twang, including it on her 2011 collaboration with Jack White, The Party Ain't Over.

Quite why the emerging country and blues singer Eilen Jewell included it in her repertoire, on Sea of Tears, I do not know, other than that the idea was to reproduce the twangy tone of that time period, it suiting well her own material, if written nearly a half century later. But I'm glad she did. Still then an avid mix-tape maker, quirky covers were always a welcome discovery to slip alongside other songs I was trying to impress upon friends and family. It meant, in her case, I got to hear more of her own work, liking them and keeping up with her continuing career. Again, her cover is not a radical rewrite, but offered a little more of a western swing to it, with a decidedly more touchy vocal.

Johnny, Rog, Wanda, Eilen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Over: Don’t Dream It’s Over

Crowded House: Don’t Dream It’s Over

When this theme was announced, I decided to write about the X song, “Once Over Twice,” but before I even started that piece, I heard Crowded House’s great ballad, “Don’t Dream it’s Over” twice on different Sirius XM stations while driving around in my car. So, it seemed like the universe, or at least the satellite radio folks, were telling me something. 

This song was discussed on this blog back in 2011, before I started writing here, by “boyhowdy,” who was one of the fine writers who attracted me to the blog as a reader first, and then as a writer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t write very often here anymore (and not at all since 2018), but still writes quite well and somewhat irregularly at Cover Lay Down. As it is my oft-stated policy not to try to write something if someone has said it better already, and because boyhowdy is a really good writer, let me quote briefly from his short post: 

this well-known EnZed pop ballad is clearly intended to be romantic in nature. But strip away the pop production . . .and it, too, transforms effectively as an anthem for our times, a call for change in a world where the vitriolic stream of talk radio madness overwhelms any attempt at rational discourse, where the news stations dumb down our world daily in their attempt to demonstrate that every idea has two equal and equivalent sides, where my inner city students struggle to find safe haven in a culture which seems to have forgotten them. 

And remember that passage was written in 2011, when the idea of Donald Trump as president still seemed like a joke. (Damn. Can’t stop inserting politics into music posts. Bad Jordan.) 

“Don’t Dream It’s Over,” was written by Neil Finn, who I still have trouble distinguishing from his older and also very talented brother Tim, for his band Crowded House, and was released on their 1986 self-titled album. It was a massive international hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Since I’m stealing stuff from better writers, here’s a description of the song two Australian writers, Andrew Ford and Anni Heino, from their book, The Song Remains the Same: 800 Years of Love Songs, Laments and Lullabies, as excerpted in The Guardian

It was the song you danced to at the end of the night, pressed close to the intriguing person you’d just met while wondering what might happen next. The palpable sincerity in Neil Finn’s voice and the expansive melodic line of the song’s chorus encouraged hope. The song was also fast becoming an anthem for Antipodeans overseas, the slightly maudlin counterpart to Men at Work’s novelty song Down Under. 

If you read the Guardian piece, there’s a lot more about the musical attributes of the song that I have no ability to write myself. 

According to Finn, despite the fact that he knew the song was good, it almost didn’t come together. He told Uncut (I can’t find a link to the whole interview): 

The day I did it, I knew I had something quite special. Then the next day we played it with the band and it sounded like a bag of s--t. It was only when Mitchell (Froom) suggested the bassline, which Nick (Seymour) elaborated on, that it really found its groove. I was wavering away doing demos, and Mitchell made some quite profound suggestions. Like an R&B bassline might be better than a rock or pop approach, or a Hammond organ could sound nice. These were not textures I was used to. He filled in quite a few areas that we weren't covering, but maybe it made our individual sound less distinctive. It took a while, but then 'Don't Dream It's Over' started to work in the US and whole record went on to have a pretty big life. 

Somehow, Neil Finn ended up in the most recent touring version of Fleetwood Mac (replacing Lindsey Buckingham), and the band performed the song as a duet by Finn and Stevie Nicks. Check out this version from a show in Auckland, New Zealand, not that far from where Finn was born, and where he probably never dreamed he’d be singing on stage with Stevie Nicks.

Hey now!