The National, "Fake Empire". By this point, there will always be at least one song about which I have nothing to say.
Bruce Springsteen, "Livin' in the Future".Magic wasn't his best album, and this isn't the best song from that album. But I've always been intrigued by the line, "We're livin' in the future, and none of this has happened yet."
Sleater-Kinney, "Sympathy". Corin Tucker's finest moment, and another ultimate 9/11 song.
Norah Jones, "Come Away with Me". The album earned Jones her first Grammy, at the age of 23. Also her second, third, fourth, and fifth Grammy. It was her debut album.
Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me". I obsess over this video. I used it in the classroom. I've written about both the song and the video before. After seeing her live for the first time, in 2002, I wrote:
The show had many highlights ... the oddest one for me came with the final song of the night, "Don't Let Me Get Me." This was the anthem all the girls had been waiting for, and seeing and hearing them sing along to this complex song was bizarre. What does it mean when a bunch of kids happily shout out "I wanna be somebody else"? The closest thing I can think of is when the audience would sing along with Johnny Rotten's "No Future!" ... as if in the act of proclaiming our nihilism, we were expressing our love of life. Except I don't ever remember wanting to be Johnny Rotten, while I think a lot of people in that audience would have been happy if the "somebody else" they got to be was in fact the woman who introduced those words to us in the first place: Pink.
Bruce Springsteen, "The Ghost of Tom Joad". To an extent, this video represents Bruce covering himself. The original was mostly acoustic. Later it was covered by Rage Against the Machine. Finally, Rage guitarist Tom Morello joined Bruce and the E Street Band for this version, which to my mind is easily the best.
Coolio, "Gangsta's Paradise". This is something of a cover version itself, given how heavily it samples Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise". Wonder even gets a songwriting credit. According to the inescapable Wikipedia, there are no profanities, because Wonder wouldn't have it.
Jewel, "Who Will Save Your Soul". At last, my cover version conceit is defeated ... I don't think anyone ever covered this. So I'm left with this anecdote: in 1995, I saw Jewel open for the next act on this list.
Liz Phair, "Whip-Smart". She headlined a show I saw in 1995 that featured Jewel as the opening act. Borrows from Malcolm McLaren's "Double Dutch".
The Cure, "Friday I'm in Love". For me, the difference between The Cure and Radiohead is that with The Cure, I like more than one song.
Bonus: What Bruce Springsteen actually sounded like in 1992. He toured with the unfairly maligned Other Band. Maligned because the albums he was touring behind weren't as popular/good as what came before. Maligned especially because they weren't The E Street Band. We saw him twice with this band ... they were fine.
A disappointing Spotify playlist ... missing Dre and Body Count.
We are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging. And we have heard people in high position in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us. May God save our souls.
-- Bruce Springsteen
I was born on this date in 1953, and in my 65 years I've lived through a lot that I found shocking and enraging and disgracefully inhumane. Over the years, I have heard many people in high positions in our government assault people, children and adults, with their self-proclaiming morality. There is no God to save us ... if salvation comes, it will come from us, not a higher power.
I am no longer able to say that the kind of behavior we are now experiencing is what Bruce calls "un-American". For there comes a time when we have to admit that it is all too American. We are not the good guys. Hunter Thompson once wrote, "This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable." Thompson wrote this in 1972.
In 1630, John Winthrop famously wrote of what would eventually become America, "We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting Winthrop, and it is fairly common nowadays for politicians to reference Winthrop's city. Winthrop was warning his people of the dangers of living an improper life. "So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake." But today, that city is used not as a warning, but as a reminder of American exceptionalism, a braggart's boast.
And, as Thompson noted, we no longer give a fuck what the eyes of all people think of our actions.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.
The Smiths, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out". Two weeks ago, I congratulated myself on knowing a Smiths song. I don't know this one, and listening to it, I don't care that I don't know it. I appear to have zero interest in The Smiths.
Madonna, "Papa Don't Preach". Sometimes when I vote, I look to see who supports an issue or candidate, or who is against it, to get a sense of where the matter lies. Tipper Gore liked this song.
The The, "Infected". This list contains a lot of music I don't care about. It also includes a lot of artists I've never seen live. This may say something about my music tastes in 1986, when I turned 33 years old.
Robert Cray, "Smoking Gun".Christgau gave this album an A+, and I like Cray enough ... nice that someone was still playing blues in 1986. But Last.fm tells me that listening to this track for this blog post was the first time in ten years I'd listened to a Robert Cray song.
The Bangles, "Walk Like an Egyptian". Guaranteed to put you back in 1986, if you happened to be alive then.
Elvis Costello and The Attractions, "I Want You". Should be played by depressives on Valentine's Day.
Bruce Springsteen, "Because the Night". The video is a cheat, taken not from 1986 but from a 1978 concert when Bruce used to play yet-to-be-released songs. Patti Smith's version was the hit in 1978, and it was a great track. But we loved hearing this in concert, and it turned up on Bruce's 1986 live box set, so it belongs here, right? That version came from 1980. We saw Bruce three times on the Darkness Tour in '78, probably marking the moment when he became our favorite for good. It remains the best tour I've ever seen.
Here's one more song, since I feel like I had too many on this week's list that didn't speak to me.
Prince and the Revolution, "When Doves Cry". The video starts out looking like it was directed by John Woo, then Prince appears and you can't get Dave Chappelle out of your mind.
The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?". Honestly, I wasn't sure I even knew any Smiths songs, which I know is pathetic. But I actually do know this one ... it must have been a huge hit.
Madonna, "Like a Virgin". Her first song to hit #1 on the Hot 100 charts. Before this she was a rising star; after this, she was a star.
Tina Turner, "What's Love Got to Do with It". Tina was a star before Private Dancer, but it had been a long time since she'd seen the Top Ten. This one put her at #1, making her at the time the oldest female solo artist to make it to the top.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Two Tribes". We went to England in 1984, and it felt like every other person had on a "Frankie Says Relax" t-shirt. The band was new to me, and they didn't last much past their debut. I thought they were a one-hit wonder, but this song shows I was off by one hit. Both of their hits were far better than their cover of "Born to Run".
Metallica, "For Whom the Bells Tolls". I once had a student who made me a mixtape of Metallica music. He thought I needed it.
Malcolm McLaren, "Madame Butterfly (Un bel di vedremo)". I actually saw him in concert in 1984, sandwiched between opening act Los Lobos and headliners The Clash, appearing in their post-Mick Jones period. As famously flamboyant as McLaren often was in his career, I can't remember a single thing about his performance at that long-ago concert.
The Time, "Jungle Love". It's amazing to think that Prince insisted on recording all of the instruments on their early albums himself, given that The Time was such a fine band. I saw them a couple of times and they were terrific, great music, top front man. The video is from an occasional feature on Jimmy Kimmel's show, "Mashup Mondays", in this case starring "Morris Day and The HAIM".
Sonic Youth & Lydia Lunch, "Death Valley '69". I've seen this band as many times in concert as I have The Time, but I have to admit, I preferred that band to this one.
Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A.". I like when favorite acts of mine become popular with everyone ... why wouldn't I want to share? And no one seemed more likely to be a big star than Bruce ... in many ways, he already was a big star. But I certainly never predicted he would get THIS big.