The Ballad of Lucy Jordan

Shel Silverstein is perhaps best known for his book, The Giving Tree, but I learned when looking up “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” that he wrote it for the 1970s band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show. (Anyone here remember them?) He also wrote “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “The Unicorn,” which was made famous by The Irish Rovers, and created cartoons and travel pieces for Playboy magazine. Not your average children’s author! (I digress.)

I remember hearing Marianne Faithfull’s songs played in my childhood home, after her song “As Tears Go By” became a hit (1965). She was a big name in the 60s and famously had a romantic relationship with Mick Jagger during those years. The 70s were a time of struggle and illness for her, but she released a record in 1976, and then really broke back onto the music scene with 1979’s Broken English. I’m not sure how popular it was in my city, but I was one of only one or two in my group of friends who owned it.

Faithfull’s late-1970s voice, affected by a very challenging life, was unlike the higher tone she had in the 1960s so with that and the more electronic sound her producer wanted for the album, it was almost like listening to a completely different artist. Broken English is quite an album; heavy with synthesizers (played by the multi-genre-straddling Steve Winwood) and her raspy vocals. The title track sets the quick, often dark tone of the album which includes a cover of John Lennon’s “A Working Class Hero” and ends with the anger-filled “Why’d Ya Do It” which, like much of the rest of the album, is co-written by Faithfull and her band.

“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” begins with a choppy but catchy keyboard line and electronic-sounding drum. It tells of the “disillusionment and mental deterioration of a suburban housewife, who climbs to a rooftop ‘when the laughter grew too loud.’” (Wikipedia)

This song reminds me that mental health remains a major concern in our society, where many people fall between the cracks due to government cutbacks, lack of family or community supports, or the general indifference that many people show toward strangers who are struggling to make it through each day.

Wednesday of this week will be Bell Let’s Talk Day. We really need to focus on mental health every day of the year, but I believe Bell does a commendable job of living up to its corporate social responsibility by raising awareness — and funds — for mental health programs. Bell says that this year it will donate five cents for “every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view and use of our Facebook frame or Snapchat filter.” 

But even with all the progress that has been made, there is still a huge stigma about mental illness and crises. Stigma in the acceptance of those suffering, and stigma about coming forward when struggling with a mental health challenge. It’s a vicious cycle we need to break.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please, participate in #BellLetsTalk — but more importantly, check in with someone whom you think is having a hard time. 

Here’s a video of the song (there’s no official channel/version that I could find, but this one provides the best resolution and sound quality at 1080p):

When You’re Gone

Today’s selection was featured on our wedding CD mix, and the liner notes for the song say, “1998 and 1999 were really tough years as we moved into a new relationship and home together, through financial hardship and which led us to seek out work wherever it could be found. At one point, that meant Steve training in Calgary for three weeks, which felt like an eternity to us. This song recalls some of the memories of that time, as well as the similar sentiments felt when a variety of challenges brought on conflict and a different type of distance. A good song to play when in the midst of feeling separated from someone deeply loved as it evokes the strength that we are together.  Oh, and great to dance to, also.”

“When You’re Gone” has become for us another one of our stop-what-you’re-doing-and-dance songs whenever it plays (we have a few of them, including Annie Lennox’s “Stay by Me” from January 21, 2020). 

The tragic death of The Cranberries’ lead singer Dolores O’Riodan in 2018 added another layer to our sentiments behind the song, reminding us of the fragility of life and the importance of love in it, and what a blessing it is to have the love between us and with our dear family and friends.

It’s a fantastic song, with its refrain of “do-be-da” opening over a single guitar chord and repeating throughout the song.

“And in the day
Everything’s complex
There’s nothing simple
When I’m not around you”

(from “When You’re Gone,” by Dolores O’Riordan)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the official video from The Cranberries’ YouTube channel:

Under the Ivy

The B-side on Kate Bush’s 12-inch single of Running Up That Hill (1985) was “Under the Ivy.” That record and a number of her other albums on vinyl, CD and digital are in my collection. She’s always intrigued me with her unique and beautiful voice, and her magical performances on the many official videos produced to accompany her music and show other talents, such as mime and dance. 

After not listening to her for some time, I became reacquainted with her sound when, several years after its release, I found a copy of her 2005 two-CD album, Aerial. A Christmas list item for me a few years ago, which I thankfully received rom one of our boys, was her magnificent, three-CD live set, Before the Dawn (2016). I can only imagine what an experience it would have been to be at one of those concerts.

Bush’s style is quite varied, often quirky, and it’s not for everyone. But there are some pieces, like today’s, that I think just about any listener would love. Others, like “This Woman’s Work,” are beautiful works of compassionate love, acknowledging and comforting the anguish so many suffer. My listening today started with “And Dream of Sheep,” which is another beautiful song about tragedy.

She’s not all about sad, though. There are many upbeat and whimsical songs in her repertoire. Honestly, I don’t listen to enough Kate Bush. But today I am remedying that.

When interviewed about “Under the Ivy” in 1985, Bush said, “It’s very much a song about someone who is sneaking away from a party to meet someone elusively, secretly, and to possibly make love with them, or just to communicate, but it’s secret, and it’s something they used to do and that they won’t be able to do again. It’s about a nostalgic, revisited moment. (…) I think it’s sad because it’s about someone who is recalling a moment when perhaps they used to do it when they were innocent and when they were children, and it’s something that they’re having to sneak away to do privately now as adults.” 

It’s rare to read about the songwriter’s intent in creating a piece. I also think that songs can hold different meanings for listeners. To me, the song is about the need to retreat and be away from whatever things cause us fear, pain or heartache. We all need to follow that instinct sometimes and find a place that’s safe to be ourselves. Bush writes beautiful songs, for a beautiful world that’s not always kind.

“It wouldn’t take me long
To tell you how to find it
To tell you where we’ll meet
This little girl inside me
Is retreating to her favourite place

Go into the garden
Go under the ivy
Under the leaves
Away from the party
Go right to the rose
Go right to the white rose (for me)”

(from “Under the Ivy,” by Kate Bush)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the official video from Kate Bush’s YouTube channel, introduced by (the now late) Paula Yates, who featured the video on a UK TV show she hosted, the Tube:

Mother Fighter

When I went through my Shazam app earlier this month I bought 25 tracks all in one go, each of them by different artists. Some of them I heard on either BBC 6 Music programs (in the addition to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, I often listen to Amy Lamé, Tom Robinson, frequent Garvey sit-in Cillian Murphy of Peaky Blinders and, though less often, Dave Monks of BBC Introducing in Merseyside) or KEXP Seattle.

One of the stronger tracks of my recent haul is definitely “Mother Fighter,” by Nadine Shah. I’m sure I’ve heard her songs before; at the same time, my ears are a little confused by the similarity of her voice to Martha Johnson of Martha and the Muffins, later known as M+M, famous for their first big hit, “Echo Beach” followed some years later by “Danseparc.” (Okay, enough digressing.)

“Mother Fighter” comes across like a strong, no… a badass anthem for the historical plight of women, a movement that the old white men’s establish is intent on pushing back down. Shah’s lyrics and strong, smoky alto vocals are clearing responding, “No” to that, though she acknowledges the struggle:

“I’m a mother and a fighter
I can do both just as well
But the mother who’s the fighter
Knows her place all too well”

(from “Mother Fighter,” by Nadine Shah)

“Mother Fighter” is from Shah’s 2017 album, Holiday Destination, on which the cover photo of a building being demolished reminds me of Winnipeg’s Civic Centre Parkade, closed for the last seven year years or so, and now being slowly torn down as I learned just last night. Its mural honouring Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was, ironically, the first part of the structure to be taken down.

I was immediately taken by the strong beat of the band on the studio recording and, as mentioned earlier, Shah’s strong voice. I prefer the studio track production to the (BBC) 6 Music Live Room session but the former isn’t available on YouTube so the latter appears to be the best option for sharing the song with you. That said, the instrumental introduction to the live performance is, like the song, badass, with some stunning saxophone and guitar effects that, along with the drums and bass set an undertone I hear as anger and rage to set the stage for Shah’s entry, though I wish the producer had mixed Shah’s voice a little higher over the band as it’s drowned out in parts.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. 

Here’s the live session video from the 6 Music YouTube channel:

Heart Is a Drum

When I was earning a paycheque full-time, my morning routine would be to cycle or walk to work, shower, get suited up, eat, and before the office day started, I’d go for a proper cup of coffee at Parlour, a hip coffee shop that had opened in 2011 near the office where I worked.

One morning as I walked in to get the caffeine fix that would help me ease into the day, the opening track of Beck’s 2014 release, Morning Phase, started playing on the shop’s sound system. I was greeted by a former Parlour staffer, Mel, and we talked about how awesome the music was. I bought it later that day. (I still remember one morning in early 2013 when I was in the shop, and Mel knew I was grieving a traumatic loss. As I sat staring blankly into my impeccably made latte, she came over with a plate that had a broken cookie on it. “It’s broken, so I can’t sell it,” she said as she winked, smiled compassionately, and slid the plate toward me. There are small acts of authentic kindness that bring warm feelings, many years after they are offered.)

The opening, instrumental track, “Cycle,” is just 40 seconds long, but it does to my ears, brain and soul what a good massage does to my body… provides an immediate sense of ease. There’s another instrumental track, “Phase,” that creates a bit of a bridge in the album, almost as if to say, “Okay… it’s all okay, just chill.”

The whole album is like that, and one of our sons described it as the most calming album he knows of. But we both agree that track 7, “Wave,” is very dark and disruptive to the chill mood of the rest of the album. I almost never listen to it and, since I often listen to the album on Apple CarPlay when out doing errands in the car, created a playlist of all songs except that one. 

Many of the songs have a slow vibe; today’s song is a bit more upbeat, though still keeps that calm mood going. My sweety and I don’t drive our car an awful lot, but when we do, this is good music with which to be stuck in traffic. “Heart Is a Drum,” as the name suggests, has a good beat to it. Though most of the songs have a positive vibe to them, some of the lyrics are about being in conflict, internally or externally, and maybe sometimes both. In that, sense, maybe “Wave” does indeed belong on the album, but I still choose to not listen to it.

I think “Heart Is a Drum” is about getting caught up in a fast pace, caught in the “beat” of life; a life I used to have, but am so fortunate to be away from now.

“Your eyes get stung by the rays of the sinking sun
You follow the drum keeping time with everyone
Going beat beat beat, it’s beating me down
Beat beat beat beat, it’s beating me down
Day after day, it’s turning around
‘Til all my days are drowning out”

(from “Heart Is a Drum,” by Beck Hansen)

(I used to hear one of the above lines as, “Going beep, beep, beep, beeping me down…” which I guess still fits my interpretation of the piece. Now I just chuckle a little to myself each time the line comes on.)

Listening to “Heart Is a Drum” always takes me back to the first time I heard the whole album in Parlour, and the association to that shop takes me back to my earlier memories there, including the one I described with Mel. Owner Nils Vik created (I’m pretty sure) the first of the “third wave” coffee shops that set up in Winnipeg, and he really set the standard. He and his staff created a community of regulars and not-so-regulars, and they make everyone feel welcome. While I am rarely in that area anymore, I try to drop in when I can, to support the shop. Vik is my idea of a model business owner; when his shop was broken into, instead of railing about it, he set out to help an inner-city agency, Main Street Project, that helps people who have had hard lives out on the street. He, like Mel, reminds me that there are good people out there when it seems like everyone is “beat, beat beat, (they’re) beating (us) down.”

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the official video from Beck’s YouTube channel:

Stay by Me

For me, sometimes the measure of a really great song is if I feel that it belongs in a film when the ending credits roll (for more on that idea, see my January 12, 2020 post on “Sultans of Swing”). You know; it’s that moment you realize the movie is ending, but you want it to keep going… like so many things in life.

When the synth-pop/new wave duo the Eurythmics burst onto the music scene in 1980, I took a passing interest in them. However, when Annie Lennox released her solo debut album, Diva, in 1992, I was hooked, immediately. I think the album is very solid, except for one of its singles, “Walking on Broken Glass,” which I quite honestly skip past as soon as I hear the opening electric piano notes, and I usually give “Keep Young and Beautiful” a pass as well, though I did listen to it today. The latter is cleverly done in the sense that it is recorded with a vocal effect and a scratchy-record sound to make it fit the Ragtime style it mimics, but it’s not a song I’d choose to listen to regularly. 

If making a playlist of just that album, I’d drop those two songs as I believe the remainder of the tracks weave together beautifully like a story. (Many friends will know I’ve said the same about Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, an album I quite disliked until I listened to it a few times and dislike turned to love; and no tracks need to be trimmed.)

At the heart of Diva, I feel there’s an overall theme of love; I mean, deepest soul love, the kind that conjures up the notion of old souls across time. I get a real sense of the primordial that builds in the album and reaches its peak as we get to two tracks: “Primitive,” and then “Stay by Me.” But then this cord is broken in the second-last track, “The Gift.” It’s still a very beautiful song, but like the opening track, “Why,” tells a very different tale; one of a love that has changed drastically, is filled with conflict or is ending. 

“The Gift” ties together with “Stay by Me” in the shared imagery of rain that appears so strongly in the latter (“We were standing in a thundercloud / Dark as your hair”). The official video for “The Gift” features Lennox in the same, bright almost tribal-looking headdress and garb as she appears in on the album cover which again feed that sense of the ancient. (On a related note, when the album was playing this morning, our cat, Perry Como, was racing around the house more than his usual very active self; so, perhaps it was stirring up some ancient instincts in him!)

“Stay by Me” is the strongest song on the album. Its electronic instrumentation and Lennox’s vocals take the listener on a lush, soulful, erotic journey right from the opening bars and then first lyrics:

“Stay by me and make the moment last
Please take these lips even if I have been kissed
A million times
And I don’t care if there is no tomorrow
I could die here in your arms
Even if the stars have made us blind
We’re blind… we’re blind
So blind in love”

(from “Stay by Me,” by Annie Lennox)

Musically, there’s a beautiful flute line that comes visits a couple of times, and a high, sometimes quavering synthesizer treatment that starts at 4:02 and though not powerful, it is like a guidepost that carries the song through to the end of the second verse, as the song transitions and begins the journey to the long ending…. It’s like a favourite movie we don’t want to end. It invites the listener to really lean in and feel the deep love. 

The song is so beautifully composed, arranged, played and sung. 

“Stay by Me” is a song my sweety and I have enjoyed together for many years, and we included it on a CD mix we gave out at our wedding. When it plays, we often stop what we’re doing for a “kitchen dance.” (Another song you’ll see here sometime is one that began our stop-what-you’re-doing-and-dance tradition early in our relationship.)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the song, from Annie Lennox’s official Youtube channel:  

Dietro Casa

Whenever I hear a new-to-me piece of music that catches my attention, I seek out the title/artist using the Shazam app, and then refer back to the saved titles on the app when going on the modern, online equivalent of my 70s record shopping trips (see post on “Orpheus,” January 13, 2020, for more on that).  When I raved about Shazam to him some years ago, a cousin’s husband told me I was only about ten years late getting onto it!

Shazam identified the solo piano tune, “Dietro Casa” by Ludovico Einaudi. It sounds to me like a somewhat simple piece, yet it is captivating nonetheless. The title, according to Google Translate, means “behind the house.” Einaudi describes the album Una Mattina as being about things in his life which, in relation to this song, infers he’s writing about spending time in the backyard. 

There’s a peacefulness to the piece; it brings a sense of enjoying precious leisure time with loved ones and, to me, it evokes the fragility of those moments — and of life itself.

I find solo piano quite mesmerizing; the tone of a very fine instrument, the style of the performer, the movement of his or her hands, and the way they seem to move their bodies to get the notes just right and, perhaps most of all, how the single instrument calls for all of the listener’s attention. 

It also can be very powerful when placed thoughtfully in a film, and can either complement or counter what’s being portrayed on the screen. In doing some reading about the song, I learned it appears on the soundtrack to the 2006 film, This is England, a story about schoolmates in 1983 in a subculture of skinheads, racism, nationalism and division. While I haven’t seen the movie, elements of the story strike me as similar to the incivility, exclusionism and inhumanity that have resurfaced in many parts of the world during recent years.

Thinking in the context of global current events, the piece is a wonderful counterpoint to the negativity that pervades the world; it adds some much-needed calm.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

There’s an official video of the composer playing the piece; it’s quite different from the studio-produced, soundtrack version (not official) which I prefer and have used here, but I hope you like the piece, either way.

A New Career in a New Town

David Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and others on what’s referred to as his Berlin Trilogy, three albums made between 1976 and 1979 (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger), all overseen by his long-time producer, Tony Visconti. The albums, particularly Low, are a real departure from the soul and funk of Diamond Dogs and ‘Young Americans’ and Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” persona of the previous album to Low, Station to Station.

Much of Low is instrumental; extraordinary for Bowie to leave lyrics as a secondary part of the music. Instead, he opted for several ambient tracks, most of them quite brooding and serious; influenced by the dividedness of Berlin where he was living at the time. The production is sparse as well, not the full-sounding production of Young Americans and Station to Station or the earlier albums, though it is a good sound for the music.

Between Diamond Dogs which was made with his original band (once known as The Spiders from Mars in his “Ziggy” period) and Young Americans, Bowie made a massive transition toward a new core band that would follow him for many years and his next stages: Carlos Alomar, guitar; Dennis Davis, drums; George Murray, bass; plus other vocalists and instrumentalists from time to time (like Eno and Fripp; even Pete Townsend and his guitar made an appearance on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Despite its overall low-ish (depending on the track) mood, Low did produce a successful single, “Sound and Vision,” with the unmistakable Alomar guitar riffs amidst the Eno keyboard and synthesizer treatments. There are a couple of non-ambient instrumentals of varying tempos as well, including today’s song, “A New Career in a New Town.” Like others on the A-side, it is not suffused with the darker, brooding tones of the record’s B-side.

I had bought two copies of Low; one lived at my house and one at the home of my then-girlfriend, a fairly short-lived relationship that, quite honestly, took several years to get over the loss of. Music was a constant companion in our time together in her room, and it remained a loyal friend to me after the split.

I also remember a recurring nightmare that occurred during the same time Low was insinuating itself into my consciousness. In the dream, I was driving in a car (didn’t drive at the time; had no interest in getting my licence until I turned 19) in a mystical landscape and at the end, some great creature jumped around a corner to attack. The dream reoccurred for a long time, then just as mysteriously, it vanished, but it is a permanent part of the memory of this album.

Later, just after the Berlin Trilogy ended with Lodger (1979), Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) soon followed in 1980. I remember 1979-81 as being part of a long, intense period often darkened by loneliness. Intimate relationships seemed hard to find and harder to keep, and while I had a good, well-paid job (yes, to support my continued obsession with buying records and recordable cassettes to make tape mixes for the car stereo), I look back on that stage of my life as being rather purposeless. 

During this time the song, “Ashes to Ashes” (and the video for it; videos were exceedingly rare at that time) was a hit and the video was on TV in a bar when I was visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, trying in vain to nurture an unlikely relationship with the subject of my infatuation. At one point, enamoured by her, her friends and the BC life, I thought I’d leave my job and make a fresh start there (perhaps part of the significance of the title of today’s song). I didn’t make the move, and while she sought me out later and we crossed paths several times over the years, in 1985 I decided it was time for me to move on with my life. I did, and while it’s been a rollercoaster ride at times with courtship, marriage, kids, staying home with kids, divorce, under- or unemployment, re-coupling and marriage, I am deeply blessed with my sweety and our life, our kids and grandkids, and friends.

As I approach my 60th birthday, I am reminded so often of the “speed of life,” and the track of the same name on Low reminds me again. And Sharon Van Etten’s phrase, “halfway through this life…” from “Seventeen” (please see my January 11, 2020 post, for that song) is even more significant and moving for me, knowing I’m well past the half-way mark. 

In many ways, though, I’m more alive than ever: loving deeply and knowing I’m deeply loved; unencumbered by the stresses of a career; having the time, space and energy to spend on those I love; healthy and healing, fit and now passionate about endurance road cycling; and yes, having much more time to spend listening to my ever-expanding collection of vinyl, CDs and digital format music. Heck, I’ve even tackled a few handy-person jobs!

“A New Career in a New Town” carries a building sense of optimism, along with wonder and openness for a future possibility, and positivity in the face of the anticipatory anxiety that can sometimes accompany change. The harmonica line seems like it’s maybe a farewell to the past, disappearing under the synthesizer in the ending bars. It’s quite an engaging track, though fairly short at two minutes, 53 seconds.

Low is an album I visit along with its box full of memories fairly often.  And in more recent times, one of my sons has taken a great shine to the opening, instrumental track, “Speed of Life.” Yes, “Life moves pretty fast,” as Ferris Bueller says.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the song (not an official version, but one of the few that is high definition for the sound):

This Blue World

I first heard of the band Elbow through one of my cousins in the UK. He and his siblings and families and I reconnected in 2007, with my sweety-and-then-future-bride in tow (well, that’s perhaps another story: they said upon meeting her that they’d come to Canada to visit if we married, so we did, and some of them did). Before 2007, I first met my generation of our UK family in Liverpool in 1973. Thankfully, we’ve all seen each other several times since in Canada (or Canaderia as they affectionately call the country), England and Wales, and I look forward to my next chance to get up to “Welsh Wales” to taste my cousin’s lovely lamb roast. 

At any rate, in one conversation some years back he implored me to check out the album, The Seldom Seen Kid (2008), calling it a “cracking” album (translation: it’s very, very good). A song on that album, “Mirrorball,” is a lovely tale of the writer walking in the night street to see his lover. It’s a piece of pure poetry, as are so many of Elbow’s compositions (many of their songs have five writers credited; they’re quite an amazing band in the way they work together to consistently create such beauty in their craft). 

As an aside, the song reminds me so much of another work I’ve loved for years, “When You’re My Destination,” by a Canadian poet, (the since September 2019 late, as I only discovered when trying to find the title rather than getting up and looking where I last left the physical copy) Ian McCulloch, a favourite since I somehow was blessed to find a well-lived, second-hand copy of his poetry collection, Parables and Rain.

McCulloch’s poem is a rich illustration of walking in a late night drizzle, anticipating with the countdown of street numbers to when he reaches his lover’s home, where his wet clothes will be dripping from hangers. The volume also contains a wonderfully rambling piece that stirs up memories of long-ago, long-distance running days, “Running Cross Country.” If you’re in any way inclined toward poetry, I highly recommend that you seek out his work. Another volume, The Efficiency of Killers, contains a poem that is a vivid description of what happens in the detonation of a car bomb. McCulloch wrote in a magical way that I’ve often tried to mimic.

Well, I’ve managed so far to stay off-subject but these memories came while I was listening to today’s song. So, let’s get back to that…

In 2014, Elbow released The Take Off and Landing of Everything, a terrific and varied collection of tunes. “This Blue World” is the opening track on the album, and it sustains the same, slow pace throughout the song, like a fluffy cloud slowly floating across a deep blue summer sky, and it invites the listener to sit down for a while and enjoy the whole, ten-song set. The writing in “This Blue World” is magnificent:

“When all the world is sucking on its sleeve
You’ll hear an urgent Morse in the gentle rain
And if you plot your course on the window pane
You’ll see the coldest star in the arms of the oldest tree
And you’ll know to come to me”

(from “This Blue World,” by Richard Jupp, Craig Potter, Mark Potter, Guy Garvey, Peter Turner)

The beauty of the poetry, swaddled within the music, are so perfect and touching that they often make me feel I could weep when I sit listening intently — which of course is just me being present to it (which, incidentally is a 2020 intention; to be more present and appreciative). Elbow’s writing and lead singer Guy Garvey’s voice (yes, that Guy Garvey whom I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, and his program, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour, on BBC 6 Music!) are transcendent, yet easy to listen to. One cannot walk away from hearing one of their songs without having been touched by its beauty, humanity and vulnerability.

I am unsure exactly what the song is about; it ends with what seems like a hint of unrequited love. It may also be in homage to our planet, from which we can see the Moon and stars from the vantage point of laying in a bed by a window. But whatever its intended or interpreted meanings are, it’s a truly beautiful song. A “cracking” song.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Today’s post is dedicated to the earthly life of Ian McCulloch. “He has flown.”

Here’s the YouTube audio (not an official version):

A Taste of Honey

In addition to its healing and mood-lifting qualities (for more on that, please see January 15, 2020 post on Ben Wytinck’s “’Bel”), music has a tremendously powerful way of evoking memories for me. While down another internet rabbit hole recently, I came across a song by Burt Bacharach… the composer, producer and performer was behind the soundtracks of many 1960s films, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, What’s New Pussycat?, Casino Royale and others. Listening to one of his compositions led me to trumpeter Herb Alpert, who sang Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love.” Then I happened on the Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass piece, “A Taste of Honey.”

Listening to the YouTube recordings of Alpert’s album, Whipped Cream and Other Delights, I remembered all the tunes, and pictured my late mother dancing in the living room to the upbeat “A Taste of Honey.” Floating across the carpet, she enjoyed music so much and, thinking back to that time, perhaps her lifelong and deep love of music helped spawn my own; a passion I’ve in turn passed along to my kids as I’ve always liked to have music playing at home or in the car. 

In my own childhood home, an oriental-influenced, patterned carpet on our main floor — I think that one was in the dining room — was memorable as it made a good, imaginary road network for Matchbox toy cars. Another carpet, a short-pile, green one in the living room, was infamous for the way the pile looked scruffy when walked upon. When my parents were going to be entertaining guests, the newly-vacuumed carpet was off-limits — “Walk around it!” — lest we spoil its perfection. During those parties, I would be called downstairs to give my obligatory Red Skelton impersonation, “Heya Joe, Ah-hih, ah-hih, ah-hih!” and when dismissed, would linger at the top of the stairs, to hear the party sounds and hope someone would have mercy and bring me a sausage roll as payment for my standup.

I remember our home so often being filled with music like Alpert’s, as well as Tom Jones, Vera Lynn, the James Last Orchestra (a favourite of Dad’s), and any of my siblings’ music that Mum took a shine to, such as Bob Dylan and David Bowie (whose Ziggy Stardust concert Mum and Dad took me to see as, serendipitously, the tour was in Liverpool, UK while we were on a trip to visit our family there in 1973; Bowie’s reputation for his sexuality and androgynous garb was much to stoke the outrage of their more conservative British peers!).

The Whipped Cream album cover is a rather provocative photo of a seated woman, coated in whipped cream. Perhaps it was while furtively looking at the cover art that I was beginning my lifelong admiration for the liner notes of record albums. (I also remember the Alpert album had numerous instances of a single, brash, punctuating saxophone note that, to boyish ears, sounded like someone passing gas.)

The record also includes the tune, “Spanish Flea,” which some may remember as the music that played during TV’s The Dating Game, a 1960s game show where a single woman had the “opportunity” to ask three single men several questions, before choosing which one she’d go on a date with. Seriously.

Anyway, after nearly as much digressing as in the postscripts of a Corin Raymond subscription email, it’s about time to drop the needle on this tune! Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the official audio from the Herb Alpert YouTube channel (incidentally, a window in YouTube says Alpert’s playing in Winnipeg, Canada on April 14, 2020 at the Burton Cummings Theatre, which I still insist on calling the Walker Theatre; but, I digress, again):

Come Talk to Me

Peter Gabriel was what I guess I’d call a “musical acquaintance” through my teen years; I didn’t have any of his records early on, but one of my friends was a big Genesis fan and had continued on with collecting Gabriel’s solo works. So while not a collector, I enjoyed the music. 

But the 1992 album, Us, changed things for me in a big way… really don’t recall how I came across it, but there must have been a strong impulse to get it. I frequently played it in my home, its songs all representative of what I’ve since grown to see in Gabriel’s life and work: talent, creativity, heart, soul and conscience. 

The record moves from strong beats to rich, sensual melodies and is one of those albums that is best listened to in one sitting. (BBC Sounds celebrates and promotes this notion through National Album Day, which they mark on October 12.)

In the CD liner notes, Gabriel writes that most of the songs on the record are about relationships; he dedicates it to those from whom he has learned about loving and been loved by, and those whose love he didn’t properly acknowledge. Maybe it’s the latter sentiment that inspired “Come Talk to Me,” the opening track of the album, which also was the opening song in his Secret World Live concert DVD. During a duet, Gabriel (from a brilliantly staged phone box) and singer Paula Cole plead to each other, “Come talk to me.” It’s one of the most remarkable videos of a live performance that I’ve seen; truly evocative, emotionally stirring, and not unlike my own feelings about some of the relationships throughout my life. 

“I said please talk to me
Won’t you please come talk to me
Just like it used to be
Come on, come talk to me”

(from “Come Talk to Me,” by Peter Gabriel)

The album cover, a photo of a suited Gabriel on a red background with the veiled and ghostly figure of a woman before him, is haunting. The visual effect around his arms makes it look as if he is trying to fly toward her.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

(The Youtube link I’ve provided is to the live performance; click on the video’s settings and select 1080p for best resolution and sound. It’s not an official version… so, predictably, I say: if you like it, buy it. The DVD is a worthwhile purchase giving a front-row perspective on a rare concert opportunity… I’ve enjoyed watching it several times and am due for another viewing.)

‘Bel

I remember, about 30 years ago, I heard a family friend was leaving a secure job in education to learn music therapy. While the field sounded new and unknown, I thought, yeah… that would work! I have always believed that music has a healing power to it, shown in the way a favourite piece can help lift one’s mood or at least accompany one through it. (For more on that idea, see my inaugural post on the Psychedelic Furs’ song, “Heaven.”)

Like many people, my wife and I have endured many losses in our 21 years together; some traumatic, some tragic, all hard. Very hard. The deaths of parents and other family, friends, friends’ children, colleagues, mentors, relationships… heartbreaking, irretrievable losses.

At the same time, we have been fortunate to have friends and family uphold us in times of grief. Sometimes that upholding is active through bringing meals and doing other caring acts, and other times it’s by something powerful a friend has offered to the universe and which comes around to us at just the right time. Like a song.

When my wife’s mother died suddenly and we were deep into the process of family arrangements, caring for her dad, and doing so many other things — the memories of which we’ve long since lost to the fog of grief — we went home one evening and listened to a beautiful song by a brilliant musician, Ben Wytinck, who lives in Winnipeg, Canada. (A song from a CD he released earlier that same year, by the way.)

At home that evening, we sat and played Wytinck’s song “’Bel,”  on repeat, for what must have been about an hour, if not more. It’s a short piece at 3 minutes, 16 seconds, so we must have listened to it at least 20 times. We didn’t stop playing it because of not wanting to hear it anymore; we were so weary from loss, but at the same time felt a sense of peacefulness from hearing Ben’s deep, soothing voice and the simple yet rich piano accompaniment.

“Those above
Gone but still with you… ”
(from “’Bel,” by Ben Wytinck)

The marathon of replays brought us comfort and tears that evening, and we’ve revisited the song (yes, on repeat) numerous times since, when sitting with grief and loss. It’s a true friend and trusted companion that’s been played 68 times since 2014, on my computer’s iTunes player alone.

Wytinck is from a very talented family that I once heard play in a “barn concert” that was a truly memorable event for me. I think his family still holds Christmas concerts, though we haven’t yet gotten out to one of those. The internet tells me the CD, Ben Wytinck, is still available on MySpace, CD Baby, Amazon (.ca and .com). As I urged in my first week of posts, if you like the music, please support the artist and buy it. Ben also has his CD songs on his Youtube channel. If you enjoy the song but can’t actually purchase it, please leave him a like and a comment.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy.

Up on the Catwalk

The album Sparkle in the Rain (1984), arrived well into the band Simple Minds’ commercial success in the UK, Europe, Australia and Canada, though it wasn’t until they covered the Keith Forsey/Steve Schiff composition, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” for the soundtrack of the film, The Breakfast Club  that the Scottish rockers began to be recognized in the USA.

I feel that Sparkle in the Rain has a raw edge to the whole album, and attribute that to Steve Lillywhite’s masterful and tight production; he draws out the pure power that was simmering beneath the equally marvellous production of songs from past albums like New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). I’ve always liked that raw production style as it sounds more like a live performance, and the crispness of the percussion really punctuates the rolling dynamism of the album. Other favourites from the set, which might appear here sometime, include “Speed Your Love to Me” and ““C” Moon Cry Like a Baby.” Simple Minds album production has often varied; Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call to me sounds somewhere between New Gold Dream and Sparkle. I’ve always appreciated the influence a good producer has on a band’s sound… the Song Exploder episode on Sharon Van Etten’s  “Seventeen” a really good glimpse into the work it takes to shape a rough demo into a smashing song.

“Up on the Catwalk” is the perfect blast-off into the 10-song LP, and opens with drummer Mel Gaynor counting in the band at the start of the song as he prepares to lay down the heavily percussive base that holds up and carries the song. The album was released at the opening of the band’s stadium rock period and I can just picture them darting about the stage playing selections from this album and their already-large and recognizable repertoire.

I got into Simple Minds in the early 1980s when I reunited with high school friends who were, by then, firmly into the New Wave/New Romantic movements of the early 80s, and I caught up on Simple Minds’ earlier releases but didn’t follow the band much past Sparkle in the Rain

The band has gone through numerous personnel changes since forming in 1977, but their trademark lead vocal is still supplied by Jim Kerr. They still tour today, and it would be pretty cool to see them if that ever works out. I really enjoy a variety of their songs including “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84),” “Love Song,” and “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime” (…“brilliant days / wake up on brilliant days / shadows of brilliant ways will change all the time…) to name just a few.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the song (not the official VEVO version; that one is not available in North America. And while not the best quality, this version doesn’t cut off the drummer count-in).

Orpheus

When I started working part-time at McDonald’s in early 1976, I earned CAD 2.35 an hour which, while the youth minimum wage, seemed like a lot of money at the time. Until payday, that is, when I’d take the long bus ride from St. Norbert — past the then-mostly-empty fields of Fort Richmond — through to Downtown and would spend almost all of my paycheque in the record stores (Autumn Stone, Mother’s Records, Records on Wheels, and others I can’t quite recall — please comment if you can remember or have heard of any others from the 70s, before Portage Place changed the landscape completely); these were stores and a particular music vibe that have long since disappeared from the Portage Avenue strip between what was once Eaton’s, and The Bay. 

I think it was Mother Records where I stopped in on the day they received Boston’s debut album; I must have been one of the first people in Winnipeg to buy it and my friends were mesmerized by it and its as we listened to it together, taking in all the notes about the band’s formation including leader Tom Sholz’s mechanical engineering work in the media machinery field. (And that was 1976… imagine the difference between that discipline then and now, with the massive advancements in technology! But, I am completely off-subject now.)

Anyway, I discovered many great artists on those shopping trips, sometimes just by the cover art appealing to me (which also meant I sometimes bought some horrid music), and many times, by a recommendation from the store staff. I don’t remember which store it was where I came to know the London, UK glam-rock/androgynous art-rock/new romantic act, Japan, but I remember scooping up their second album, Obscure Alternatives after hearing it in the store. Its rich, dark sounds entranced me and I couldn’t leave without it. I followed Japan for several years and can always recognize the voice of their lead vocalist David Sylvian, who went solo in 1982 after the band broke up. Japan developed from their art-rock sound into an electronic dance kind of style with what I think was their only hit in North America, or at least the only song I ever heard on radio, Quiet Life (1979). It’s a mover, for sure. 

After the break-up, Sylvian collaborated with other artists like Robert Fripp (of King Crimson, a guitar wizard who also worked with Brian Eno) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (on the soundtrack to the film, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which starred David Bowie). I also bought a record by Japan’s former bassist, Mick Karn, though I didn’t track his solo career. 

Thought by some to be one of Sylvian’s best songs, “Orpheus” (1987) escaped my hearing until just last month when I heard it spun by Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey on the solstice “Winter Warmer” episode of his program, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music. (The program starts at 8:00 am CST on Sundays, and I either listen to it then, or catch it on BBC Sounds, where many programs are available to subscribe and stream for up to a month after broadcast. Check him out sometime… it’s a brilliant program, most capably hosted and compiled and Garvey’s quite a character. When Elbow’s on tour, he recruits very suitable replacements; one of my favourites has been American broadcaster and columnist, Katie Puckrik.)

Hearing Sylvian’s baritone crooning during the program took me back to those early days of carrying home a half-dozen or more new long-play records at a time, and listening to him singing with Japan, though his singing had a slightly higher and more raw tone back at the start. Like the legendary namesake of the song, David Sylvian charms the listener with his music; I hope you’ll like the song as much as I enjoyed reuniting with him and Japan. 

I think it’s a song about perseverance in the face of “harbour(ing) all the same worries as most.” And while “dead to the world” at the beginning of the song, Orpheus later sings about the promise of the future:

“Sleepers sleep as we row the boat
Just you the weather and I gave up hope
But all of the hurdles that fell in our laps
Were fuel for the fire and straw for our backs
Still the voices have stories to tell
Of the power struggles in heaven and hell
But we feel secure against such mighty dreams
As Orpheus sings of the promise tomorrow may bring”

(from “Orpheus” by David Sylvian)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the song via David Sylvian’s YouTube channel… listen right to the end; there’s a fade in the middle that sounds like a bit of a false ending. It’s kind of like thinking you’ve finished your packet of french fries, only to find a stash at the bottom of the bag. (Enjoy that, too.)

Sultans of Swing

Back in the dark times, yes… I’m talkin’ about the Twitter days… one of the many accounts I followed was @ThatEricAlper. The Canadian music correspondent, radio host, blogger and, yes, tweeter, posed a question one day to the effect that if music had just been declared illegal, what was the last song you would listen to? Without hesitation, I replied, “Sultans of Swing.”

When Dire Straits released their self-titled record in 1978, I remember it being a regular on my “playlist” (I’d take records out of their sleeves, put them on, find the groove that looked closest to the track, and dropped the stylus. After the song finished, I’d repeat the process with the next record, leaving my albums in a shambles in the middle of the living room floor; I have an image of that looking like the piles of books ready for burning in Fahrenheit 451… not that I would EVER burn my records, except, perhaps, for that unfortunate teenage purchase of the Ted Nugent LP, Cat Scratch Fever. But I digress).

The “last legal song” context led me to hear the song very differently the next time I played it. I savoured every note, every instrument, every noticeable sound landmark in the song as if I’d never hear music again. Seriously. I could feel the cynicism and the hopelessness the band was perceiving with young, drunken, dressed-up men coming in the venue and hollering banalities over the music, not appreciating the craft they were witnessing from these talent music makers, while the world continued to unravel itself outside the pub doors, unbeknownst to all inside.

The song plays as though it belongs in the ending credits to a very important film. If I had to pick ten of my favourite songs of all time, “Sultans of Swing” would be high on the list.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy.

(Not the official version; that one is not available in North America.)

Seventeen

I first heard the song “Seventeen” by Sharon Van Etten on KEXP Seattle, one of my go-to sources for music. The song is also the subject of an episode of the podcast, Song Exploder, where artists break down the recording of their songs. (I provide a link below… bookmark it; I highly recommend listening to the podcast when you find 27 minutes to spare sometime. The entire song is played at the end of the episode.)

Listening to Song Exploder certainly helps me to hear songs differently, and in the case of “Seventeen,” brings out the experience that I think producer John Congleton was trying to build with Van Etten’s song… the guitar feedback, loops and effects (I think she refers to them as alien sounds in the podcast) Congleton layers into the song create a sense of the utter angst that comes from being not quite a kid, not quite an adult, stuck somewhere in between. A hard place, as many of us can remember.

“I see you so uncomfortably alone
I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown”

(from “Seventeen,” by Sharon Van Etten and Kate Davis)

Toward the end of the podcast, Van Etten gives an account of why she wrote the song and to whom she was singing part of it when literally screaming out part of the verse. That part is truly gripping to me. The official video complements this story she hints at, portraying it so powerfully. I really do recommend listening to the episode.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artist, and buy it.

As usual, there’s a video below, the official version from Sharon Van Etten’s YouTube channel. Also, here’s the podcast episode (and song… and while you’re there, surf the main site for some other great episodes about songs by Fleetwood Mac, Arcade Fire, Wolf Alice, Fleet Foxes, and many others including ep. 37, the theme from Downton Abbey!).

Go!

When the Dr. Who TV series’ lead actor Jodi Whittaker hosted an instalment of BBC 6 Music’s special guest program, Wise Women, one of the first tracks she played was “Go!” by the London, UK band, Public Service Broadcasting. As an Apollo 11 enthusiast (for more on that, please see January 6, 2020 post on Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day”), I felt a real shiver up my spine when first hearing the piece, which mixes archive radio chatter with the band’s electronic music. It’s not for everyone, but fellow space geeks will likely enjoy it; I think the band does a brilliant job of capturing the anticipation, excitement and exhilaration of adventuring into the unknown when humans first landed and set foot on the Moon.

I’ve included the band’s official video of the song; it includes many graphics and file footage from the mission. If you search the internet you will also find several live performances, including this one of BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, which has the crowd cheering when Mission Control announces, “…we have shutdown…” just before mission commander Neil Armstrong gives that historic line, “… the Eagle has landed.”

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artists, and buy it.

Here’s the full, official video from the Public Service Broadcasting YouTube channel:

Cedar Lane

I can’t recall exactly where I discovered First Aid Kit, but every time I hear another song by them I am immediately drawn in by the lush harmony of the Swedish folk duo’s voices. I may have heard them on KEXP Seattle as, other than Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (BBC 6 Music), KEXP is where I find a lot of the new-to-me music that I love. “Cedar Lane” was the first tune I heard by First Aid Kit and it remains a favourite. The vocals are nothing short of dreamy.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artists, and buy it.

Here’s the official video from First Aid Kit’s YouTube channel:

Little Fires

Back before I did the massive self-preservation move of deleting my Twitter account and my 900 or so followers (which seemed fairly massive at the time), it did provide me with many of items of interest amidst the toxic sludge, but the latter became too much to sift through.

However, the platform indirectly introduced me to a young singer-songwriter who had been discovered by Hey Rosetta! leader, Tim Baker. Aley Waterman and crew recorded this beautiful video of her song “Little Fires” in a hotel lobby in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in 2011 and she included the song on the Young Hymns EP she released as the act, GALA, in 2013. I purchased it from the GALA Bandcamp page, but I haven’t seen anything released by her or that project since.   

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artist, and buy it.

Here’s a video of a live, community performance from the Heavyweather.ca YouTube channel (Heavy Weather’s site says they provide “Live Performances captured on location, helping as many musicians as possible.” 

Dust to Dust

A dear friend from the USA his letters with “Love and Dust,” recognizing and honouring the earth from which we come and to which we return. While thinking of him not too long ago I was down an internet rabbit hole and serendipitously discovered this song. It’s a lovely work with beautiful melodies by the singers.

Now you know a little about why it’s my song of the day for today. Enjoy. And if you like the music, please support the artists and buy it.

Here’s the official video from The Civil Wars YouTube channel: