‘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.” 

Deep Blue Day

When I bought my first stereo in around 1976-77, one of my brothers told me that the first record I really needed to buy was Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. I found it, and was very glad I did; it touched off a lifelong love for Eno’s music. From his time as the keyboard and synthesizer player for Roxy Music to his solo glam rock and then his pioneering the genre of ambient music, and his work with Daniel Lanois, David Bowie, U2, Coldplay and others, his music and “aural landscapes” can always fit the present mood for me. 

In 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Eno re-released his 1983 album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, a collaboration with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno, which was the soundtrack to the documentary, For All Mankind (definitely worth a watch, by the way). “Deep Blue Day” is a track from the album, a really nice chill piece with a touch of twang that helps the mind wander into peacefulness. 

A late addition to this post: In an interview on his YouTube channel, Eno states that the Apollo astronauts were allowed to take one cassette tape each, on their mission. Most chose country music, therefore the piece, while having a distinct spacey sound, is infused with that twangy-ness through the guitar and steel guitar (played by Lanois), to make it psychedelic. I found that so amazing; to hear how much thought went into the music for the film.

“Deep Blue Day” is a remarkable piece of piece of music.

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 artist and buy it.

Here’s the official audio from Brian Eno’s YouTube channel:

Heaven

It was 1984. Oh… no, not *that* 1984. Summer of 1984… a post-punk band, the Psychedelic Furs, released their fourth album which contained the song, “Heaven.” A rather obscure band at the time, though they had a touch of pop appeal…

Anyway, 36 years later, “Heaven” still brings me joy like it did when I first heard it. Can’t explain it; it’s just that way. Makes me smile and feel gratitude every time I hear it. I shared with folks back at the time, a memory from a couple of years ago when a bike jam rode into Winnipeg’s Old Market Square and one of the riders was playing the song on a boombox… it was very late and I’d driven there to hear our Kieran playing in a band giving a show for the bike jammers. What a fun and serendipitous time.

Now you know a little about why it’s my song of the day for today  Please enjoy.

Here’s the official video from the Psychedelic Furs YouTube channel:

Dust to Dust

A dear friend from Colorado in the USA signs 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: