Now Hear This: Misfit Country

December 20, 2015

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Are you a total sucker for inspirational songs? It’s ok, you can admit it later.

I’m also an irrational disliker  of modern country music. I’ve tried, I swear. Please comment with a country song that will change my mind. I dare you. 

Through the wonders of my Discover Weekly list on Spotify, I’ve recently played to death enjoyed three psudo-country songs that share a beautiful common thread: Not fitting in. Whether they were judged and found wanting, or are just not measuring up to societal standards, these are musical offerings staring folks who don’t give a rip if you like them or not. And they’re country-ish at the least. BOOM. Horizons expanded.

Give a listen!

Elle King’s “America’s Sweetheart”

This is the 7th track off Elle’s Feb. 2015 album Love Stuff. Despite a handful of kind of cliched phrases in the verse, this is raucous anthem for girls who don’t feel the need to behave like perfect ladies. I also dig this because I, too, amfunny when I’m drunk (I think), and, unrelated, just aquired a stupid tiny chip in my front tooth. You just want to do a shot of whiskey and sing along with Elle here.

I also adore “Ex’s and Oh’s” from this album. Good stuff, Love Stuff.

Kacey Musgraves “Cup of Tea”

This is just a sweet little song that coos at you not to fear the blotches on your permanent record. The variety of sins and shortcomings listed are relateable but and entertaining. She reminds us that “We’ve all got the right to be wrong.” in a way that grants anyone permission to have hope, even if they’ve screwed up. Hey, I’ve screwed up! Sweet! “You can’t be be everybody’s up of tea”. Musgraves shakes off any judgement at the her final lyric, asking “Why would you wanna be?”

Her video for her song “Biscuits” is freakin’ infections and involves a puppet, in case you were wondering.

Josh Ritter’s “Getting Ready to Get Down”

This catchy song addresses some narrow-minded Christians forgetting that they know no more than anyone else, failing to leave the judging to God, and screwing with young people’s heads. It’s a little bit in the vein of Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”. The girl to whom Josh is singing is sent away to bible college because she’s not fitting in with her town’s conservative ideals. Instead of coming around to their ways, she ends up absorbing all the acceptance and love messages in the Good Book, and none of the “Thou Shalt Not”s. Although I don’t presume to know Ritter’s feelings on certain major social issues of today, his lyric “Give your love freely to whomever that you please” hints at it nicely.

Plus, there is an official LINE DANCE to this song, people.

As you get quickly older and slowly wiser, you learn that whether some people like you has very little do with YOU. Thankfully there are pleasant songs like these to remind us. For instance, I have clearly judged country music unfairly. I’m sorry. There was all that association with confederate flags on the back of pick-up trucks.  However, Hubby has already requested I put in earbuds while working on this post.

Convince me that it’s not all honky-tonk bars and cowboy boots. What is your favorite “country” song?

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Now Hear This: Sia’s “Big Girls Cry” – With No Shame

April 4, 2015

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Sia sings – belts, rather – with impressive range and unapologetic emotion. 12 year old dancer Maddie Zeigler commits so fully and physically to the lyrics’ narrative that, watching, you quickly forget her age and 3 + minutes later realize you’ve been mesmerized by a middle schooler. I came across the new video for Sia’s “Big Girls Cry” on, of all things, NPR.com  If you haven’t seen this artist’s previous two videos with Zeigler dancing, they’re very much worth watching right now. “Chandelier” consists of Zeigler moving expertly and shockingly all over a barren house, and “Elastic Heart” features Zeigler and Shia LeBeouf in a beautiful, unsettling, choreographed cage fight. They’re not exactly SFW, or for kids who ask questions. Enjoy their talent and the visual metaphors here:

Chandelier

Elastic Heart

Although the video is harder to watch, “Big Girls Cry” is my favorite of these releases yet. Evocative and simple, this single-take show exhibits the both singer and the dancer perfectly. It’s mostly facial and hand gestures.  (Oh yeah, and a little strangling a kid, sort of.  I know.  Sorry.) Sia unabashedly sings:

I may cry ruining my make up/ Wash away all the things you’ve taken/ And I don’t care if I don’t look pretty/ Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking. 

This singer/dancer/choreography/lyric combo is a beautiful match. The refrain wouldn’t stir anything inside you, were it sung by a half-voiced sopranino. (Ellie Goulding, back away.)  If Zeigler didn’t commit so fully, this would be a weird kid making faces in the bathroom mirror. (Not that that isn’t fun, too.) This video is instead many things, including – according to YouTube comments:  “sad”, “creepy as hell” and “perfect”.


Being very much over the ethereal voices of breathy female singers, I’m all about this artist’s voice. Zeigler, comfortable in her skin and gifted well past her 12 years, doesn’t seem to care if she looks pretty, either.

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Spotify and the Music Streaming “Problem”

November 8, 2014

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Taylor Swift  made news this week by pulling her entire catalog of music from Spotify.

“…I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free”, says Ms. Swift in the Us Weekly article linked above.  

Oh, Taylor. You have it so very wrong. The model for the production and consumption of music is changing forever, and your attempt to drag your collection of work backward in time is, though as willful and valiant as a toddler stomping her foot, cute but pointless.

A statement from Swift’s Op/Ed piece from the New York Times, suggests that streaming artists’ work is “taking the music out of the music industry”. I respectfully disagree. I pay for the music streaming service of Spotify every month, and every month I listen to literally HUNDREDS of pieces of music I would never have been exposed to, because of the streaming model of music consumption.  Small-time, local groups have their music on Spotify, right along with the big boys. No corporate radio station or giant record label is deciding what I hear; I am. I can get suggestions from (real, live) friends I follow and who follow me on Spotify, based on what we listen to daily. (My Spotify username is megderrico.) Practically any and all songs, and several covers of each, are at my fingertips. Phone, car stereo, or home computers are able to play whatever song, list, or mood music I’d like, constantly. I’ve never felt so gratified as a listener, musically speaking.

Poor Taylor; Honey, embrace it. Cause they’re just gonna download you anyway. Or, they’ll skip you altogether and listen to Selena Gomez. 

To prove my point, I’ll share my relationship to the music streaming industry:

First of all, there are many other music streaming services. There’s iTunes radio for you fanboys. There’s iheartardio and Pandora, if you want a certain sound but don’t care about the wonder of The Playlist. I do. There’s Google Play and Grooveshark, to name a few more. I have used all these services and then some, and as it stands now Spotify wins, hands down.

As it is the addiction I have chosen from the above list, I DO pay Spotify for my music consumption. Subscriber music services charge a monthly fee and pay a royalty for each time a user plays a song. Whether they pay enough is debatable. As a (sort of) musician myself, I vote NO. But I’m not going to ask them to charge me more at the moment. I am a part-time graduate student at West Chester University, so with all that loveliness and part-time stress, I get the Spotify student rate of $4.99 a month. To me this seems almost criminal. The regular Spotify montly rate is $9.99.

spotify

Screen shot of the program on a user’s computer.  I don’t know who they are, but if I could read the print I’d probably playlist stalk them.

In contrast to “radio” streaming services, you can create playlists on Spotify (and Google Play, and others), by searching for and dragging titles. Now remember, I have an addiction. This is not just convenient for making the perfect party playlist. I have dozens of lists, ranging from mood lists that include “Pissed” and “Quiet”, to more functional ones like my “Jog”, “Cleaning Lady”, or “Alto Part is Better”. (For this last one,  you generally get female soprano vocals and me singing along in the car to the imaginary Alto part I make up in my head when NPR gets boring.) I also have “Guilty Pleasures” which includes some Meatloaf (I secretly love the songwriter Jim Steinman – tell no one!) and “Never Sick Of” (self-explanatory, of course). There’s also “Weird Al Inspirations” – for each song I have the original, then his version. I also have a whole folder of lists for my kids, some seasonal stuff, and the lists that Spotify publishes like “New Music Tuesday” that introduce you to new releases. I also subscribe to my friends’ lists and music-stalk them.

Then there’s the monthly lists… I have had monthly playlists running for back for years, even before Spotify was a thing. Remember Zune? Some songs return almost every month, earning them a place on the “Never Sick Of” list. At the start of each month I copy over from one month to the next only songs I am not tired of hearing. Then I go check into a few oldies, visit a few other genres, and perhaps put a few pieces that remind me of what I was doing that time of year, years ago. Hello, bad high school music. November  2014 is not my best work, but I’ll share it below anyway.

Then there is Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame”, which has been making the rotation for over two years, I think. Why so stuck in this song rut? Because you can hear the piano bench creak and the sax solo is so simple yet perfect and yes, Willie Nelso did it first but Tom’s voice gives you the roughened but tender side of the narrator who is just now realizing that he’s fallen for someone, and…Ok I’ll stop. It’s right here…

Tom Waits: “Picture in a Frame”


I have never laid hands on a Tom Waits album, and don’t I intend to. I feel absolutely no need to physically own this beautiful song. Nor do I need to own  Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. What? It’s on the “Guilty Pleasures” list, and I know every last word of those 8 minutes and 30 seconds. A friend can post about a song on Facebook and I can immediately look it up and fall in love with it. I can pull up a song for my students instantaneously. “Hey Meg, do you have any Chinese music we can play for the kids?” Why, yes I do. Want to hear what Mahler’s 1st symphony or The White Stripes sound like? I can have them whenever I want them, and that’s the point. This may be old news to some, but I’m still having a total What-An-Age-We-Live-In moment. Artists who haven’t embraced the streaming movement haven’t gotten the point yet.

In general, Spotify and businesses like it are perfect for us annoying music consumers who adore one or two songs of an artists’ repertoire but can’t commit to saying, “I LOVE Tom Waits, I have all his music.” Have you heard anything else by Tom Waits? Little scary, some of it. However, Tom is still getting something every time “Picture” comes up on one of my lists. As he should.

So to be blunt, Taylor Swift, young and fresh as she may seem, needs to get with the times. Like it or not, something so wonderful can’t possibly be going away. Especially in light of the entertainment world moving towards TV and movie streaming.  It’s here, and it’s staying. We are consumers who demand instant gratification, after all.

SO, Taylor, do these sound like the words of someone who does not value music? I would certainly pay more for this gift, if that’s necessary. It might help me cut back. Sometimes I’m basically a prettier version of John Cusack from High Fidelity, just making the perfect mix tape.

FpyZ6

Now, to further bare my soul, here are some playlist snippets for you. You can scroll through the songs on the little widget here, but  NO JUDGING ME – THIS IS A SAFE SPACE.
November 2014 List: Work in progress. Already I acknowledge the total absence of instrumentals on this list. I’ll get right on that.

Edit: I should not post after midnight. Can’t believe  I didn’t share “Never Sick Of”.  Tell Fitz and the Tantrums I’m very sorry, please.


And the “Guilty Pleasures” list. There’s actually much more to add here, too.

Comment below about how you get your music fix, and your thoughts about the industry’s direction. Or, your playlist. I always need new stuff to listen to!

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Now Hear This: “American Pie”

September 7, 2014

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Despite spending a torturous 3 weeks in a “graduate level” music history course this summer…

2014-07-15 17.49.12-1 (2)
Don’t know what this is? Neither do I.  And I did it.  

…I am not all that great at regular Music History classwork. My head still hurts from July. However:  I find the cultural events and personal stories behind the music fascinating.  You’d think we would still get VH-1.  So, let’s listen to “American Pie”.  Yes, we all know this song, it’s been covered by several singers- thanks, Madonna, that was really necessary.

Don McLean released “American Pie” on his album, titled the same, in 1971 .

American-Pie

There’s a hilarious unfortunate line of teen-humor movies by the same name, so watch what you Google. And then there’s Weird Al’s parody version, “The Saga Begins“, a re-telling of “Star Wars, Phantom Menace” that’s way more interesting than the actual “Star Wars, Phantom Menace”.

In the original, with metaphorical references to popular music, politics, and events, McLean gives his personal account of a decade.  It’s common knowledge that the song’s refrain refers to the February 3rd, 1959 plane crash and death of singers Buddy Holly, Richie Vallens, and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson). But there’s a lot more there.

My “research” for this post (I could hang out for days with rock.genius.com and YouTube) is completely incomplete. It’s mostly based on message boards, wikipedia, user comments, and what my dad told me. I am placing the most value in the last of these sources, because when I was a kid, the man had a pretty epic collection of vinyl.

You can look up the whole song on Wikipedia here, or visit Rock Genius and click on each section of lyrics for an explanation here. However, my favorite explanation of “American Pie” is this video by Lone Star Sound & Pictures.  There is So. Much. History here. Someone could write a small book on the cultural references behind this song. Someone could. Not me. This post took too long as it is. Before you check it out (or at least start the video and get bored), here are some extra special points that aren’t exactly covered. Remember: This is all theory, I’m a nerd, and you love me so you have to at least entertain the following possibilities:

  • The end-of-an-era feeling that McLean references on “the day the music died” is big, but probably late. Music was already moving away from its clean-cut state in 1959.
  • 2:56: Jester is Bob Dylan, with “a voice that came from you and me”. McLean eventually moved away from rock and embraced folk music. Pete Seeger was his hero. Dylan lived somewhat hypocritically, as a folk singer, because of his mainstream success.
  • 2:59: The King & Queen are JFK & Jackie O. in the video, but we know who the real “King” was, right?
  • 3:07: The Jester has become more influential than Elvis. That’s kind of a big deal.
  • 4:21: The Jester  was “on the sidelines in a cast”. Bob Dylan had a relatively minor motorcycle accident in July 1966. Although he was not hospitalized, he later said the recovery gave him a chance to get out of the business for a while and mentally recuperate.  Meanwhile, other artists tried to advance to fill his place. The Beatles’ enjoyed constant success, but their music, notably from the ‘Sargent Pepper’ album (band uniforms, anyone?) wasn’t the dancing type anymore – “we all got up to dance…the marching band refused to yield”.

 picture

  • 5:47: The Altamont Freeway Festival is referenced in pictures. This concert was termed “Rock & Roll’s Worst Day Ever”. This day clearly disturbed McClean, possibly influencing his preference for Folk.  Four deaths and much violence were occurred, and Hell’s Angels were offered beer in exchange for providing loose “security”. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is (probably) the devil McLean is talking about. “Sympathy for the Devil” was being played at the time that a possibly racially-motivated murder took place close to the stage. Holy crap, I’d be disillusioned too. 
  • 6:36: Janis Joplin is obviously the “girl who sang the blues”. The change in accompaniment when she is mentioned suggests sadness at her early death due to a possible accidental overdoes of heroin. McClean seems to think she knew something we didn’t, or had more to offer, because “She just smiled and turned away.”
  • 7:19: The “Is God Dead” cover of Time Magazine from April 1966 and the perceived decline in religion in the country are possibly the source of the line “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” lyrics. However, there the holy trinity being referenced here are actually thought to be JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. They are pictured in the video. But, this ‘trinity’ idea is also intended to remind us of the three deaths in the 1959 plane crash. And bring us back for one more chorus…

There is so much more here too. To quote a expert (Ok, to quote my dad) Don McClean was a troubadour-type. There’s a lot of story to tell.  Feel free to add interpretations of these and other lyrics below. I’ll be happy – I love this stuff. I realize I may be the only one in my vast audience of readers who finds 1960’s pop music history interesting. Don’t worry, I’ll post snarky mommy stuff later this week. I guess sometimes we bloggers do write for ourselves… #easilyentertained

Don McLean – The Meaning of American Pie Video

In later interviews McLean refers to the song as a “dream” in which music and political culture run in the same “trough”.  I’m not sure they do today.

So, what would an “American Pie” look like for the current generation’s music?

Let’s all give ourselves a moment to cope with the fact that Miley Cyrus and just Bieber would probably get a mention. 

 

 

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Now Hear This: “All About That Bass” and Other Self-Esteem Anthems

August 24, 2014

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As one of those rare music teachers who doesn’t yet hate music, I’m kind of into analyzing some songs. Very little of that material would count towards my graduate credits, sadly. I’ll be doing a recurring series here called “Now Hear This”.  Here’s #1, a little summer earworm. You’re welcome.

First, a head’s up: this video and song are not exactly suitable for younger children. Neither is anything else on this blog, because of slightly colorful language and the revealing too many secrets. The song uses a little language, some visual Katy Perry tributes.  Just a warning, in case you’re not into that kind of thing. Or if you are.

By the time this post is published, this song will be close to three months old and therefore, Jurassic news. But we haven’t had a good Fat Chick Anthem in a while. And we fat chicks need all the anthems we can get. In the footsteps of other self-esteem songs, like “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilara and “Video” by India Arie, we have here a celebration of one’s own body and self-image. If you have never played “Video” for your daughters, do it today. And sons.  The song was released on June 2, 2014. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 list on July 26, 2014 and has been doing quite well since, peaking at #4.  The video is adorable, and to me seems reminiscent of the cover of Dionne Warwick’s”Wishin’ and Hopin’ that opened the film “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, in 1997. Remember that? Here you go.

Side note about “Wishin’ and Hopin”: In its original 1963 form, the song sweetly told us to “Wear your hair just for him”, and other submissive pre-feminist garbage. Remember this song now? I have no idea how that was to be interpreted in 1963. However, the fact that the covering artist in the ’97 version is Ani DiFranco, in all her feminist-icon and therefore beautifully ironic glory, makes this version a self-esteem anthem as well. And fun video to watch. 

Read More…

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