Seven Decades, Seven Songs

A buddy of mine tagged me on Facebook to post a good song every day for a week. Here's what I came up with.

  • 2000s. Robert Plant's (once of Led Zep) beautiful 2002 cover of ”Song To The Siren”. The original was first performed by Tim Buckley (Jeff's dad) in 1968. Pay attention to the lyrics by Larry Beckett. Plant butchers them slightly, singing “unfold” for the actual “enfold”, and obscuring the fact that the lyrics are a dialogue between the poet and the Siren. She's an unpredictable yes-then-no-then-yes woman who leaves poor 20-y-o Beckett “a foolish ship … broken lovelorn on your rocks”. This is an unabashedly literary piece of pop lyrics, referencing the Odyssey's song of the Siren. I particularly like the lines “I am puzzled as the newborn child / I am troubled as the tide”. Note also the guitar solo by Porl Thompson, with effects and style straight out of the band he played in from 1983-94, The Cure.
  • 1990s. Here's a really good & heavy Norwegian metal tune from 1999 in the tradition from Black Sabbath. If you don't know Scandy, then that's all the song will mean to you. But if you do, you'll realise that the lyrics to "Åpent Brev Til Sporveisdirektøren" are a complaint in Bokmål about the time table of a bus service. Apparently the buses don't synchronise at all with the Vippetangen ferry! The band is named Black Debbath and the song title means "Open Letter To The Director Of Public Transportation".
  • 1970s. Here's a psychedelic Turkish rock tune from 1975: “Gönül Sabreyle Sabreyle” (My Heart -- Endure, Endure). The band consisted of the three Hürel brothers, who called themselves Üç Hürel, “The Three Hürels”. This is great musicianship: just listen to the darbouka drum fills. Awesome. And youngest brother Feridun Hürel not only sings his heart out, he also plays the fuzz guitar solo and the electrified saz solo on the same two-necked instrument (1975, remember), and wrote the song.
  • 2010s. Here's some romantic pop from 2014: "Places" by the up-and-coming Atlanta duo The Electric Sons.
  • 1950s. "Rocket 88" from 1951 has often been pointed to as the first rock 'n' roll song. It was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi by the Delta Cats, a band consisting of black teenagers including Jackie Brenston (who sings), Ike Turner (yes him, playing the piano, and who would later have a baby with Tina Turner) and Raymond Hill (who plays the sax and would also later have a baby with Tina Turner). And it's got Willie Kizart playing one of the first fuzz guitars ever recorded (here doing rhythm duty), achieved by means of an amplifier broken during touring.
  • 1980s. Here's "Brick Is Red", a 1988 tune off of the Pixies' first full-length album. Two minutes of sheer indie genius!
  • 1960s. Here’s a pretty deep nugget of 1968 folk-psychedelic gold: ”April Grove” by the one-album-only band Chrysalis. They were students at Cornell and their main song writer James Spider Barbour was a member of Zappa’s circle. He can be heard on the latter’s album We’re Only In It For The Money drawling "The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show". And he’s a biologist. So here’s a song of his about insects, sung in inimitable beautiful style by Nancy Nairn.

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By birgerjohansson (not verified) on 25 Nov 2015 #permalink

Seems like a nicely eclectic selection.

I can't include YouTube links because I am at work, but here's a seven-songs-from-seven-decades list consisting of songs written and performed by Paul Simon:

1950s: "Hey Schoolgirl". Simon and his buddy Art Garfunkel, billed as Tom and Jerry, recorded this one in 1958, when they were 16. It was a minor hit.

1960s: "Sound of Silence". Now performing under their real names, Simon and Garfunkel scored their first #1 hit with an electrified reworking of this song (there was an earlier acoustic version).

1970s: "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard". From Simon's first solo album.

1980s: "The Boy in the Bubble". From the Graceland album, which featured several black South African backup performers (this was while apartheid was still in effect).

1990s: "Further to Fly". Continuing the South African influence (IIRC Hugh Masekela performed the trumpet part on the studio recording) and adding Brazilian influence.

2000s: "How Can You Live in the Northeast?". From Surprise, his collaboration with Brian Eno.

2010s: "So Beautiful or So What". The title track of his most recent (AFAIK) album, released in 2011. One of the verses references the Martin Luther King assassination.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 25 Nov 2015 #permalink

Various thoughts on Paul Simon:

What I completely didn't get was why he got flack for working with South African musicians on Graceland. Yes, there was a boycott of South Africa, but boycotting the people the boycott was supposed to help is just plain stupid.

I saw Paul Simon a year or two ago. One of them "better see him before he dies" decisions. Sometimes, this leads to great discoveries: A year ago, I was really pleasantly surprised by The Pretty Things, and will be seeing them again in 10 days. Their latest album, from this year, sounds son 1960s it's unbelievable. Simon, on the other hand, did his best stuff in the sixties, with Art Garfunkel. I know that Art just sang and Paul wrote the songs, played guitar, and sang a bit, but solo songs (whether or not with a band) are, in my view, almost always worse than songs with bands. I think that, perhaps just subconsciously and not on purpose, only the best songs get through, due to wanting to please the rest of the band. Simon played for about 3 hours, technically quite good. His newer music just doesn't do it for me. While I can understand him wanting to move beyond Simon and Garfunkel, one can't blame the fans if the new stuff isn't is good. He played just one Simon and Garfunkel Song, "The Sound of Silence", but even that was in his solo arrangement. By contrast, I'm looking forward to seeing Garfunkel next year. He sings more Simon and Garfunkel songs. The reunions are actually quite good. There was central park in 1980 or whatever, and one in Sweden about 10 years ago. Now, Simon is touring with Sting. :-|

Apparently they opened for Frank Zappa as Tom and Jerry, back when most people, or at least most Zappa fans, didn't recognize them. As an encore they played "The Sound of Silence".

Simon was a judge at a worldwide youth talent show in Brazil in 1970 or so. Even before the competition, he said that he would give 0 points to Germany because of the Holocaust. Never mind the fact that all of the participants were born after the war. (And even if they weren't, surely it is racism of a type similar to that practiced by the Nazis to assume that an individual is automatically guilty due to sins of people of the same nationality.) Irony of the story: The German participant was Marianne Rosenberg, who went on to become a famous Schlager singer (and recently made an album of electronic dance music). Her sister used to be the official representative of the Sinti and Roma in Germany. A large part of their family died in the Holocaust. Is it possible to make a bigger goof than this, Mr. Simon? Just goes to show that people can be very good in some things and very bad in others.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 26 Nov 2015 #permalink

Paul Simon is a pseudo-intellectual who writes nonsense lyrics that mean nothing but that we are meant to revere as deeply meaningful poetry. Talented musically, though. But he fails with my daughter, she doesn't rate him at all - too egotistical and full of himself. But she's quick to add that she doesn't understand rhythm, which has been a big part of his music for quite a while - well, she plays Bach, so rhythm is just mechanical. So she really doesn't get 12 beat flamenco, or where they alternate 3/4 time with 5/6 time between bars, or tango (not to be confused with South American tango). Plus she doesn't get the 'voices' of flamenco thing. Well, a Bach player wouldn't.

That fuss about Simon's Gracelands album was supposed to be about him exploiting the black musicians. Which he did - it went beyond collaboration. It's still an album I play occasionally though.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Nov 2015 #permalink