“Strangers” by Norah Jones, recorded live at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (2010)

A lovely cover of my favorite Kinks song from Norah Jones, recorded live at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2010.

“Look Away” (1996) by Iggy Pop

This rare ballad from Iggy Pop, from his 1996 album “Naughty Little Doggie,” is a profoundly sad song about Johnny Thunders, doomed lead guitarist for the New York Dolls and his own band The Heartbreakers, and their mutual girlfriend, the infamous 1970s groupie Sable Starr.  The lyrics are matter-of-fact, but melancholy and sad. It’s laced with the kind of regret only a long-term survivor of bad habits can describe.  Iggy is not taking blame for what befell Thunders and Starr, but importantly, doesn’t deny his complicity in some of the sad things that occurred in all of their lives. It’s just the bad s–t that happens when three people suffering from addiction interact with each other on occasion.  Still, I find this song incredibly moving.

“Now Thunder and me did not part friends
What we did once I wouldn’t do again
So he stayed with the pure dream and followed the moon
‘Til the drugs in his body made his mind a cartoon

Look away Look away

So a few years later Thunder died broke
Sable had a baby back at her folks
Me I went straight and serious too
There wasn’t much else that I could do

Look away Look away

So now that I’m straight I’m settled too
I eat and I sleep and I work like you
I got lots of feelings but I hold them down
That’s a way I cope with this s–tty town

Look away Look away”

“Velvet Underground” by Jonathan Richman

Just heard this song for the first time on an old episode of Penn Jillette’s podcast (“Penn’s Sunday School”), the one Penn recorded on the day it was announced Lou Reed passed away in 2013. Reed was a huge influence on Richman and this is a wonderful tribute song that not only gives high praise to the Velvet Underground and sounds like them, but allows for a completely charming “Sister Ray” cover during the middle 1/3 of this song.  This is from Richman’s 1992 album “I, Jonathan.”  If you’re not sure on who Richman is, he was the singing troubadour from the 1998 blockbuster hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary.”

Penn was very good friends with Reed for many years during the 1980s and 1990s and if you’re a fan of Reed’s, I encourage you to either stream or download the episode from the link below (Episode 89 from October 27, 2013).  There’s lots of wonderful anecdotes and stories about Reed that’s nearly two hours long.  Re: this song, Penn actually took Reed to see Richman in concert, where he performed this song, avoiding eye contact with Reed because he was such in awe of Reed.  Reed had difficulty making out one of the lyrics, which Penn explained to Reed was “America at it’s best,” meaning Reed’s first band.  Reed paused and said “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.”

http://pennsundayschool.com/episodes/

“Long Long Time” by Linda Rondstadt (1969)

Holy s–t!  I remember hearing this song a lot  when my Mom played a constant rotation of Linda Rondstadt, Roberta Flack, Rita Coolidge, and Crystal Gayle back in the 1970s.  However, I completely forgot about this song until today, when I listened to Adam Carolla’s podcast and a caller asked Carolla if there’s a song that made him weep.  Carolla rose to the challenge and said, in so many words, “Oh, I’ve got one for you!”  Apparently, he heard this for the first time in 1981 after a painful breakup when he was listening to the radio in his Dad’s driveway.   And damn, is this song the absolute LAST song you want to hear when someone has dumped you.  OK, maybe This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” may be worse, but this is first runner-up.  Damn.  Completely devastating lyrics, an arrangement that guarantees buckets of tears, and Rondstadt’s non-Auto tuned voice … sweet Lord … it will put a shiv in your heart.  Devastating stuff.  You are warned.

“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Jackie DeShannon (1963)

Just discovered this gem of a Bob Dylan cover by one of my favorite singers of all-time, Jackie DeShannon.  DeShannon was/is the complete package: smart, tough, beautiful, sexy, and soulful.  She does a remarkable job on this Dylan cover from her debut album in 1963.  All I can say is “Damn!”

“Don’t Let Us Get Sick” (2001) by Warren Zevon

If you’ve been in a multi-year relationship with someone that’s still intact (either in marriage or not), you’ve hopefully learned to appreciate what you have, but also realize that you can never take your good status for granted.  Real life has an uncanny ability to test the stability of your relationship in terms of issues that never get adequately addressed or discussed, psychological quirks on both sides, or just plain bad luck.

This beautiful song by Warren Zevon, from his stellar 2001 album “Life’ll Kill Ya,” is a modest plea from one person to their significant other to value what they share, no matter what may happen around them or to them.   With all the flowery prose that have been thrown about in the support of love over the years in songs, Zevon’s simple words in this song are, in my opinion, the most meaningful:

“Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight”

Dave’s Underrated Albums … “Berlin” (1973) by Lou Reed

After years of artistic success and commercial failure, Lou Reed finally hit the commercial zeitgeist with his 1972 album “Transformer” and his controversial, but very popular song “Walk on the Wild Side.”  Given this berth, an artist can do many things.  The two most common are: going even more commercial to maximize the success they just achieved … or … using this commercial breathing room to make the artistic statement they always wanted to make, but couldn’t because it’s too “negative” or “disturbing.”  I think you can guess what Reed did.

“Berlin” is, undoubtedly, the most horrendously depressing album ever recorded.  It’s a nearly 50-minute song cycle chronicling the failed relationship between a man and a woman who suffers from severe mental illness and drug addiction.   Produced by Bob Ezrin (who hit commercial pay dirt in the early 1970s with most of Alice Cooper’s biggest commercial successes, KISS’s 1976 “Destroyer” album, and Pink Floyd’s monumental commercial blockbuster “The Wall” in 1979) “Berlin” is the ultimate musical statement about self-loathing, substance abuse, and mental illness.  It makes Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” seem like the Spice Girls.  “Berlin” is a monumentally negative statement about humanity, summed up in the lyrics of the last song “Sad Song”:

“Staring at my picture book
She looks like Mary, Queen of Scots
She seemed very regal to me
Just goes to show how WRONG you can be
I’m gonna stop wastin’ my time
Somebody else would have broken both of her arms”

Holy s–t! is the only statement I can muster at the summation of this album.  And weirdly enough, the two songs preceding this horrendously negative finale are seriously way more despairing.  “The Kids” chronicles about how the female protagonist’s kids were taken away due to her drug use and promiscuity, climaxing in the sounds of actual young children screaming “MOMMY!” in anguished voices during the last two minutes.  The next song, “The Bed” is about the female protagonist’s suicide.  The lyrics are not sensationalistic, but the simplistic acoustic guitar and plain singing make the lyrics more horrific:

“This is the place where she lay her head
When she went to bed at night
And this is the place our children were conceived
Candles lit the room at night
And this is the place where she cut her wrists
That odd and fateful night”

As I said earlier, this is the most horrendously depressing album ever recorded.  However, it’s a damn good one.  And it’s a lot better than many people gave it credit for at the time.  In subsequent years, Rolling Stone magazine included it in its list of “Best 500 Albums of All-Time” … despite the fact that rock writer Stephen Davis, when reviewing the album for Rolling Stone in 1973, called “Berlin”:

“Lou Reed’s Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide. There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them. Reed’s only excuse for this kind of performance (which isn’t really performed as much as spoken and shouted over Bob Ezrin’s limp production) can only be that this was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye, Lou.”

Whatever.

The ultimate vindication for Reed, in my opinion, was when Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Before Night Falls,” and my personal favorite “Baquiat”) directed a beautiful feature-length concert film of Reed performing this album in its entirety in 2008, simply called “Lou Reed’s Berlin.”  It’s one of the best concert films of all-time and I can’t think of a better series of songs to deserve this treatment.

Dave’s Underrated Albums … “News of the World” (1977) by Queen

During the winter of 1977-1978, I was 8-years-old and my American peers and I considered Queen’s double A-side single of “We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions” the most awesome one-two punch on the pop charts of all-time.  Yes, with nearly 40 additional years on the planet and a more thorough understanding of pop music history, I’ll admit this assertion may have been more than a little premature.  But hearing these songs back to back on the radio during that winter was quite the event for yours truly.

What’s interesting is that when I bought the single, I was only interested in “We Are The Champions” because on most Top 40 stations, that’s all you typically heard.  But … on the “super-heavy” FM stations … “We Will Rock You” always preceded “We Are the Champions” and one night when the car radio happened to be on one of these stations, I heard “We Will Rock You” for the first time, completely unaware it was performed by Queen.  Thanks to my brother, I was already a KISS fan, but “We Will Rock You,” I concluded, was the “heaviest” thing I’d ever heard at that point.  I had no idea what this song was called (or even that Queen performed it … FM DJ’s tended to be very casual about mentioning what they were playing back then), but it was something that completely knocked me off my feet.

Back to “We Are The Champions.”  Getting the single wasn’t an easy task.  I typically spent my $1 per week allowance on a 45-RPM single and every time I went to a record store during that winter, “We Are The Champions” was always sold out.  After multiple weeks of heartbreak, I started calling every record store within a radius of where my Mom would drive me, and asked … daily … if they had any copies in stock.  I finally hit pay dirt in February of 1978, begged my Mom to drive me to a record store that was a little bit farther than she typically drove, and finally acquired the record.  I enjoyed “We Are The Champions” but noticed that the B-side (which I rarely ever played back then) was something called “We Will Rock You.”  Somehow, the synapses in my brain connected and flipped the record over.  And yes, finally, I found the song I loved so much … and even better … I didn’t have to pay extra for it.  My 8-year-old brain had a mental orgasm.

Next task … getting the album where these songs resided.  At some point that spring, my grandparents gave me $5 for either good grades or some other reason and with some additional allowance money I hadn’t miraculously spent, I was able to purchase Queen’s “News of the World.”  This was literally the first rock album I ever acquired.  Yes, I had other albums, but mostly they were recorded by someone named Barry Manilow, who never amounted to much and a singer I’d rather not talk about … ever … especially songs like “Weekend in New England,” “Mandy” “Could This Be Magic?” … Seriously … Those records never existed … especially in my collection … MMMKAY?

So … back to “News of the World” … I wasn’t sure what I was expecting back then, but none of the other songs sounded like “We Are The Champions” or “We Will Rock You.”  There was one hard rock song called “Fight From the Inside” that I liked a lot.  There was also another “heavy” song called “Sheer Heart Attack” which was too loud and fast for me then.  And there was also a really weird, disturbing (to me at the time) song called “Get Down, Make Love.”  But other than that, I thought it was a mixed bag of tunes and I was so disappointed, I didn’t make it past the first song on Side 2.  I was disappointed because it wasn’t like a KISS record, concluded that I should have spent that money on a KISS record my brother didn’t already have or a Barry Manilow record … NO, dammit … I didn’t just say THAT!

Cut to 1991 … I’m in college and working at a campus radio station.  We receive a new CD-single by Nine Inch Nails which has a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” as its B-side.  By this point, I’d nearly forgotten about Queen’s song, but I play the Nine Inch Nails single and again, the world’s slowest human being (meaning me) put two and two together.  Except that the Nine Inch Nails cover was even more pulverizing and disturbing than Queen’s version.  This discovery made me pull out the old Queen album from my LP collection and I listened to  “News of the World” with new ears.  And I concluded the album is a complete gem.

“News of the World” isn’t a great album, but it’s a very charming one.  Aside from the double A-side every knows, this is one the band’s “heaviest” albums.  “Sheer Heart Attack,” the song I thought was too loud and fast back in the day, was Queen’s attempt at one-upping punk rock by creating something more intense than the Sex Pistols and while it doesn’t completely succeed, is a damn good try.  While I prefer the Nine Inch Nails cover, Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” sounds like a disturbing anthem for the NYC Plato’s Retreat / Anvil / Mineshaft crowd of 1970s sexual hedonism.  “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is a decent attempt of doing an Aerosmith-style blues homage.   And … finally … the last song on the album …Queen’s all-time greatest song … the anthemic hard rock masterpiece “It’s Late.”

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, “It’s Late” should be THE Queen song that’s played ad nauseum on classic rock radio. This is pure, balls-to-the-wall, non-campy hard rock that will peel the paint off the walls. That relentless multi-layered lead guitar sound by Brian May feels like a wool sweater in hell. And let’s not forget that cataclysmic drum sound by Roger Taylor that will shake your molars. Totally epic in every sense of the word. Allegedly this was a favorite of Kurt Cobain’s (given its presence in the Kurt Cobain documentary “About a Son”). It was also put to great use in Jody Hill’s brilliantly demented comedy “Observe and Report.” From the 1977 album “News of the World.”

Dave’s Underrated Albums … “In Through the Out Door” (1979) by Led Zeppelin

“In Through the Out Door” was the first music by Led Zeppelin I ever heard and I first encountered their music in the spring of 1981.  As a music fiend, I certainly was aware OF Zeppelin, but had never actually listened to them.  I even knew about this album since I followed the Billboard charts and it was a #1 album for 7 weeks during the end of 1979.  I was 11-years-old in the spring of 1981 and Zeppelin were a band that I associated with older, cooler people.  Various babysitters talked about them in hushed tones.  Older teens in my neighborhood, specifically the ones with long hair, dirt-staches, drove muscle cars with primer paint, and reeked of cigarette smoke seemed to REALLY dig Zeppelin.  Without hearing a note of their music, they seemed dangerous and something that would be way too heavy for me, despite the fact that I was a huge Alice Cooper and KISS fan.

So it was a major shock to hear “In Through the Out Door,” because despite some “heavy” guitar work here and there, this album wasn’t particularly heavy, let alone scary.  The first thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of keyboards and synthesizer on the album.  I actually had an “Is that all there is to fire?” moment when I listened to this. But … because cooler people than me held Zeppelin in such reverence, I felt that I couldn’t outwardly condemn this, even though I found it disappointing based on what I was expecting.  To put this in terms Gen-Y can understand, I expected Marilyn Manson, but heard Hootie and the Blowfish instead.

But … this album has grown on me considerably over the years.  While no Zeppelin fan in their right mind would place ANY of the songs from “In Through the Out Door” in a Top 10  (or Top 20, for that matter) of the greatest Zeppelin songs of all-time, what is here is damn good.  The opening track “In the Evening” is arguably the “heaviest” song on the album and while it won’t rattle your molars, it still rocks pretty hard. Forget “Stairway to Heaven” …  “All My Love” is THE prom song for the feathered hair and ruffled tux generation. “Carouselambra” is almost all synth, but becomes mesmerizing if you let it wash over you … being on a mind-altering substance while listening to it certainly doesn’t hurt.  “South Bound Suarez” is a song where the piano slams harder than the guitars. “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a wonderfully brutal mix of soul and metal.

“In Through the Out Door” is probably on no one’s list of favorite albums of all-time, but like a quirky old girlfriend or an odd movie you watched on an evening when you were in a great mood, its oddly satisfying.  There are significantly better Zeppelin albums and songs, but one must give the band props for trying to do something fresh when so many other bands of the era remained mired in the same head-banging formulas that earned them success. It’s too bad drummer John Bonham checked out soon after this was released.  It would have been interesting to hear what Zeppelin would have done going into the 1980s and beyond.

“I Don’t Care About You” – Fear

If any song summed up my 9th grade year, circa 1984-1985, it’s this under two-minute hyper-negative anthem by Fear.  I first heard this in a cheesy horror anthology film called “Nightmares,” in which one of the segments had a video game addict, played by Emilio Estevez, blasting this song in his headphones.  I then heard it a year later when a friend of mine had Fear’s “The Record” album on cassette and upon hearing it, my eyes lit up like that blind guy in Fritz Lang’s “M” when he hears Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” being whistled by a serial killer.

Despite how twisted (or quaint) this song sounds (in actuality, I wore sweaters/khakis back in the day of hardcore and had a 3.5 average),  I realize that had I admitted my love for this song post-Columbine, I would have been institutionalized or at least, been put on an extreme regimen of SSRIs that would arguably have made me legitimately nuts.  In reality, though, all I really needed back in the day is a “cut the bulls–t” talk by an understanding adult and a kiss by a cute girl.  Regardless, this is still a legitimately great, extremely “negative” song.  Despite the near psychotic suppressing of anything negative these days, it’s actually healthy to have negative thoughts from time to time, folks.  If you need further explanation, see the new Pixar film “Inside Out.”