The best songs about visual artists

As startling as it it is to admit, I head Don McLean’s forgotten “Vincent” at Publix today. I’m glad for his sake it isn’t as famous as “American Pie”; had it been we would’ve had major cultural convulsions. In its current form it affirms the standard cliches about artists: we need crazy people like Van Gogh, McLean argues, to loosen us from our conformist diet of Chef Boyardee pasta, but the song structure shouldn’t upset a Cat Stevens fan.Continue reading “The best songs about visual artists”

A coherent ‘Dune’ is a good ‘Dune’

One of the satisfactions I thought the World of Dune offered was the lack of proper names as ridiculous as the Star Wars universe did. No Boba Fett, Commander Cody, and Kylo Ren here. Halfway into the second adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel I dropped my pen. Duncan Idaho. Not Jones Indiana — Duncan Idaho. Somewhere on Skywalker Ranch rests a dog-eared paperback copy of Dune young George Lucas bought at a drugstore.Continue reading “A coherent ‘Dune’ is a good ‘Dune’”

Part MCM: The cruelty is the point

Because I live in Florida (the state with the prettiest name!), the new surgeon general thinks COVID vaccines are ineffective and masks an example of lib tyranny. He also thinks senators dealing with cancer deserve not a modicum of compassion, including wearing a mask in their offices when asked. Continue reading “Part MCM: The cruelty is the point”

The best songs about The Beatles

The most moving appropriation of Beatlesmania mythos occurred four years ago when rap duo Rae Sremmurd mimicked the quartet’s rooftop body moves in the video for “Black Beatles.” Even Paul McCartney, PR pro, liked it! Almost as witty is Ella Fitzgerald’s “Ringo Beat,” in which she admonishes her son for not playing as well as Ringo, and why not? So here are two examples, pace David Remnick, of Black pop culture, five decades apart, responding to the convulsions the Beatles started in their wake.

I love the range of these tributes/pastiches/rebukes. Some of these songs, like Jane Birkin and Yoko’s, exist as necessary correctives. C&C Music Factory’s “Here We Go (Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll),” unfortunately forgotten, namechecks the Fab Four as one more influence absorbed into the duo’s ecumenical dance-pop. Rolling his eyes, George Harrison locates “John and Paul” in the “material world” with, given his proclivities in 1973, something like Madonna’s awe in “Material Girl.”

Readers won’t The Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town” — too damn soft.

1. Rae Sremmurd – Black Beatles
2. The Clash – 1977
3. Prince – Annie Christian
4. Captain Beefheart – Beatle Bones ‘n’ Smoking Stone
5. Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
6. Jane Birkin – Ex Fan Des Sixties
7. C&C Music factory – Here We Go (Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll)
8. Yoko Ono – Mrs. Lennon
9. Cheap Trick – Taxman, Mr. Thief
10. The Monkees – Randy Scouse Git
11. George Harrison – Living in the Material World
12. Merle Haggard – Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)
13. Ringo Starr – Early 1970
14. Paul Simon – The Late Great Johnny Ace
15. Janis Joplin – He’s a Beatle, Mother
16. Half Japanese – No More Beatlemania
17. Serge Gainsbourg – Qui Est In Qui Est Out
18. Ella Fitzgerald – Ringo Beat
19. House of Love – The Beatles and the Stones
20. Bob Dylan – 4th Time ARound

Worst songs ever: Drake’s “Hotline Bling”

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Drake – “Hotline Bling”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in October 2015.

As social media has allowed minorities more possibilities to seek redress for instances of sexual assault and abuse, Drake’s records continue to stream. Since 2009 the singer-rapper has issued product whose attitudes flaunt the vulgar commonplaces of heterosexual relationships. The bro gets a sympathetic ear and requires no coaxing to unburden himself. To self-censor would sully his conscience.Continue reading “Worst songs ever: Drake’s “Hotline Bling””

Ranking #23 singles, U.S. edition, 1999-2002

Why does Madonna scowl? She hears the strains of Alien Ant Farm’s Michael Jackson cover. She might also feel the heat from “Love at First Sight,” pure buoyancy, the closest the bubbles of French pop house champagne tickled the nose of the American top 40 listenership. Man, do I feel like a woman!Continue reading “Ranking #23 singles, U.S. edition, 1999-2002”

‘The Velvet Underground’ is good, does what it should, alas

Warm, literate, and unexpectedly puckish, Jonathan Richman looks like a youngish older man or an aging younger one. In the late sixties he got the best education in rock guitar playing a fan could’ve had: he went to every Velvet Underground concert he could. “These people would understand me!” he says in a gosh-darn tone inseparable from the singer-songwriter of “I’m Straight,” “Old World,” and “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar.” Picking up an acoustic guitar, he provides a fifteen-second lesson on what the Velvets unique: Lou Reed’s devotion to a couple rhythm chords, John Cale’s subterranean drones, Maureen “Moe” Tucker’s minimalist but ostentatious banging, Sterling Morrison’s pinched leads. Like Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, he explains complexity with ease. Maybe Jonathan Richman can explain Animal Collective to me.Continue reading “‘The Velvet Underground’ is good, does what it should, alas”

The concept of school seems so secure: Songs about teaching and teachers

“Teacher, there are things I don’t want to learn,” George Michael moaned on his third consecutive #1 in America, a ballad called “One More Try” consisting of a keyboard preset and a live bass. When he died in 2016 I called it the gay “Maggie May.” I assemble this list as a valentine to the older men and women whose knowledge extended beyond the textbooks but whom I’ll honor for keeping to them when necessary.

I love the reactionary responses. .38 Special’s ease with yearning crunch-rock served them well on the theme to a forgotten 1984 Nick Nolte flick about an embattled social studies school teacher clinging to ideas as faded as his jeans. But Jack Black would’ve had his back, as his “We’re Not Gonna Take” anthem for School of Rock proved.

1. George Michael – One More Try
2. Bo Diddley – Back to School
3. Erykah Badu – Master Teacher
4. Prince – Teacher Teacher
5. Miguel – Teach Me
6. Rufus Wainwright – The Art Teacher
7. Van Halen – Hot for Teacher
8. Elton John – Teacher I Need You
9. OutKast – Git Up, Git Out
10. The Police – Don’t Stand So Close to Me
11. Ke$ha – Mr. Watson
12. Arrested Development – Mr. Wendal
13. Pet Shop Boys – Hey Headmaster
14. Vampire Weekend – Campus
15. .38 Special – Teacher, Teacher
16. Doris Day – Teacher’s Pet
17. Morrissey – The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils
18. The Kinks – Headmaster
19. Tears for Fears – Mad World
20. Chuck Berry – School Days
21. Lulu – To Sir With Love
22. Rockpile – Teacher, Teacher
23. Jack Black – Teacher’s Pet
24. Kanye West – All Falls Down
25. Belle and Sebastian – We Rule the School

In ‘Bergman Island,’ the Swedish master inspires a film of grace and lightness

Amy and Joseph can’t wait to get their hands on each other. As played by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, they’re a couple who won’t endure the trauma of losing each other again despite each having a companion. Over three days on Fårö island at a wedding they steal glances and kisses, eventually making love. This section of Bergman Island may or may not have happened, for Amy and Joseph are the characters created by writer-director Chris (Phantom Thread‘s Vicky Krieps) whose story she reads aloud to Tony (Tim Roth). Continue reading “In ‘Bergman Island,’ the Swedish master inspires a film of grace and lightness”

R.E.M’s ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ twenty-five years later

I have no idea whether Michael Stipe reveres Joni Mitchell as much as Patti Smith. Maybe he doesn’t. Listening to New Adventures in Hi-Fi summons Hejira, Mitchell’s 1976 album about flight — what she called the refuge of the road. The wide-openness comes through in the arrangements. The percussive hardness of Mitchell’s guitar keeps the ghostly tendrils of Jaco Pastorius’ bass lines at bay, like an owner slapping a dog with a folded newspaper.Continue reading “R.E.M’s ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ twenty-five years later”

Me and God, we don’t get along: The best songs about sin

Art depends on reveling in the wrong, and the following — not definitive! — list delineates how everyone from The Kendalls and Tammy Wynette to The Cramps and Kanye West vacillate between expiating sin to accepting the tastiness of sin. With country songs I could double this list.

Continue reading “Me and God, we don’t get along: The best songs about sin”