Worst Songs Ever: Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’

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.

Oasis’ “Wonderwall”
PEAK CHART POSITION #8 in March 1996

This was a hit. At my desk in the MetLife office building in Kendall, I heard the excitement in the deejay’s voice. To paraphrase him, he said, “This is Oasis, a rock group from England? You might remember them from ‘Rock and Roll Star’ last year. Her they are with…’WONDERWALL.'” On first listen I liked the strings. The pathos of Liam Gallagher’s singsong “There are many things that I/Would like to say to you/but I don’t know HOWWWWW…” But the chorus disappointed me. On and on it went, a drag. Was it songwriter Noel Gallagher’s attempt to place the Harrison-ist drone in a Western rock context? (Harrison, of course, had done it already in the Beatles with “It’s All Too Much” and “I Want to Tell You”). After the second set of verses and a return of the chorus, “Wonderwall” has nowhere to go yet insists on filling its allotted time of 3:45. Presto — cultural phenomenon! Continue reading

Songs of faith and devotion

“I’m not religious, but I feel so moved,” Madonna once sang, and on Passion Weekend that’s how these holy days unfurl for this former Catholic. The following prayers, laments, and supplications move me beyond measure.

1. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Khena Ghalat Ghalat To Chhupana Sahi Sahi
2. Al Green – Jesus is Waiting
3. Bob Dylan – Every Grain of Sand
4. Johnny Cash – Why Me Lord
5. Aretha Franklin – Mary Don’t You Weep
6. The Staple Sisters – I’ll Take You There
7. The Velvet Underground – Jesus
8. Roxy Music – Psalm
9. Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton – When I Get Where I’m Going
10. Depeche Mode – Personal Jesus
11. Carrie Underwood – Jesus, Take the Wheel
12. The Killers – All The Things That I’ve Done
13. Prince – The Cross
14. George Jones – Family Bible
15. Randy Travis – Three Wooden Crosses
16. Amy Grant – Lead Me On
17. The Doobie Brothers – Jesus Is Just Alright
18. ZZ Top – Jesus Just Left Chicago
19. Big Star – Jesus Christ
20. Madonna – Like a Prayer
21. George Michael – Jesus to a Child
22. Lupe Fiasco – Muhammad Walks
23. Stephanie Mills – I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love
24. Merle Haggard – Jesus Take a Hold
25. Nas – God Love Us
26. Stevie Wonder – Have a Talk with God
27. Talk Talk – New Grass
28. John Cale – Hallelujah
29. Van Morrison – Give Me My Rapture
30. David Bowie – Word on a Wing

A pair of Hong Sang-soo films show his wise, delicate touch

Delighted by revision as a narrative method, the Korean director Hong Sang-soo makes films that force audiences to judge the present based on the steady encroachment of the past. Populating these films with movie directors would open him up to charges of preciousness if Hong didn’t value a certain kind of drollery; his characters, the women particularly, think through their reactions with an understated wonder that’s a response to life’s little peculiarities. Making his films quickly out of improvised sets – restaurants, apartments, beaches, most prominently – gives them a found-object freshness. 2016’s Right Now, Wrong Then follows the herky-jerky courtship of a young woman in Suwon and a director she meets in a temple before Hong restarts the story using gradations as subtle as the haystacks painted by Monet in changing light. This bipartite structure reaps rewards if audiences have the patience to endure them, but Hong rarely writes scripts longer than a hundred minutes. Continue reading

‘Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?’

The ritual abandoned but the romance still exerting a pull, Good Friday has a stillness that attracts me years after I abandoned faith. Gerard Manley Hopkins, never one to take things easy, let alone still-y, has a sonnet for the occasion.

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old ánvil wínce and síng–
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
Ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Is it appropriate to say, “Happy Good Friday!”?

Worst Songs Ever: Jimmy Buffett – “Margaritaville”

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.

Jimmy Buffett – “Margaritaville”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #8 in August 1977

Robert Forster dropped a bombshell. Asked in a 2006 interview about the contents of his iPod, the Go-Between mentioned Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Beth Orton — and Jimmy Buffett. “It’s really good stuff!” he crowed. “If I hear a cover band performing ‘Margaritaville,’ I’m in heaven.” Now, he knew yours truly was calling from Florida. But I have no reason to doubt his taste. In the interest of full disclosure, I offered, “He writes great melodies.” Longtime readers know I deploy that adjective sparingly. Blame proximity to a songwriting hero for coaxing twaddle out of me. I’ll concede “Jimmy Buffett occasionally writes good, wistful melodies” and leave it at that. Continue reading

Figuring it out: Toni Braxton, Yo La Tengo, and The Breeders

Toni Braxton – Sex & Cigarettes

On a bonus cut on her last album, Toni Braxton played a woman having casual sex for the last time with the husband whom she’ll miss for the rest of her life. Four years later, romance hasn’t gotten any easier: she’s dating a man who crawls into her bed stinking of sex and cigarettes. When her contralto plumbs its rich wine-dark depths, she summons more lust-inflected pain than many singers spend a lifetime realizing, and the songs written by Paul Boutin, Babyface, and Braxton herself are up to it. The profusion of light club beats match an ethos that sees hitting the town as a utilitarian function, and Braxton does more with them than Mary J. Blige did on The London Sessions, in part because when the melodies and beats flirt with the generic (“FOH”) Braxton sounds goofily thick. At times the instrumental bits are mournful garnishes: the organ on “Long As I Live,” the steel drum punching each chorus enjambment in “Missin,’ for example. Length: 30:39.

Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On

Of course it’s not required – the Hoboken trio stopped recording essential albums a decade ago, maybe longer. But their latest is the most ominously quiet of their career, particularly a middle stretch whose guitars and keyboards undulate too insistently for sleep.

The Breeders – All Nerve

Insouciance is their lodestar. A few letters cunningly arranged separate insouciance and indifference; I saw the latter at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013.

Worst Songs Ever: Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”

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.

Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in February 1992

At this point the anti-Nirvana narrative — that the Seattle trio didn’t quite destroy the pop chart — has been corrected such that the songs scraping the top ten in 1992 get offered as evidence. But Karl Marx analyzed the period after a revolution when the forces of reaction surge, like a dying man finding new strength when gripping the hand of a son or grandson. Hence “To Be with You,” a #1 song for three weeks in early 1992 sandwiched between Right Said Fred’s addled novelty “I’m Too Sexy” and Vanessa Williams’ sublime “Save the Best for Last,” which could’ve hit #1 in 1986 or 2000. Continue reading

Worst Songs Ever: Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in May 1985

We know the back story. Songwriter Keith Forsey shopped the song around. Billy Idol rejected it. So did The Fixx. Most infamously, so did Bryan Ferry. I suspect the Roxy Music scion, chastened by the success of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” went apeshit recording movie themes into the nineties, hoping for that elusive American crossover (anyone remember his Phenomenon theme? Someone had a promotional budget).

A UK New Pop mainstay, Simple Minds had no American profile. A stadium band reluctant to project; a singer with little trouble projecting to the cheapest seats saddled with New Pop arrangements — this is an ideal choice to sell a theme song creating a phony solidarity between band and audience. Yet Simple Minds, with two exceptions, can’t sell the grand gesture, despite their DNA. 1982’s “New Gold Dream” evokes a sunrise behind tall buildings, with an obnoxious herald announcing this dawn, its effectiveness in large part due to the insistent flicker of the synths and the clippety-cloppety drums, yet Utah Saints’ interpolation — go figure — brought the arena rock readiness; the second moment is “Promised You a Miracle,” whose keyboards flicker like a Bic lighter. I hate this song as much as I do OMD’s “If You Leave”: the hand-waving from the stage befouled both acts.  Continue reading

Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ all too (in)credible

Every time we praise Steven Soderbergh for making his small scale genre pieces like Haywire and Side Effects, we forget we have to deal with the results, often middling at best. The pitches are more interesting. 2017’s Logan Lucky was an okay Southern fried heist picture; a mere seven months later, Unmade is schlock booby hatch horror, shot by Soderbergh on iPhone 7 Plus under his “Peter Andrews” pseudonym. Continue reading

John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

The retired John Paul Stevens, ninety-seven, published a column in today’s NYT in which the following words appeared:

But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

Although his admonition ends as it’s getting interesting, he’s not writing for lawyers or legal scholars – he’s throwing down a gauntlet. Besides, Stevens’ dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller wades into the Second Amendment’s textual history:

The Amendment’s use of the term “keep” in no way contradicts the military meaning conveyed by the phrase “bear arms” and the Amendment’s preamble. To the contrary, a number of state militia laws in effect at the time of the Second Amendment ’s drafting used the term “keep” to describe the requirement that militia members store their arms at their homes, ready to be used for service when necessary. The Virginia military law, for example, ordered that “every one of the said officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates, shall constantly keep the aforesaid arms, accoutrements, and ammunition, ready to be produced whenever called for by his commanding officer.” Act for Regulating and Disciplining the Militia, 1785 Va. Acts ch. 1, §3, p. 2 (emphasis added).12 “[K]eep and bear arms” thus perfectly describes the responsibilities of a framing-era militia member.

This reading is confirmed by the fact that the clause protects only one right, rather than two. It does not describe a right “to keep arms” and a separate right “to bear arms.” Rather, the single right that it does describe is both a duty and a right to have arms available and ready for military service, and to use them for military purposes when necessary

I recommend reading this dissent over lunch. Stevens, who wrote the first drafts of his opinions himself (i.e. without the intervention of clerks), used plain English. And I support today’s column – a chimera, I know.

Worst Songs Ever: Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink – ‘Lady Marmalade”

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.

Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink’s ‘Lady Marmalade”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in June 2001.

Insouciant and crisp, LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” is an essential artifact of mid seventies pop soul, a deserved #1. Patti LaBelle does a rare trick: she never sounds as if she means “Voulez-vous couche avec moi?” but the performance works despite the seams, like Meryl Streep embodying Karen Blixen and Azaria Chamberlain (“I didn’t know what it was about,” Patti said, as the audience stifles giggles. “Nobody, I swear this is God’s truth, nobody told me what I’d just sung a song about”); meanwhile, the hi-hats accents are as ebullient as Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash’s background support. Bow, Allen Toussaint. What did the group think when one of the few songs not written by Hendryx became their biggest hit? (Not to worry: Hendryx left the group to become one of the most famous comers in pop; despite a couple of early good to excellent solo albums, she never once got close to scoring a hit). Continue reading

‘Even the mysteries/It’s all me’

With deep respect to Dusty in Memphis, my Supremes comp, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Exile in Guyville, these albums I submitted to NPR’s Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women survey. The first album will get enough mentions but if I were being honest myself I couldn’t ignore it. The other four I worry will get no votes. What links these albums across decades is an experience with role playing: accepting with a cold eye the projections of male listeners even when – especially when – these projections fit; discomfort with yielding to the emotions that men expect from women; the arranging of clothes and makeup as creation of self. “Sometimes it’s hard to move, you see/When you’re growing publicly,” Erykah Badu sings on “Me.”

Anyway, it’ll be a combination of these finalists:

1. Pretenders – Pretenders
2. Rosanne Cash – King’s Record Shop
3. Angela Winbush – Sharp
4. Sinead O’ Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
5. Belly – Star
6. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott — Supa Dupa Fly
7. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
8. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
9. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
10. Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice: Compilation