Where no Christian man has been: Songs about witches

A metaphor deployed against women who have the effrontery to be active sexual partners, ‘witch’ has also been owned by several marvelous female singer-songwriters — Ella Fitzgerald, who deservedly tops the list, yeah, and today’s birthday girl Stevie Nicks, who transformed the trope into a supple thing suitable for hetero and queer romance. The firstContinue reading “Where no Christian man has been: Songs about witches”

Songs about psychics and gypsies

Until our society realized the term denigrated Romani women, “gypsy” served as shorthand for rootless people whom singer-songwriters envied for their purported independence, scarf-wearing prowess, and sexual availability, especially if the singer-songwriter thought The Road more romantic than the Ramada Inn bar and a toiletful of smoked cigarettes.

Stories for boys: ‘The Northman’

To watch a Robert Eggers film is to toss verbs like “interrogate” like croutons in a salad, as in, “Eggers’ films interrogate masculinity,” but it’s the audience that feels interrogated, if not quite tortured. Released three years after The Lighthouse, which turned into a surprise cult hit during lockdown (more than a couple students haveContinue reading “Stories for boys: ‘The Northman’”

The best songs about fashion

Among the horrors of the ’90s was listening rock star interviews in which they professed to admit they didn’t care for fashion. Even acknowledging that every generation reacts against its predecessors, this seemed like an unnecessary self-immolation, for the era’s long-sleeved flannel shirt and the stone-washed jeans signified all their own, yet these dumb clucksContinue reading “The best songs about fashion”

The best stretch of good albums

I suppose after a few days of idleness I needed a spur, and I thought about the artists whom I loved and their streaks. Loath as I am to give a shit about Perfect Albums, I asked, “How many of my favorites recorded albums with uninterrupted streaks of listenability and versatility for several years?” And:Continue reading “The best stretch of good albums”

The best title tracks pt II

I wanted no artists who appeared on my last list, but luckily the rock/R&B tradition provides many examples of albums named after title tracks. An R&B chart #1 in early ’87, “Give Me the Reason” shows Luther Vandross’ strengths: expressing himself within technological limits, in this case MIDI programming. Sinead O’Connor and Loretta Lynn triumphedContinue reading “The best title tracks pt II”

Songs about groupies

As long as rock ‘n’ roll has existed, sexual imbalance has defined the star and the fans. When rock was here to stay in the sixties, what we call the groupie became institutionalized, for better or worse — and often, invariably, worse. A gruesome subject regardless, rife with exploitation: an example of dark and goldenContinue reading “Songs about groupies”

Ranking #45 singles, US edition: 1980-1989

To realize that perennials like “Juicy Fruit” and “I Want to Break Free” got no access to the American top 40 is to endure brain death thinking about which songs did get in. Former Miles Davis keyboardist James Mtume’s squiggly, squishy, sticky wormhole went #1 R&B and hung around in the ether long enough forContinue reading “Ranking #45 singles, US edition: 1980-1989”