Paul McCartney: 10 Musical Moments

It’s June 18th, and on this day in 1942 one James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool.  He would later go on to great success as a member of the Beatles of course, and a successful solo career which I’ve summarized in a post I wrote last year celebrating Paul McCartney’s birthday.  So, this year, I wanted to do the same thing I’ve done for John Lennon and George Harrison when their birthdays came around – present 10 musical moments in the career of Paul McCartney.


Now, to reiterate this, the following 10 are not meant to be the 10 best. No.  I don’t think it works that way.  Well, at least not for me.  This list is just about 10; 10 moments in the musical life of a hero of mine: Paul McCartney .

I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles 1963

One Two Three FAAAAAAAW!  It’s one of the best openings of any song ever written, appearing on the Beatles Parlaphone debut album Please Please Me.  And what a song it is!  A story of teenage love, or is it lust, with an impossibly fluid bassline and sterling playing from all four Beatles. But, Macca’s voice on this is what gets me, full of youthful vigour, and delivering one of the greatest rock n roll couplets ever: she was just seventeen, you know what I mean.  Yes we do, Paul!

Things We Said Today – the Beatles 1964

One thing about the Beatles as songwriters was that they seemed to be young men with the songwriting brains of those much older.  This is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to Paul songs.  With the young rush of love established in “I Saw Her Standing There”, this song as taken from A Hard Day’s Night talks about what may come after that, with the eye that nothing ever stays the same, including perspectives.  What is true now, may not be true later, says Paul.  In some ways, this is something of a sobering love song, and from a 23 year with the world on a plate by 1964.  If fame affected McCartney, perhaps he was saved by this self-same perspective.

Hello Goodbye – the Beatles 1967

By 1967, The Beatles had been through the grind of tour-album-tour, all the while becoming disenchanted with celebrity that was weighing them down in every way including creatively.  So, when they cast off their pop group shackles and became a studio band, the songs did the work for them.  And why not, since that was their strength.  And despite the movement toward harder edges on rock songs, McCartney was still interested in writing pop songs with a bit extra.  And this is one of my favourites of his, quintessential Macca from Magical Mystery Tour, with tons of optimistic and colorful ear candy for the kids, with a few interesting chord progressions for the eggheads to enjoy too.

Helter Skelter – The Beatles 1968

And where the Beatles were in tune with the colorful and kaleidoscopic psychedelia the year before, by 1968 even the Beatles knew that the world was a starker, more violent place than could be papered over with paisley and Lewis Carroll.  The Who had released “I Can See For Miles”, and McCartney wanted to go one louder.  And so he did, with a raucous rock growl of a voice, a bludgeoning bassline, shreds of distorted guitar, and an inspiration in waiting for Charles Manson who interpreted this song taken from The Beatles (The White Album) quite liberally for his own diabolical ends.

Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney 1970

The Beatles were effectively over as a group in the first few months of 1970.  But, by then McCartney had other forces in his life holding him together, which came out thematically on his first solo album McCartney in 1970.  These were his new wife Linda, and her daughter Heather from her previous marriage.  But, as one marriage ended and another had begun, with the feelings of heartbreak from the lost camaraderie of his band blurred into those of amazement at being in love.  This was a potent emotional punch that was waiting to be expressed.  And here it is, one of the best songs Paul McCartney ever wrote.  It was later re-recorded live in 1976 on the Wings Over America album and released as a single.

Dear Boy – Paul & Linda McCartney 1971

One thing that we often forget when looking at songwriting deities is that they too have their heroes.  For McCartney, his hero stands as a legend in his own right; Brian Wilson.  And McCartney was not unaffected, writing his “Getting Better” from Sgt. Pepper under Wilson’s influence. But, this is my favourite of McCartney’s Wilsonesque tunes, a lighthearted jibe at a figure who is too misguided to know what he’s given up in favour of a prize which may turn out to be not worth having.  That this figure may have been one John Lennon is beside the point.   This is pure pop, the pop at Lennon notwithstanding, taken from the classic 1971 album Ram.

Junior’s Farm – Wings 1974

One criticism often leveled at McCartney is that he tends to stray on the side of whimsy, and doesn’t often, well, rock.  Another one is that when in the Beatles, it was John who was the imaginative lyricist, while Paul was strictly the melodist of the pair.  “Junior’s Farm” puts all of this to rest, recorded as it was as a single in 1974 (later to appear on the Wings Greatest album) after the release of his, arguably, breakthrough album with Wings the previous year Band on the Run. Wings was his attempt at getting back into the groove of being in a band.  They tried it democratically in terms of the writing and attention, which was noble.  But, ultimately, McCartney’s ability to write songs and sing in such a monumentus way as he does here makes that decision seem naive at best.

Here Today – Paul McCartney 1982

Speaking of criticisms, when John Lennon was shot, and after the initial shock had worn off, media at the time ghoulishly clamoured to get the impressions of the other Beatles; how did they feel about the whole tragedy?  Paul disappointed everyone by giving a very brief “what a drag” statement to the press, making him seem in print to many to be callous, to say the least.  Yet, he loved John.  And not to prove it to anyone, he wrote this tribute to his friend, placing it on his excellent Tug Of War album in 1982. Listen to the above clip, recorded in 2007, and with his voice heavy with emotion.  He is holding back the tears no more…

Calico Skies – Paul McCartney 1997

Paul and Linda had something of a unique rock marriage.  For one thing, they stayed together for 29 years.  And this song is something of a testament to their commitment, not just because they stayed together that long, but because they seemed to have a game plan – “always finding new ways to love you” as this song says, and one of the greatest love songs he ever wrote too which is certainly saying something.  The song appeared on the ‘comeback’ record Flaming Pie, and album recorded quickly and virtually solo but for a few guests, after the Beatles Anthology project was completed.  There are shades of his earlier composition “Mother Nature’s Son” in there, an English folk feel that offsets the modern notion that in order to keep a marriage healthy, it can’t be taken for granted.

Fine Line – Paul McCartney 2005

McCartney has put out albums over a long career that not every fan has been happy with.  In some ways, being Paul McCartney has been something of an impediment to his artistic growth, for who is going to tell him that one of his songs needs a bit more work before it’s committed to a final take?  Well, the answer is Nigel Goderich, producer best known for his work with Beck and Radiohead.  And Nigel, if reports are to be believed, put Sir Paul through the paces on this record and song, and it shows.  This song, and the album off of which it comes Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, represents a career high in a span of four decades, and one of the best albums by anyone in 2005.  This proves of course that talent doesn’t get old, and that artistry knows no age.


So, happy birthday Sir Paul.  You’re still my hero, and these 10 songs are 10 just reasons to thank you.


10 Mustache Songs for Movember

The Beatles took separate projects in 1966 when they stopped touring for good that year.  John Lennon went to Spain to film Richard Lester’s How I Won the War.  George Harrison sped off to India for the first time to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar.  Paul dreamed up a way for the band to continue by having their next record sound like the work of a touring band, even if it was the Beatles once removed.  Ringo contemplated a film career too, which would come to fruition in the ensuing years.

But despite their individual pursuits, when the Beatles reconvened in November of 1966 for the recording of the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” double-A side they shared one thing in common.

They had all grown mustaches.

Since then, mustaches have been a mainstay in rock from Frank Zappa’s signature ‘stache-n-patch, to the 1800s preacher-boy look of the Band, to Freddie Mercury who led pomp-rock gods Queen to glory, mustache-first.

David Crosby grew one after leaving  the Byrds, showing a commitment to a facial hedgerow that endures to this day.  U2’s the Edge experimented with a myriad of mo’s, appropriating and discarding them seemingly on a daily basis.

Motorhead’s Lemmy proudly wears his mustache-cum-mutton chops, and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos’ ‘stache has seen the fashions come and go too.  The list is endless.  I haven’t even mentioned Frankie Goes to Hollywood…

Here are 10 songs by 10 mustachioed rock and pop artists, some who have stayed true to their ‘staches, some who went through a phase and wisely abandoned it, and others who once wore the ‘stache proudly and the ‘staches of which are sadly no longer with us.  In any case, in honour of the Movember Men’s Health Charity, I give you ten unshaven upper lips of the upper echelon.

Jimi Hendrix – Red House

James Marshall Hendrix revolutionized the guitar, first serving time as a sideman to Little Richard.  From Richard, he learned that he couldn’t hang back like a sideman should. But, perhaps also, he learned the power of Little Richard’s ‘stache as a rock ‘n’ roll accessory of choice.

Gitarrlegenden Jimi Hendrix

And who knows?  Maybe the ‘stache was the key to Hendrix’s ability to shred?

Burton Cummings of The Guess Who – Hang On To Your Life

Among their skills as Canadian hit-makers who had some play in the States, despite hailing from the Canadian prairies (Winnipeg, actually), they had an advantage in lead singer and keyboardist Burton Cummings, who’s mustache has become a national icon.

You know that one relative who’s always had a mustache, and you can’t imagine him without it?  Think of that on a cultural scale,  and you begin to see what Burton Cummings’ ‘mo means to every Canadian, everywhere.

Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter of Steely Dan – My Old School

This man really is the Walrus, defining the ‘Dan’s early career as dual-guitared jazz-rock champions, and defining the extent to which one man might seek to entirely hide his mouth using his own hair.


And if you think the ‘stache is only for unwashed, peace-loving hippies, think again! Not only is this ‘stache still around today, it remains on the face of a man who’s had a second careering in designing guidance systems for missles.

Ron Mael of Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us

If Adolph Hitler stole Charlie Chaplin’s ‘stache in the 1930s, then Ron Mael has been trying to steal it back ever since he could grow one.


I think all would be well, if Mael looked any less insane than Hitler.  But, he doesn’t.  At all.

Bernard Sumner of Joy Divison – Transmission

Guitarist for Joy Division and later the same for New Order, Bernard Sumner’s brief flirtation with a ‘bumfluff’ mustache at the end of the 1970s has become legendary.

Even in his 1999 guest vocal on the Chemical Brothers “Out of Control” contained the telling line “is my mustache too much?”, proving that mustache shame (or is it envy) can dog you for decades if you play it wrong.  Bassist Peter Hook of course hedged (pun intended?) his bets by sticking to his unfashionable beard.

The Village People – YMCA

There were very few bands pulling this look off in the early 80s.  But, nearly every member of this unique disco-pop outfit, despite the differences in costuming, had a ‘tache they could be proud of.  Cop ‘tache?  You bet!  Cowboy ‘tache? Check. Biker ‘tache?  What, are you kidding me?

The Village People

The Village People showed that no matter what your walk of life, there was a mustache out there for everyone!

Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap – Rock n’ Roll Creation

It was a ‘first mustache’ for many a special friend on the road.


If Smalls was the lukewarm water between two creative fire ‘n’ ice forces in the ‘Tap, then he is smokin’ hot on the ‘representin’ the ‘tache’ front for his otherwise clean-shaven band mates.

John Oates of Hall & Oates – You Make My Dreams Come True

John Oates was the mustache of the decade in the ’80s, his visual trademark during a very fruitful run of smash singles with Daryl Hall from 1976 to 1986.

Sadly, his mustache is no longer with us, even if (luckily) John Oates is.  He shaved it off!  Can you believe that!?

George Michael – Spinning the Wheel

There was a time when people thought George Michael was straight.  No, honest. At one point in his career around the time this song was on the radio, he rocked a Pancho Villa vibe when it came to his moustache, a look not many reached for in 1996.

Nick Cave, with the Bad Seeds – Dig!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Nick Cave has stuck by his haircut – sort of a gothic mullet affair – from the 1980s when he made his name as the frontman for the Birthday Party.  Yet, lately he’s sported a droopy outlaw mustache, kind of like he’s keeping it for a friend.

We’ll see if it and the haircut get along…

OK. It’s full disclosure time.  I am growing a mustache, participating in the aforementioned Movember event to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research.  Should you wish to support said mustache, click here to do just that.


10 Happy Songs That Aren’t Really Happy

Happy Face Sad FaceEmotional states and the act of managing them seems to be one of the key tensions in this thing we call human experience. We have a built-in capacity it seems to cover our anguish and turmoil with a coating of contentedness, a patina of pleasure, a veneer of vitality, and yet very often on the inside, we’re full of doubt, worry, insecurity, and an impending sense of doom. Well, don’t think that songwriters have overlooked this dynamic in human experience. Oh no. There are plenty of songs out there that can be counted on as bitter pills coated with sugar.

This is not to say that they are necessarily mocking, or are in some way disingenuous, although some of them are. After all, all of that is a part of life too. But, here are ten jaunty tunes of doom, ten ditties of delightful destruction, ten anthems of anguished despair that proves the grand greyscale of our existence is not so lonely, knowing that we all appreciate the irony of a disaster you can dance to.

Happy face image courtesy of A.M Kuchling

The Wanderer – Dion & the Belmonts

Dion and the Belmonts the WandererThis is a macho guy’s anthem in many ways, taken from their 1961 album named after it, The Wanderer. This is the tale of an itinerant ladies’ man who is with a different girl, or group of girls, every night. Which one does he love best? His tattoo, man – Rosie on his chest. Nothing can touch this guy. When love rears its head, he hops back into his car and he’s gone again. But, there’s the rub. This doesn’t happen when women fall for him; it happens when he finds himself falling for one of them. To me, this is where the macho womanizer tale ends, and where the lonely soul who is frightened of love begins. Ultimately, this song is one of the most tragic of the period, even among all of the teen death ballads that were out around this time when Dion & the Belmonts recorded this.

Dion’s own story is also a tale of the seemingly happy, together singer who had a dark secret – Dion struggled with heroin addiction. Luckily, he managed to shake it, while recording some critically acclaimed folk-rock albums by the end of the decade, and finding religion in the next.

Baby’s in Black – The Beatles

Beatles For SaleOne of the most joyous sounds to me is the combined voices of Lennon and McCartney on some of those early Beatles sides. This tune, taken from the 1964 album Beatles for Sale, is a great example of what great singers these guys were together, with John’s lower voice anchoring the melody while Paul soars above him. Without listening to the words here , the song could be about rainbows and unicorns. But despite the sweetness of the voices, this song is all about trying to woo a widow, a woman caught up in the despair of her loss. And more, it’s about the feelings that arise from her would-be lover, that she is wasting away, denying love in exchange for a memory. To me, it’s one of the most sombre tracks the group ever recorded. And yet those voices – aural honey!

One of the things which amazes me about the Beatles is their maturity as writers even very early in their songwriting careers. It’s been written many times that at some point, they stopped writing for teenage girls and began writing for themselves and their peers. But, where does this one fall? It’s not really a teen death song because there’s no romanticism in the death spoken of here. The tragic event is implied more so than directly described. There’s no romantic tragedy here. There’s just two messed up lives, both pining for a love that can never be returned.

Crippled Inside – John Lennon

A few years later, Lennon had kept what he’d learned about making the words work against the melody of a song in order to create a jarring effect. And on this cut, taken from his landmark 1971 solo album Imagine, is a prime example of his dark humour, and his prowess in using a good-time melody and style against his own sobering views of inner turmoil. Since John knew a lot about both great melody and dealing with lifelong demons, it probably made some sense to him to put them together. The song was allegedly about an acquaintance, yet it’s hard not to apply the message of the song to Lennon himself, who had by this time made the subject of his own anguish something of a favourite when he approached songwriting.

Lennon had spent many years as “Beatle John”, one of the lovable mop-tops, never without a quip or a mug for the camera. And yet the death of his mother while he was still a teen, and his feelings of abandonment surrounding his absent dad from early childhood were dark feelings he could barely conceal even at the height of his popularity. In 1965, he’d written “Help!” which is a child’s cry for love and attention in the guise of a catchy pop song. By ’71, he was writing from this vantage point with a level of self-awareness which he may not have been at liberty to demonstrate at the height of Beatlemania. Yet, still he struggled. I’d like to think that if he’d lived, he’d be at peace with his past by now. After all, he’d done his therapy and recorded it for posterity.

Marie Provost – Nick Lowe

Much has been written of the New York death; that is, the death of someone who is not discovered for weeks and months, due to how disconnected and anonymous that person was in a bustling metropolis. There is further tragedy heaped upon this sad situation when the person in question once dominated the limelight, and had in fact been celebrated as a star in their field. Such was the fate of silent screen actress Marie Provost (actually spelled Marie Prevost), sidelined by the advent of sound in movies, and destined to die penniless in her New York apartment, only to become “a doggie’s dinner” to her pet dachshund post mortem. A ghastly tale of tragedy and gore, right? Sure.

But in Nick Lowe’s 1977 song taken from his Bowi EP (so named in answer to David Bowie’s Low album…) and later featured on the compilation Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe , you’d think that this was a bouncy, happy-go-lucky 60s pop throwback, with chiming guitars and twinkle-in-the-eye vocal delivery to boot. But this is a song about the empty and transitory trappings of fame, a weighty subject. Yet you can practically hear the smile on Nick Lowe’s face. Lowe understands and employs a classic angle in pop songwriting; using the contrast between lyrics and melody to drive the delivery of the song, which is ultimately a sad tale told with ironic jubilance.

Nite Klub – The Specials

The SpecialsIn Britain at the beginning of the 80s, things were not looking too good for traditional industry. And because of that, the industrial centers of the country suffered lay-offs, long-term unemployment, and thousands and thousands of people “on the dole” without anything to really define their purpose in life. Racial tensions were on the rise, and street violence was common. At the same time, the music of the Caribbean had made cultural headway in the area too, particularly reggae and its early progenitor ska, both of which had been the answer to the joyfulness of Tamla Motown as interpreted by musicians from the islands. It is party music, music to dance to, to use as a means of celebrating life.

British musicians, including first and second-generation immigrants from Jamaica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and other Caribbean islands, took the celebratory nature of ska, and mixed it with the sneering dissatisfaction of punk. And songs like “Nite Klub” from one of the premier proponents of the scene, Coventry’s The Specials, typified the spirit of the times. This tune, taken from their 1979 debut The Specials, portrays the emptiness of nights out while facing the crushing economic pressures of having no job and depending on government money to survive. Yet, with the bright tones of the horns and the bouncy energy of the rhythm section, at least this is social marginalization that you can dance to, right?

Genetic Engineering – Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD)

As was pointed out in an article about Kraftwerk I wrote recently, there is a tension running through the music of the futurist pop that sprang up at the beginning of the 80s. The tension is about looking forward to the future and dreading it at the same time. Medical science and the leaps and bounds that were (and are) being made were a concern as much then as they are now. This is so much so that it filtered very easily into pop culture, and onto the charts. Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock had been a popular bestseller for a decade, and everyone who had their minds on the role of technology in society seemed to reflect this duality, this longing for a bright future mixed with a fear of the unknown, and possibly a deep-seated mistrust in the moral basis upon which a lot of technology was being developed.

The question seemed to be: are we moving into the future too fast for our society, and individuals in that society, to manage? Perhaps not much has changed, but for the question which is perhaps unasked all too often. It’s easy to forget that the brains that invented digital technology which has come to define our world, are arguably no more wise than those who wage preemptive wars with countries who have done us no direct harm.

OMD’s “Genetic Engineering” from their 1983 album Dazzle Ships expresses this is a roundabout way. To me this is like a children’s song, or an advert, except for the menacing drone of the music against the shiny, happy melody line. And then of course there are the lyrics “These are the lies they tell us/the future’s good as sold/In all the things we do and know, we really must be told.” Suddenly, after pushing through the chirpiness of the melody, we realize that this isn’t the ode to salvation through science it seems to be. It’s a propaganda piece, with a hint that the future is a place where all things are controlled – yet by whom?

Our House – Madness

Madness Our HouseFamilies are almost never what they seem. And yet there is often pressure on them to project a certain image to others that the family in question is normal, healthy, and fit to stand as an example to other families everywhere. I suppose there is a good side to this of course; it’s always good to aspire to an ideal, just as long as that ideal is not thought of as reality. Because in every family, there are secrets big and small. Some are unexpected in a good way; that Grandma once backpacked through Europe when she was a girl. Or that your uncle once played bass in a pickup band for a one-off Chuck Berry show in 1973. But some secrets are so dark, so unspeakable, that they remain to be a hovering spectre over a household that dare not explore it or deal with it.

This is what we’ve got here, I believe. Just as their “House of Fun” single is not about going to a carnival, Madness’ sole 1983 North American hit “Our House” is not what it seems either. In this tune, we get the portrait of the mundaneness of a family, of a sister sighing in her sleep, a brother who’s got a date to keep, about a house-proud Mum. This is all well and good, except for the throw-away line buried between the verses: “Something tells you that you’ve got to get away from it.” Suddenly, there are other forces at work in this tune, with the veneer of normality and even dullness scratched away just a little bit to discover dissatisfaction and negativity underneath.

Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads

Talking Heads Little CreaturesThey say that life is all about the journey, and it’s certainly been depicted that way in popular literature from Pilgrim’s Progress, to On the Road, to Dude, Where’s My Car?. I think that one of the main drives behind this idea is the hope that life is intrinsically meaningful, that it is in fact going somewhere. Whether this is a place, as some religious orders and traditions hold, to a certain state of mind, or to some technological and entirely rational future based purely on the merits of human achievement is almost beside the point in these terms. But, what if life is just a series of events linked together randomly, with nothing but cause and effect as its only source?

This is what I get from this 1985 Talking Heads song, taken from their album Little Creatures. The music is almost a tent-meeting gospel singalong track, in the traditions of the timeless church hymn “I’ll Fly Away”. But, the song has a message which could be construed as being entirely opposite. What with the concepts of American manifest destiny, the Second Coming of Christ, and Star Trek fantasies of a harmonious world government and an end to hunger and poverty in the future, our culture seems to be clinging to the hope that things will work out in the end. With this song, the jauntiness of the tune seems to hint, rather ironically, that no future is guaranteed but for the present times which will shape and define it.

Lovefool – The Cardigans

Love – the two-edged sword. It can make you, or entirely ruin you. Of course, love has been the subject of popular song for centuries, and I imagine too that heartbreak hasn’t changed all that much over the course of time. With the advent of heartbreak of course come a myriad of other emotions, exploding outward like shrapnel from an emotional epicenter. Among those comes desperation, delusion, and the distortion of one’s self image, defined forever (or seeming to be) by a damaged connection to one who doesn’t return the sentiment. How do you make a perky pop song about that, exactly? Well, it’s been done numerous times.

The Cardigans’ 1996 hit from their album First Band on the Moon, “Lovefool” was such a song, with the chirpy backing vocals and bouncy rhythm, all aiding and abetting lead singer Nina Persson’s plaintive vocal of someone who will settle for the pretense of love instead of the real thing, just to remain with the one she adores. The tragedy of that proved to be an infectious dance groove by the middle of the 90s, perhaps fueled by the universality of the scenario. And as above, what better way to expunge the feelings of worthlessness than by singing and dancing about it and to it? If the origin of the blues can be traced anywhere, then surely that place is here.

This song was used effectively on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack album, brightly bouncing along to arguably the most tragic love story there is.

She Called Up – Crowded House

Crowded House She Called UpOne of the most frightening sounds is the ring of a phone early in the wee hours of the morning from loved ones far away. Phone calls like that, unless someone is expecting a baby, are almost always bad news of the worst kind. It means someone is dead, doesn’t it – or at very least in the drunk tank. But think of the life of the internationally traveled musician, finding themselves in all time zones for large portions of the year while life happens for their families and friends at home without them. The chances of such wee-hour phone calls expand exponentially. And as a result, the news and the experience of finding out the news, filters down into songwriting. This is what happened with Neil Finn while touring with his brother Tim. His friend and former bandmate Paul Hester had been found dead near his home in Australia, and Finn was in England.

In times like that, there really is nothing to be done, and particularly when in another country. So, the song “She Called Up” , taken from the group’s 2007 album Time on Earth is a tale of bad news, sadness, and helplessness, all to a blithe backing and even “la la la” backing vocals which Hester probably would have appreciated. And this is just the thing. With all of the tragedy, the song that came out of it was true to the memory of the one who’d passed, known as he was for his onstage banter and clownish demeanour. This is a wake of a song, rather than a funeral. And it points out that there are many ways to mourn, many tones in the emotional paintbox to help one grieve the loss of a friend.


When in music class at school, we learned to tell the difference between major keys and minor keys in terms of happy and sad; major was positive sounding, happy, triumphant, while minor keys were blue, morose, sad. As we got older, we became more aware of the complexities of emotional states. And while those first impressions still ring true to some extent, we know that something as wonderful and dangerous as emotions and the experiences which provoke them aren’t always so cut and dried.

And because it is the stuff of the lifeforce, music follows suit, acting like a medium to communicate complex ideas to millions of people using simple tones to unlock new possibilities and new connections, whether they be good tidings or bad. It is because of this that a dirge can make us aspire to greatness, while the sweetest ode can allow us to see the greatest sense of grief.

10 Beatles Cover Songs Which May Be Better Than The Original

The Beatles as a favourite band may be an unoriginal choice. But, there it is. Sometimes, a band chooses you, not the other way around. If you’re a regular reader of the Delete Bin, you’ll know that the Fabs tend to come up a lot, despite my own fairly wide tastes. My own preferences aside, I think one of the things which can be said of the Beatles is that their songs have a quality that go beyond individual performances, even their own. They are great songs, no matter who is performing them.

This is a handy thing since they’ve been covered so much by so many artists from different backgrounds, genres, and (let’s face it) levels of competence. But, here are 10 notable cover versions. Some of these are so good, they threaten the originals for the number one spot . Others are unique statements of their own just by being in existence, so much so that they simply deserve a mention for their temerity.

Hey Jude – Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett Hey JudeThe Wicked Pickett covered this song in 1969, the year after the original Beatles single which had stayed on the number one spot for 9 weeks, despite it being over 7 minutes long. Pickett included it on his album named after this cover version, Hey Jude. The arrangement dials up the gospel overtones of the original, while also bringing in the truly supernatural guitar chops of Duane Allman. Wilson Pickett made a career of singing soul music as if fighting for his life, and this is a great example of Pickett’s approach – a rough and ready tone that belts out the lines of encouragement in a way that Paul McCartney would have done it, had he been born a Southern Baptist preacher. The soulful evocations of “It’s gonna be alright!” in the famous coda section, along with the heavenly horn section and Allman’s fiery guitar make this a contender for best version ever.

Allman’s work on this track gained the attention of Eric Clapton, who would work with Allman on the Derek & The Dominos album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970. Wilson Pickett would continue to have an impact on the rock world by covering “Fire and Water” as written and recorded by (the very underrated) British blues-rock band Free, who had written and the song recorded themselves all the while with Pickett’s voice in mind.

With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker With A Little Help From My FriendsJoe Cocker recorded his first album With a Little Help from My Friends named after this cover version , in 1969. On doing so, he employed several musical luminaries which include Jimmy Page on lead guitar, Merry Clayton on vocals, Carole Kaye on bass, Henry McCulloch on guitar, and Steve Winwood on organ, among many others. The record is aptly named, then. And Cocker is a powerhouse vocalist, probably one of the most gifted blue-eyed soul vocalist Britain had yet produced. His delivery here is muscular-yet-vulnerable, backed by an imaginative arrangement, some fine playing from Page, and a great interplay between Cocker’s lead, and the back-up vocalists. Like the Pickett version of “Hey Jude”, this cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” seriously threatens to overshadow the Beatles original from Sgt. Pepper.

Cocker would of course go on to record two other famous Beatles cover songs in “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Something” on his second album Joe Cocker!, which again ratchets up the bluesiness of the songs in question. Having reached the heights with these covers, and those covers of songs by Traffic, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, Cocker would find greater fame in his recording of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong” in the late 70s and early 80s respectively. But this first single and his first two albums remain to be his best work.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – William Shatner

William Shatner the Transformed ManThis is a legendary recording, possibly for different reasons than were originally intended. William Shatner of course is no singer – he’s an actor of stage and screen, possibly most famous for his role as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. Here, the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” becomes less thelysergic anthem from Sgt. Pepper, and more of a (very) dramatic reading of the song’s lyrics (which actually turns out to be pretty trippy too…). Where this version of the song may not rival the original as some of the others in this list, it remains to be something of a bold approach, if unintentionally humourous at the same time. And to me, this is why it warrants inclusion. And because it throws a wrench in the works as far as what you were expecting of this list – right?

The version was a part of Shatner’s album The Transformed Man, released in 1968 at the height of his tenure as the Captain of the Enterprise, while also pulling from his stage acting background. Shatner would make more of these types of recordings through out his career, even into the present day with his spoken word album Has Been, made with songwriter Ben Folds in 2007.

We Can Work It Out – Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder Signed, Sealed, and Delivered“We Can Work It Out” is a pretty dark tune in the end. It’s about a struggling relationship, possibly on its last legs. The narrator of the tale is becoming pretty tyrannical in his approach to making his relationship better – “why’d you see it your way?”, “think of what I’m saying…”. In his 1970 cover version of the song found on his Signed, Sealed and Delivered, Stevie Wonder infuses this love-gone-wrong tune with an effervescence that draws a striking contrast to the darkness and desperation in the lyrics. You find yourself smiling at this tale of a man trying to push all of the blame on his partner. Who knew that narrow-mindedness and trivializing the opinion of a lover to get your own way in a relationship could sound so joyous?

Stevie Wonder would go from here to create some of his own pop classics, and of course make a contribution to a song which talks about relationships of another kind in duet with the author of “We Can Work it Out” – Paul McCartney. That tune of course is the immortal “Ebony and Ivory”, taken from McCartney’s excellent 1982 Tug of War album. Now, that song is annoying beyond belief, of course. But, at least the two voices behind each version “We Can Work It Out” were expressing the value in respecting different perspectives in a relationship, side by side on the piano keyboard as they are.

Eleanor Rigby – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin Live at the Filmore WestIn keeping with the trend of a dark theme against a celebratory arrangement, Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby” is downright chirpy. The original song, found on The Beatles 1966 album Revolver, is about a lonely old spinster – the titular Eleanor Rigby – who “picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been”. This is a person who has missed the happiness in life enjoyed by others, left behind to live only off the remnants of what others have enjoyed, lonely, isolated, and ultimately doomed. Yet, Aretha’s Eleanor has the funk, pushed along by pulsing basslines, push-me-pull-you vocal exchanges, bold hornshots, and a tempo that just won’t quit.

Found on her Live at the Filmore West album released in 1971, the live version is my absolute favourite take on the song just because it’s so incongruous. When listening to it, I often wonder what she was thinking when she arranged it. Maybe, she wanted to reveal that Eleanor Rigby had a richer inner life that no one knew about, and that when she was “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”, it was the face of someone who was not lonely, but content in being alone.

Come Together – Ike & Tina Turner

Ike & Tina Turner Proud MaryJohn Lennon allegedly wrote “Come Together” initially for a political campaign anthem for LSD guru Timothy Leary. While nothing came of Lennon’s involvement in the campaign, or indeed of Leary’s political career, the song was the lead track off of the Beatles final album Abbey Road. What doesn’t come off quite as clearly in that version is the double entendre in the phrase come together, which it surely does in Ike & Tina’s version. This 1971 cover version is simply dripping with coital sweat, a fully loaded sexual explosion of throaty vocals, stabbing guitar lines, and a rhythm section that goes like a train. As such, this version makes the song into something entirely new, less a series of absurdist images, and more about sheer physicality which makes the words secondary to what lies underneath.

Ike and Tina’s version of the song can be found on for their Proud Mary compilation. They would make a number of cover versions of popular rock songs, which in many ways brought them full circle having inspired many of the artists who would write those songs, including the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, both of which Tina Turner would tour with in the ensuing years after her partnership with Ike ended.

For No One – Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris Pieces of SkyThis version of the song from Emmylou’s 1975 album Pieces of the Sky endures because I think this tune was always meant to be a country song, specifically a hurtin’ song. Everything about the way it’s arranged here – the spare instrumentation, the slow tempo, and Emmylou’s own plaintive delivery – is entirely true to the material, which is documents the feelings of sadness that go along with one person of two who has fallen out of love. Where Aretha re-invents Eleanor Rigby, Emmylou drills to the emotional centre of a song that is ultimately about helplessness. The clip here is a later take on the tune, yet the approach remains the same.

It is amazing to me that the same guy who wrote the patronizing lyrics to “We Can Work It Out”, also wrote this tune, with lyrics that are about respecting someone’s space, about letting go. McCartney was 24 when this song was recorded, which probably worked against him. Yet, the song he came up with works across the board, particularly as a country song sung by the best in her field.

Anytime At All – Nils Lofgren

Nils Lofgren Night Fades Away By the early 80s, the era of a possible Beatles reunion was crushed. Yet, it was also a time when the songs the group recorded were being looked at again as being examples of great songwriting beyond the era to which they had been attached. In 1981 on his Night Fades Away album, Nils Lofgren took an unassuming album track (found on the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night), and made it into a stadium anthem. The pure joie de vive of his version reveals it to be a mark of the time in which it was written. But, it also captures the feeling that the innocence of young love is ultimately pretty timeless.

After you’ve worked with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen which Lofgren had, I guess the next logical step is to try the Beatles out. This song would remain to be a concert favourite. What I love about it is that Lofgren’s fondness for the Beatles, for Lennon, and for this song, just burns through. It’s infectious.

Blackbird – Dionne Farris

Dionne Farris Wild Seed Wild FlowerPaul McCartney’s “Blackbird”, orginally recorded for the band’s self-titled album (otherwise known as “The White Album”) has been interpreted in a political way before of course. Nina Simone recorded it, and the implications are pretty undeniable as a statement about equality and dignity for the black community in America. I have no idea whether or not Dionne Farris meant this to be a political statement or not when she recorded it for her Wild Seed — Wild Flower album in 1994 (I suspect she did, given other political content on the album). But for my money, this is a shining jewel of a version which made me wonder whatever happened to Dionne Farris, frankly, until I found the Dionne Farris MySpace page.

Where very few takes on this song (if any) can touch the original, I marvel at this, a solid R&B version with a bit of an acoustic blues flavour that keeps this from being the overproduced mess that has plagued (and plagues even today) other examples of the genre. The clip here is a live version which turns the song into a bit of a singalong. But the album version is a stark voice and guitar arrangement that is entirely different from McCartney’s own similar building blocks for his original recording.

Across The Universe – Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple Across the UniverseFiona Apple’s take on this song originally found on 1970’s Let It Be was featured in the closing credits of the film Pleasantville, the story of two modern-day teens who are thrust into the black & white world (in all senses of the term) of a 1950s TV show universe. The teens introduce new ideas into the minds of those who live in that world, revealing new possibilities to them. And the inhabitants cease to be characters in a TV show, and are transformed into real people. Fiona Apple’s take on Lennon’s song (written in India in 1968 while studying TM) about the complexities of love and the mystical nature of universal connection is the perfect, perfect, addition to the themes of the movie. This is not even mentioning Apple’s languid, dreamy delivery, which fits the song like a velvet glove.

The lines which are repeated in the song are all the more powerful given their cinematic context – “Nothing’s gonna change my world”. Apple’s version reveals that one’s world is changing all the time, that we’re all dependent on each other, moving as we are from one moment to the next. As a result, this song is given new life for me.


When people tell me they don’t like the Beatles, I just don’t believe them. To me it’s like saying “I don’t like kissing”. The very statement is preposterous, to the point where I think that there must be something wrong with someone who would say something like that. I have perspective of course. I know that those are just my perceptions. Yet one thing remains which is hard to deny, whether you like the Beatles or not. Beatles songs are universal, and wonderfully open to interpretation. They’re like Shakespeare that way.

Here you’ve seen 10 examples. I could have talked about a number of others, including Earth Wind and Fire’s joyous “Got To Get You Into My Life”, or the Breeders’ ferocious “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, or even Elton John’s Lennon-abetted version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. All different, all wonderful. Saying the Beatles is your favourite band may be unoriginal. But the choice is pretty clear, leading as it does to great music of all kinds.

10 Songs About Lust

LustLust. In popular song, it has a place of honor – both “jazz” and “rock n’ roll” of course started off as euphemisms for sex. And dance has often been seen as a form of foreplay, certainly since ancient times when Salomé danced for Herod. So, music and lust have gone hand in hand since way back.

Lust is a primal urge . And in the moment, it’s the only thing that matters. When lust takes hold, gone are the gooey feelings of self-sacrifice which love tends to inspire because lust is about the right here, right now, wanting. This feeling is a heavyweight in the human condition stakes; it made the top seven sins, didn’t it? Sometimes, lust is mutual. And sometimes, it exists even in the context of that loving relationship which it is often seen to contradict. Yet, the most common form of lust is the ‘unrequited sex’ variety – aspiring to be with someone, rather than actually getting there. This kind of tension has inspired songwriters through out the decades to document just how powerful carnal cravings for another can be.

Here are 10 songs about lust – the tension, the physicality, and the frustration which is often associated with the realities of sexual longing so common to people of all backgrounds.

image courtesy of Violator3

I Just Want to Make Love to You – Etta James

Etta James I Just Want to Make Love to YouThe blues is about basic impulses and motivations; despair, braggadocio, and (yes) being horny too. And sometimes, the impulses are strong enough to cast aside one’s illusions about what one person expects from another in order to get to the heart of the matter. When it comes to love, candour can simplify the stickiest situations and in this song originally written by Chess Records’ house producer and bassist Willie Dixon and first recorded by the great Muddy Waters, Etta James is the personification of candour. This is not simply a lust song, although it certainly is that. It’s about a woman who owns her own sense of self, and what she really wants. In this, sex or the need for it, is a means to an end, allowing her to overcome what is expected of her in society and allowing her to reclaim it. In this, Etta James’ take on a song originally sung by a man becomes something of a political statement – that women are fully engaged with their libidos just as men are, although often have to use different ways and means to meet their needs.

Etta James is no stranger to songs of lust, having recorded “Roll With Me Henry” and “Rock Me Baby”, among many others which make few excuses as to their carnal motivations. James recorded “I Just Want to Make Love to You” in 1961 on her album At Last, during a time when sexual frankness was not for public consumption on the radio, especially when expressed by women. Yet the song became a signature hit for her, and would enjoy a resurgence in TV commercials and then on the charts into the 1990s and beyond.

Let’s Spend the Night Together – The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones Between the ButtonsOne of the things that is the most obvious when it comes to lust is how aware one becomes of one’s own body when in that state. Perhaps this is why certain religious traditions label the state of arousal as a sin – that it’s tied in with the physical to such a degree that any lofty spiritual ideas we may have are bumped out for a time in favour of the physical. Those impulses and bodily reactions encoded into our make-ups as members of the animal kingdom become, in moments like this, bigger than anything. They make us throw caution to the wind, and make any consequences seem entirely irrelevant to the urge to greet the friction of sexual desire head on. This 1967 song by the Rolling Stones describes that state of arousal detail, when words and reasoning become difficult because the physical reactions become so undeniable – “going red, and my tongue’s getting tied”, “off my head, and my mouth’s getting dry”. Jagger and Richards connect this state of being with the effect of being drunk. And perhaps there’s no difference.

The Stones performed this song from their album Between the Buttons on the Ed Sullivan Show, where they were especially asked to change the lyrics of the song to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” to which they agreed. But perhaps they knew that the rest of the song spoke volumes in any case, and no lyric change to the title and chorus was going to hide it. The kids knew better, and so did their parents.

Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye Let's Get it OnContrary to the idea that lust is always an unthinking, lumbering beast, the art of seduction often involves using sexual drives as a basis for some pretty compelling sales pitches. The impulses of the body regularly inspire the mind to weave webs of deceit, cradles of reassurance, or even plain old logical arguements as to why sexual prey should give in to advances. The poet John Donne and his poem the Flea is a great example of this in literature, the argument being that if a flea feasts on one person’s blood and then the blood of a would-be lover, shouldn’t such co-mingling occur on a more deliberate level too? Gross? Maybe. But it seemed to work for John Donne, who wrote quite a few seduction-themed poems during the Renaissance.

A more recent, and less parasite-oriented, example of this kind of seductive reasoning is Marvin Gaye’s 1973 pop-soul classic “Let’s Get it On” from the album of the same name. In this song, the narrator is the voice of reassurance that ‘giving yourself to me could never be wrong/if love is true’. Lust is the undercurrent here, to the one who has been ‘really trying, baby/trying to hold back this feeling for so long’. And again, we’re showed the enormity of desire in that holding back is only something one can do for a limited period before inevitable consummation. Marvin Gaye’s passionate performance, the keening intensity of his delivery, completely sells the idea. And anyone made of flesh and blood buys in.

Teenage Kicks – The Undertones

The UndertonesThe teenager; if ever there was a time of life when one feels the most victimized by lust, it is when one hits the teens. What with hormones jumping around inside of us, and bodies developing all around us at the same time, we’re driven to it. Yet, because of this, the idea and practice of healthy fantasies come into play which serve us well (for the most part) as we get older. In this tune by Northern Ireland’s The Undertones, the narrator is a fantasist, like most teens are, and takes the lust for a girl and makes it into his own dream scenario – “I wanna hold her, want to hold her tight/get teenage kicks right through the night.” The song was released as a single in 1978, and then appeared on the group’s self-titled 1979 debut album. From there over the years it gained a following as new generations of teens discovered it on compilation albums and chart re-releases, making them fans. And no wonder; it was the perfect track to set the tone for teenage kicks (or dreams of them) everywhere.

Famed British DJ and impressario John Peel regularly cited this punk classic as his favourite single of all time, being as it is an exuberant youth anthem that perfectly captures that period and what it feels like. Peel discovered it after it failed to chart, championing it on his radio show, and eventually gaining it enough momentum to get the band signed. The song was duly played at Peel’s funeral in 2004.

My Sharona – The Knack

Get the KnackThat which is the most sexy is often the most frustrating too, and being made to wait, to feel the pull of desire yet be very much in the throes of the tension of it can make for some powerful medicine. And that’s what this song is about – the waiting. Since lust is all about the here and now, waiting for consummation seems to be counter-intuitive – and so it is. Of the more complex human states of being can offer, lust has few competitors when wanting someone who perhaps doesn’t return the same level of desire at the same time. It produces something undeniable and single-minded in us, perhaps a mental state which might cause us to take actions with regrets later. Yet at the same time, this drive connects us to the heart of our physicality too. In moments like this, lust is the most honest thing we can offer.

The Knack made this song a smash on AM radio in 1979, taken from their debut Get the Knack. It would certainly become their signature hit in addition to their other smash “Good Girls Don’t” which offers a considerably better outlook in the “getting some” stakes. “My Sharona” is textbook power-pop, the portrait of someone who is on the road to getting the girl, but may never (for all the listener knows) get there. Yet who knows – that extended instrumental break and solo toward the end of the song seems awfully celebratory…

High School Confidential – Rough Trade

Rough Trade Avoid FreudLust is often something one keeps to oneself, maybe because the object of one’s desire is unattainable in some way. But sometimes there are other forces at work that are more complex. Sometimes the object of our lust is also someone we don’t necessarily like or respect, and the tension of that makes the lusting that much more insistent. In this song by early-80s Canadian radio hit makers Rough Trade, the object of the narrator’s desire is a “cool, blonde scheming bitch” that she sees at school everyday, who she wants “so much I feel sick”. In many ways, this is a darker portrait of teenaged lust than the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks”; there is no entertaining fantasy here. In this song, it is more like a sexual obsession, and the narrator suspects that everyone is looking to get with this girl – even the principal.

The song is taken from the group’s 1980 album Avoid Freud, and would be the first of many hits with a sexual theme. The band pushed the boundaries in many ways in that singer Carole Pope doesn’t ever bring the gay/lesbian angle of any of her material into the foreground. Her lust over another woman here is framed just as it is, and as a result it’s a more powerful statement of fact than any polemic about what it’s like to be a lesbian teenager.

867-5309/Jenny – Tommy Tutone

Tommy Tutone 867-5309/JennyThe bathroom wall; a place of sacred-profanity, which can be looked upon as the library of lustful feelings recorded for posterity. Is it a slight against your character if someone writes your name there, or is it a dubious honour? Well in Jenny’s case, it might be time to change that number. The narrator in this tune not only lusts from afar, but has taken it to a rather drastic conclusion, placing his lust as a vehicle for his own desperation. As such, this hints at the darker side of lust, when it turns from something innocent and natural into something else.

“867-5309/Jenny” was a smash hit in 1981 taken from the band’s album Tommy Tutone 2, with a sound that might be described as Neil Young forms a power pop band. The supremely catchy chorus had an effect on many, including loads of crank callers and their unfortunate victims numerically cursed by the phone company with the aforementioned digits. Some years ago, an experiment was conducted where the number was called in every area code with the hopes of finding a ‘Jenny’. I should have that much time on my hands.

Evangeline – Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet GirlfriendSometimes, wanting someone who is unattainable is not necessarily because they’re out of your league, but because they are already attached to a significant who is bigger than you are, and who is into a pretty important line of work – like say, creating the universe. In this 1991 song by Matthew Sweet from his album Girlfriend, the narrator Jonny 6 yearns for the titular Evangeline, a woman perfect in nearly every way except, for Jonny’s purposes, one – she’s a nun. Now, before you get images in your mind about dishevelled nun’s habits and the blur of black and white in the backseat of a car (sorry, I guess I’ve just put that image there…), know that this story is based on a 1980s comic about a nun who seeks revenge on those who murdered her fellow nuns while on the mission field – on the planet Mars, to be exact. Jonny 6 becomes her sidekick. And she’s a bit of a hottie. There. I said it.

But Sweet’s story is mostly centred around the barriers that create lust, that it doesn’t matter why someone is out of reach, but rather that they are. This is a pretty universal thing, whether you’re a high school student, a middle-aged office worker, or an interplanetary cat burglar like Jonny 6.

Girl Like You – Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins Gorgeous GeorgeLust and love share few characteristics. Yet one of the ones they do share is how easily they can take us by surprise, and then keep us distracted. In Edwyn Collins’ 1994 smash single “Girl Like You”, this is exactly what happens, along with the ensuing humiliation one often goes through at the hands of being physically enthralled with someone – “Now my hands are bleeding and my knees are raw/ Now you’ve got me crawlin’, crawlin’ on the floor”. This is not just natural physical attraction. In this tune, the narrator’s own dark side is revealed to him. This could easily be a drug song on the 10 songs about drugs list. And in many ways, much like Jagger and Richards pointed out in their song, there is often not much difference. One hopes that Collins’ narrator doesn’t become the guy who’s got Jenny’s number…

This song was used to great effect for the Austin Powers: International Man of Mistery soundtrack, but originally appeared the album Gorgeous George. Edwyn Collins is considered a one hit wonder in North America, but had a strong career in the 1980s with his band Orange Juice, and their signiture hit “Rip it Up”. He recently suffered and made an incredible recovery from a near-fatal brain hemorrhage due to a stroke and will be doing select shows in Britain soon.

Dirrty – Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera StrippedChristina Aguilera took a lot of criticism for this tune taken from her 2003 album Stripped, and the phase she appeared to go through where she wore (even by pop starlet standards) very little when in public. Yet, her response to this criticism, in particular the criticism directed at this song and its accompanying video was hard to argue with. She said that she was in her early 20s – what should she be singing about if not sex? It’s a compelling point. After all, it’s our 20s where most of our engagement and experimentation with sex begins. It’s certainly when we begin to cease to be victims of lust and learn to have fun with it without it becoming destructive. The emotional supports that are perhaps not there when we’re in our teens allow us to flaunt our bodies, to tease, and to engage with powerful physical impulses when we reach the age Christina was at when she recorded this. And so, this song is about not being carried along by lust, but by having the presence of mind and a strong sense of self which allows us to make it fun.

It is very interesting that she took so much flak for this song, making it questionable whether or not we’ve really come very far in terms of gender equality, particularly around the subject of sexuality. It’s speculative, but I wonder how this compares with Nelly’s “It’s Getting Hot in Herre”, which is largely centred on the same themes. Did it register as highly on people’s outrage-o-meter, seeing as the two songs came out roughly at the same time? I seem to remember that it didn’t.

It should be noted that one of Christina Aguilera’s vocal heroes is Etta James, which is nice for me as it brings this full circle, almost as if that’s what I had in mind all along!


New Wave singer-songwriter Joe Jackson, in his 1979 song “Pretty Girls” suggested that it would be handy to have a switch to turn off his libido when surrounded by women who are out of reach. And at times, that’s hard to argue with. But, for the most part, our libidos are a thing we have to learn to manage. Just like any aspect of the human condition, we’ve got to learn the ropes as we go.

10 Songs About Cheating

Lipstick on your collarAdultery is as old a concept as recorded history, at least as old as monogamy anyway. Moses didn’t care much for it when he presented his 10 Commandments to the Israelites (the first top-ten list?). And in our culture which treats monogamy and the sanctity of marriage pretty seriously as a result, cheating is treated as one of the worst things one person can do to another. And often times, it is. There’s no doubt that much damage has been done because of infidelity, creating powerful emotional states which range from despair, shame, helplessness, anger, regret, and sometimes a sense of emancipation too. And not all of those emotions are those felt by the one who has been done wrong. So, songwriters have had their work cut out for them with yet another universal human experience and set of emotions to explore in popular song.

So here are 10 songs about cheatin’, infidelity, adultery; 10 tales of mistresses, backdoor men, cuckolded husbands, betrayed wives, homewreckers, and philanderers served up for your pleasure.

Move it On Over – Hank Williams

Hank WilliamsWe’ll start with a tale of a man who learns that if you do the crime, you do the time. And in this song, being in the doghouse is a very literal reality, fleas and all. Hank Williams knew that both sexes would get a kick out of this tale of a man who is outdoors after promising not to “fool around/but (he) done let the deal go down”. This is the lighter side of cheating, a man who accepts the price as a matter of course, cuddling next to the dog when he couldn’t manage the restraint it took to overcome temptation in order to end up cuddling with his intended instead. Ultimately, this is comedy, not tragedy.

Hank Williams also knew that taking themes common to both black and white communities would allow his music to resonate on both sides of the cultural fence. This is a rock n’ roll song disguised as country – note the blues influences in this song. This is a stylistic cross-over, an example of Williams’ genius. This is one of those songs which is easily adapted to any era and any genre. George Thorogood & the Destroyers had a hit with it in 1978, but not before it was recorded by many other artists including Bill Haley & the Comets, Ray Charles, Del Shannon, and Willie Nelson.

Dark End of the Street – James Carr

James CarrIn some instances, cheating is a compulsion, not something that is even enjoyed, but is more like an addiction. In James Carr’s ‘The Dark End of the Street’, we find two lovers stealing moments, knowing that they’re doing the wrong thing, yet finding themselves unable to stop their illicit meetings. Where it’s often hard to take the side of the cheaters, this song proves that it’s not just the one cheated on who suffers. Sometimes, it’s the cheater, struggling with their darker impulses, and feelings the shame which involves confronting oneself and not liking what there is to see.

James Carr is not a household name like Marvin Gaye is, although the two were on the scene at around the same time. Yet this song, written byDan Penn and Chips Moman, has become bigger than his name, recorded by many other artists rangnig from Gregg Allman, to the Afghan Whigs, to Frank Black. It is a soul classic.

Love the One You’re With – Stephen Stills

Stephen StillsThere is a rule for many musicians that what happens on the road stays on the road. It was possibly out of this fluid state of morality that this tune by Stephen Stills emerged in 1970, a radio hit from his self-titled album. In this world which sits somewhere between reality and the rock n roll dreamworld, anything goes. And loneliness for a loved one who is far away is easily cured when the arms of someone new are temporarily proffered. The gospel strains of the tune help to push the idea along and somehow give it validity in a strange way, with a bit of contrast thrown in there for good measure – you’re not likely to hear this message in any church I know of. Yet in this song, it seems like the angels of heaven themselves are blessing the union of rock star and groupie, as if it were written in the stars.

One of my favourite versions of this song is by none other than Aretha Franklin who recorded it on her Live at the Filmore album in 1971, with Billy Preston rocking the hammond organ, and Bernard Purdie on the drums, among other excellent sidemen.

If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right) – Millie Jackson

Millie JacksonBeing in an illicit relationship often creates feelings of shame and guilt. But, it can also cause a sense of defiance against those feelings too, that if one is trapped in moments of weakness, it must be because those circumstances are too big to control. Such is the case with Millie Jackson’s 1974 hit “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” off of her classic album Caught Up . In this song, the narrator is not interested in imposed morality, but is driven by the feeling that love is a higher calling, illicit or not. Yet there’s another thing that’s interesting here; that she acknowledges that her man’s wife ‘needs him just as much’. This is a portrait of a ‘homewrecker’, yet this woman has a human face, not a bad person necessarily, but rather one trapped by her own tenacity and depth of feeling.

This song is Millie Jackson’s signiture tune, from the standpoint of a woman who knows what she wants, even if it’s a man who is less than dedicated solely to her. There is a lot of grey areas here, which is often true in real life as much as it is in popular song. But Millie makes it entertaining, even if the subject matter has a lot of darkness to it.

Torn Between Two Lovers (Feelin’ Like A Fool) – Mary MacGregor

mary macgregorIt’s a wonder that someone hasn’t written an answer song called “Be torn no longer, ’cause I’m outta here, baby” to go along with this one, which was a huge radio hit in 1976. This one is very much of its time, in the era just after the sexual revolution, where women (and men too as it turns out) were discovering that there were levels of desire and need that perhaps couldn’t be fulfilled by just one person, or by other accepted norms when it comes to sex and relationships. Fair enough, if that’s what’s been established from the outset within your specific circumstances with someone else. But, this song is so perfectly framed as a time when “a woman has to say what’s on her mind, even thought she knows how much it’s going to hurt”. Put on your helmet, Charlie!

The story is told to one of the titular lovers who is being held “close” so that she can “say these words as gently as I can”, before she tells him that there’s been someone else, and will in fact continue to be someone else. She’s getting some by two different guys, and shes’ the one who feels like the fool! It’s done so gently and politely, that you can imagine the awkwardness of the moment after she finishes explaining things to him. I mean, after she’s been so honest about her need to continue shagging some other guy, it would be rude to get upset, right?

Tempted – Squeeze

Squeeze Eastside StoryThe price to be paid for infidelity is rarely considered in the moment. But, after the rush of it is over, the sinking feeling that you’ve paid too much with not much to show for it begins to set in. At least, this is what happens in this song by South-East London’s Squeeze. Being tempted by the ‘fruit of another’ leads to the loss of everything, leading to life with ‘no other’ to show for what has gone down between the sheets in the heat of passion. And the disorientation that follows is the kicker in this tune, the wondering what it was all for. The lilting Motown soul of the song belies the forlorn lyrics of a man undone by his own lack of awareness.

Taken from their 1981 Eastside Story album produced by Elvis Costello, the lead singer on this is Paul Carrack, who had been a member of a few bands, one being the band Ace who did a song called ‘How Long ‘ in 1975, which chronicled a betrayal of another kind – a band member leaving the group without being upfront about it. He would go on to sing on Mike & the Mechanics radio hit ‘The Living Years’, and Squeeze would break-up and rebound a number of times, the most recent reunion being this past year.

The Other Woman – Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr.Before he asked the musical question “who ya gonna call?” in his monster smash hit ‘Ghostbusters’, Ray Parker had a long career as a studio musician (Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Spinners, and even Miles Davis) as well as a number of hits of his own. One of these was this one in 1982 – “The Other Woman” – which is kind of like a more macho, and less sympathetic (arguably) “Torn Between Two Lovers” as mentioned above. The narrator of this song is one who is caught off guard when he realizes that the brief dalliance with another woman which he engaged in as a matter of course (an ‘average guy’ who ‘fooled around a little on the side’) has become a lot bigger than he planned, not expecting to be caught as he is in a situation where “a one night stand/could turn into such a hot romance”.

One of the interesting things about this song is how this is treated as a pleasurable inconvenience, rather than a real problem which risks loss, or someone getting hurt. Even the situation described in Millie Jackson’s tune doesn’t apply here. This guy isn’t raging against the machine which keeps illicit lovers who are really in love apart. Nor is he suffering at the Dark End of the Street like James Carr. No. This guy can’t believe his luck. As such, this is pure fantasy, a cleaned-up Penthouse letter. So, you can understand why it was a successful pop song – reached #2 on the Billboard R&B chart! Yet in contrast to this song, he wrote and performed another hit called ‘A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)’ which is a song about a guy advising another guy to stop cheating, lest his betrothed start stepping out herself.

Into Temptation – Crowded House

Crowded HouseOne of the characteristics of infidelity is that it can be boiled down to a single moment, the few seconds it takes to consider temptation and reject it, or embrace it. The best defense against giving in to temptation is often by being aware you are in fact being tempted. And even then, it’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be. In this 1988 Crowded House song “Into Temptation” from the album Temple of Low Men, songwriter Neil Finn depicts such a moment, a brief instant when the door to temptation is open, just waiting for the narrator to walk through it – “you opened up your door/I couldn’t believe my luck/you and your new blue dress/Taking away my breath.”

This is a moment of truth song, a song that deals with being tested to see whether or not one is as good as one’s word. a time when your whole world is at risk depending on your choice in the moment – “knowing full well the earth will rebel”. You can get the impression by the end that the narrator falls down, being guilty and getting no sleep in the “last few hours of morning/ experience is cheap/I should have listened to the warning”. But, it could be that temptation was overthrown, and that the experience has caused a re-evaluation of his values; that it was the fact that he almost gave in that makes him feel guilty. Neil Finn is a skillful songwriter, and that this is an open-ended question with few easy answers demonstrates this here as well as anywhere.

The Other Man – Sloan

SloanThere has been a lot written about the Scarlet Woman. But there haven’t been too many songs about the Scarlet Man. In this song by Sloan from their 2003 album Action Pact, we get the portrait of a friend who has “crossed the line”, the figure who many men dread as being a part of the lives of the women they love because to find such men threatening often reflects badly on them. As such, when the line is crossed, there are two betrayals; the women betraying her partner, and that of the Other Man who betrays the idea that men need not fear their wives and girlfriends having straight, male friends.

Yet there is another level here; that the rot which sets in after a relationship has come a certain distance has nothing to do with the one with whom the woman cheats. – “you know he’s not the one for you, but that’s no fault of mine.” This is not a man who necessarily wants her to leave her lover and run to him, but rather that he knows that she is being dishonest whether he is in her life or not, and wants her to face up to it before her lover finds out about her infidelity. The point is made that the one with whom another cheats is usually not the one with whom most people sympathize. In this song everyone in the triangle is being dishonest, including the cuckolded husband who knows “you’re going to drift apart and there’s nothing he can say”. This song is about shifting blame back and forth, with a conclusion that sometimes in these situations, everyone is guilty of something.

You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse

Amy WinehouseJudging the cheater often falls along gender lines, I find. When a woman cheats, it’s because she’s not getting what she needs from her man on an emotional level. When a man cheats, he’s just giving into base desires. Very subtly in this narrow context, women are seen to being forced into cheating, where a man has to be forced not to cheat. But in Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good”, it’s pointed out that base desires are very much alive and kicking in a woman as much as they are in a man. And what drives a woman to weakness when trying to remain faithful may have nothing to do with what her betrothed is or isn’t giving to her in their relationship. Sometimes, Amy points out, women are scoundrels too.

But, apart from base desires question, there is still the question of self-loathing here, which is another strain talked about in this song. The narrator cheats, but she finds out that she “cheated myself/like I knew I would”. This is not just about betraying someone else; it’s about betraying oneself. In this song, cheating is a symptom of something greater, a larger problem that perhaps remains to be addressed. The temptation to apply this idea to Winehouse herself is pretty strong, of course, well acquainted as she is with the dark side of life as reported in the tabloids. But, I think this can be applied to infidelity in general, that it is not really the problem, so much as a symptom of one.


Infidelity has been an issue since civilization began, and has certainly been recorded in our most popular literary myths; David & Bathsheba, Marc Antony & Cleopatra, Guinevere & Lancelot, Tristan & Isolde, and many others. What is clear is that cheating at it’s worst causes damage that ripples outward like the aftershocks of an earthquake, often causing irreparable damage to innocent parties. At it’s best though, it challenges our ideas of what commitment means to us, and forces us out of a place where we take relationships for granted. And maybe through stories and song, this is the best means of keeping things on track. At very least, the fact that infidelity has been a part of the human experience for so long can give comfort in times of trial, because we can rest in the knowledge that we’re not the first to face it. Maybe, songs and stories can even teach us a lesson or two. Who says art is useless?

10 Break-Up Songs

broken heartLove – it’s an untamed beast. And in popular song, it’s often downright ferocious.

As the pop song poet Neil Sedaka once said, ‘breaking up is hard to do’. But it seems it’s actually pretty common anyway; common enough for a lot of songwriters to capture the many facets, feelings, and consequences of the end of love from the early days of tin pan alley to this modern age of ours. And despite the era, it seems that human reactions to break-ups haven’t really changed. There are still a number of attitudes expressed in pop songs about what it is to see love die. Some love affairs end and it’s for the best, with both parties knowing that even though the end of a relationship is always sad, that it ultimately makes the most sense for everyone in the long run. Some end with a real sense of tragedy, that the love gone wrong was a misstep of destiny, or a belated insight about how to keep love alive. Some lovers put on a brave face. Some drown in their own tears, as another poet called Ray Charles once wrote. Some leave callously. Others are left in the dirt.

Whatever the reaction, break-ups are universal – most people have experienced the heartache, or the relief, and sometimes both, of a relationship ending. Here are 10 songs that talk about it, from cordial goodbyes, to pleas of the desperate, to the taunts of the non-committed. Whatever the point-of-view, it’s often pretty easy to see our own lives, our own experiences, reflected in the garden variety break-up song.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me – George & Ira Gershwin

Fred and Ginger Shall We DanceThe best possible break-up is the one where it really is ‘a mutual thing’. And the king-bee anthem to this kind of bust-up has got to be the Gershwin’s ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, a song written in 1937 and recorded by artists ranging from Fred Astaire (from the movie Shall We Dance – see the clip) to Frank Sinatra to Robbie Williams. This is the most civilized break-up tune you’re ever likely to find, with the narrator celebrating what defined love while it was alive, instead of wallowing in the misery caused by its passing. In this, it is more poignant than any song that talks about ‘not being able to live without you’ or ‘I’m nothing without your love’ etc. It is the best of all things when one considers the magnitude of love; it is bittersweet, and reverent of love’s complexities.

As I’ve said in other post, my favourite version of the song is by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on their 1957 Ella & Louis album. This tune was born to be a duet , sung by two former lovers who have nothing but good memories of what they shared together. If we’re not lucky enough to find love to last us for the rest of our lives, then this is the best anyone could otherwise hope for.

Memphis, Tennessee – Chuck Berry

Chuck BerryOne thing that people always think of when news of a break-up is given is how it will affect the kids. In this tune by Chuck Berry, a man tries to desperately return a call from a girl called Marie who lives in the titular town. We don’t get to find out who Marie is until the end – a six-year old girl, whose “happy home was torn apart because”, as the narrator explains, “her mum would not agree.” When I think that this song was written at a time when broken homes were fairly rare, and even more rarely discussed, I marvel at Chuck’s imagination. He positioned the typical break-up song not from the point of view of an unmarried teenager (which was his usual approach), but from the position of a divorced father, trying to adjust to being apart from his child.

In some ways, it was a brave move to talk about something other than cars, girls, and no school. This was social comment about one of the most heartbreaking aspects of a break-up; the injury of the innocent who can’t understand why Mum and Dad aren’t together anymore. This situation makes the break-up more than just about two people. It’s about entire families who feel the brunt of it. Who knew that duck-walking Chuck Berry had it in him to speak so eloquently, yet succinctly, about it?

Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Smokey RobinsonSometimes when a break up has happened, people try to put a brave face on in order to cover up just how miserable they are. In Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’, the narrator does one better – he’s downright jubilant , while inside he’s tortured. Maybe this is a guy thing, that it just doesn’t do to let people know just how crushed one is, and how vulnerable. And I think because of Smokey’s keening falsetto, he carries this idea off better than most; a seemingly happy guy who is suffering somehow make that suffering even more profound.

Like so many Motown hits, underneath the sugary surface, there lurks a lot of pain. In many ways, this song and the other Smokey single which preceded it, ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, is a standard by which a lot of pop songs like this are written; that they are empathetic with the range of emotions which go along with everyday life. Tales of happiness and joy are alright in their place, but it is interesting that tales of emotional dishonesty in the face of loss connect with so many in a more enduring way.

If You See Her, Say Hello – Bob Dylan

Bob DylanSome of the most heartbreaking break up songs are not the ones which describe the depths of pain in detail, but rather the ones which are focused on what comes after, the replaying of the past which goes on that talks about what could have been. Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album covers this theme across a number of songs. This is popularly known as Bob’s ‘divorce album’, although Dylan himself has caused this assumption to be questioned, as is his custom when absolutes are placed upon his work. But whether or not the song is autobiographical or not, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ wins the gold for most heartbreaking, song on the record, which is saying something when considering the competition. In this song, we get a new point of view still, the voice of a man so disconnected from his former love, that she never makes an appearance. She’s just a ghost trail to the memories of a former life. ‘She might be in Tangiers‘, says the opening lines, which succinctly puts the intimacy of love into context with a separation; those once close now separated by vagueness as much as by oceans and continents.

Maybe one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the song is that the narrator realizes what has caused the dissolution of the relationship only now, when his former love is long gone, becoming a little more than a disembodied name, one he hears as he ‘roams from town to town’. Only now does he realize what he contributed to the ending of his relationship, and that his love was right to leave despite remembrances of the night he ‘tried to make her stay’ . In fact, he finds that he always has ‘respected her, for doing what she did and getting free’. The knowledge of this makes this song no sunnier. And this is its power, I think; that knowledge and insight often comes too late, which is the real tragedy in most relationships.

Always Something There to Remind Me – Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Naked EyesThe annoying thing about break-ups is that they’re so intrusive. You can’t go to the places you used to go, hear that song, see that movie, enjoy that memory, without the knowledge that you once shared those things with someone else. This song talks about how the pain of a break-up can invade every aspect of one’s life, and that the broken connections between one person and another are often felt the most painfully in the mundane details of daily living. This song was written in the early 1960s by Burt Bacharach and Hall David, and has since been recorded by the likes of Dionne Warwick who had a hit with it in 1967, R.B Greaves in 1970, and Sandie Shaw in 1985.

My favourite version is the one by Naked Eyes in 1982, their sole North American hit. I remember first hearing it at a school dance. I heard it on the radio again much later, but it was the Greaves version and I remember thinking, ‘that sounds like that Naked Eyes song, only old!’. I had yet to discover how old the tune was. There was a whole range of break-up songs to discover, I found, many of which were written decades before I was born. It seemed that the emotions attached to them, the magnitude of the loss of love, would be the same no matter which era it came out of.

All of My Heart – ABC

Martin Fry of ABC“I think we should just be friends” may be one of the most debilitating sentences (in two senses of the word sentence…) in the English language. Many of us know that being dumped is no fun. But it’s the dealing with the imbalance of it long afterwards which is the hard part; loving someone who no longer loves you, and having to settle for friendship, or the pretense of friendship, as a result. One of my favourite songs which opens up this idea best is ABC’s “All of My Heart”, which was an anthem for the 80s sensitive guy, who knows that he can no longer slough off his feelings of pain over being left behind with feelings of love for someone who doesn’t, and possibly never did, share them. And he can’t win anything back by thinking that’s it’s all for the best, ‘a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow.’

One thing that comes across is the line ‘the kindest cut’s the cruelest part’. The idea of letting someone down easy by offering friendship seems to be a myth for the most part. And in this song, this kind of kindness is still a ‘cut’, which seems to show that unrequited love still sucks, no matter how you handle it. And also, the song is a reminder that the risk of loving someone doesn’t often pay out. Sometimes, you put everything you’ve got on the table, and you get taken. The dark side of love that makes the contrasting rewards all the more glorious is of little comfort here.

Cheap Hotel – Ron Sexsmith

Ron SexsmithSometimes you just have to get out. Escaping abuse and all of the psychological implications and influences that go along with it is a drawn out process for some, but there comes a time when what is needed is a cheap hotel, a refuge, a place to go to reboot one’s life and start again. More importantly, there is a need to get to a place when one realizes that one is never really trapped in a relationship other than by traps of one’s own making. Ron Sexsmith’s 2001 song from the album Blue Boy tells this familiar story from the point of view of a mum in an abusive relationship, breaking the cycle of “first he’d be sweet to her and talk for hours/then lay right into her, and buy her flowers.”

It’s interesting that the cheap hotel, the refuge to which she takes her children when her husband steps out, is looked upon as both a blessing and a curse; that she is both glad to leave and hates to leave at the same time. As with most things, the emotions involved are not black and white. Leaving a bad situation and starting again leaves a lot of room for improvement. But in this song, there is a lot of uncertainty too along with the sense of empowerment that goes along with saying enough is enough; “god bless” and “goddamn” the cheap hotel are on equal footing here. Sexsmith leaves enough space in his song not to judge this one way or another, being as he is one of the best songwriters working today.

Lonesome Tears – Beck

BeckWhen in a relationship that one knows is ultimately unsalvageable, one thing which often happens is the need to carry on regardless, to continue to slog through because feelings and attachment outweigh the sense of inevitability. In other words, denial is not just a river in Egypt when it comes to breaking up. Beck’s “Lonesome Tears” is about getting out of this cycle, to realize that the energy spent on a relationship which is doing more harm than good is wasted, ‘riding farther than I should, just to meet you there’. This could very well be an angry song, a song of defiance. Yet, it’s ultimately sad, filled with the narrator’s love of another, yet with the knowledge that such a love will cost too much to both.

The 2002 album Sea Change, which Beck released to follow up his more celebratory and more carnal Midnite Vultures, is an understated affair in many ways in the singer-songwriter tradition. Traces of his trademark irony are entirely gone, and this is perhaps the most striking thing about it. In “Lonesome Tears” particularly, we get the sense that his songwriting is meant to be an emotional release after a breakup of his own, an approach that he’d not engaged in fully before.

Cold Hard B*tch – Jet

JetSometimes a break up happens in a matter of hours as opposed to a matter of years. And this being the case, there are songs which give voice to the scoundrel, to the good-natured rogue, to the one who isn’t interested in holding hands and talking about “little plans” with would-be life partners. Australian group Jet cover this territory well with ‘Cold Hard B*tch’, an anthem for the scramble-out-of-bed-before-she-wakes-up set. They took a lot of heat when the song came out, because I think a lot of people assumed that the CHB in question was supposed to be the woman in the picture. I personally think it’s about the man, making his paltry excuses and running out the door – that’s cold.

To me this song is about poorly communicated expectations. For the guy in this song, “she was shakin’ her hips/that was all that I need”. Yet, for the woman in this particular song it’s all about “holding hands and talking about little plans”. So many hearts are broken over this kind miscommunication. But for loud, testosterone-fueled rock anthems, this is fa song to inspire the ripping up of seats everywhere, with the voice of the commitment-phobic leading the charge.

Your Ex-Lover is Dead – Stars

Stars Set Yourself on FireBreak-ups can take a long time to get over. But sometimes, it works the other way too, that once things are settled, the other person seems like someone you dreamed about, not someone who you were tied to in real life. When you meet the person randomly years later, there is no murmur of heartache so much as a feeling of strangeness, as if a character from one novel shows up in another novel, turning the overall story which might have been a tragedy into something that more closely resembles a comedy. In “You r Ex-lover is Dead” by Stars off of their album Set Yourself On Fire, there is a feeling of bemusement in meeting an old flame, with the feelings of regret supplanted by a detached sense that one was never really touched by the other person in the first place. This is a song that reminds the listener that sometimes a relationship is very much of its time, that it has no place beyond its own ending.

The most powerful line to me in this song is “I’m not sorry I met you/I’m not sorry it’s over/I’m not sorry that there’s nothing to save.” In many ways, this brings us full circle to ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, although this kind of resolution is less celebratory, and contains a more clinical view of one’s romantic history. And yet the sense of resolution is the same. And resolution is really what we’re all after, post break-up. So, this is a hopeful view of a break-up too then, knowing that if time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, it certainly gives new perspectives in that what is important at one time may not apply in another.


Break-ups; a human experience that not many of us enjoy when we’re the ones being dumped. To be fair, even the dumpers have a hard time with it. And like most common human experiences, popular song has them well covered, in all of their complexities, giving voice to the vulnerable and the callous in equal measure. In some ways, making art or appreciating it can add all manner of value to one’s life, particularly in times when we need to be reminded that what we’re going through is common. Songs – lyrics that resonate, melodies that keep us company by playing in our heads – help to remind us that we’re not alone in the times where we feel that we are. And what is a more basic human need than that?


10 Songs of Optimism

One of my favorite things about  pop music is that it can be a way to make sense of the world and of circumstances, or at least allow us to see different perspectives.  Ultimately, we can believe that humanity will triumph over adversity, or that the forces of the unthinking, the random cruelties of life, or the lack of vision suffered by those in power will doom us to an unbearable future.  There are plenty of songs which voice the latter.

But today, I’d like to talk about those tunes which makes you believe that the sun will shine someday, even if today is rife with rain clouds.  Here are 10 songs for the optimist, 10 anthems to the power of a positive perspectives that help the listener to go beyond the darkness and seeming hopelessness of the present and catch a glimpse of a future that is not only hoped for, but longed for.

Blue Skies – Irving Berlin

Irving BerlinWritten in 1926, Irving Berlin penned a tune which would embody the optimism necessary for many who would need it as the Great Depression set out to crush the spirits of a nation in the decade to follow. At one time, the role of music and of film was seen to provide an escape to those faced with the harsh realities of life; I suppose to an extent, that’s still true. I like to think that the models of unforgiving reality and the sweetnes and light in popular song is more like William Blake’s idea of innocence and experience, and that the two can co-exist. Blue Skies is surely an anthem to innocence and young love, an optimist’s song that comes from the point of view of those who see the simple things as being the most meaningful. This song celebrates the perspective that love in one’s life is the way to clarity, and that this perspective has the power to make one notice that the world, despite its troubles, can be a beautiful place after all.

‘Blue Skies’ has been covered by an incredible range of performers from Al Jolson to Bing Crosby, to Willie Nelson (watch the clip above), to Lieutenant Commander Data from the film Star Trek: Nemesis, proving that when something is true, it never gets old (even in the 24th century, presumably). This is one of my favourite songs of all time.

Happy Together – The Turtles

The Turtles Happy TogetherAnother song that evokes the image of the blue sky as a metaphor for a hopeful future is the Turtles smash hit, ‘Happy Together’ from the album of the same name. When the song was released in the Spring of 1967, the Summer of Love was just around the corner, as a sort of optimism epicenter. People held onto the idea that the simplicity of love could change the world for the better and this song shimmers with that hope, that love could create a vision for people to follow. Of course it works on the level of a finely crafted pop song about young love too, inspired as it appears to be by a Brian Wilson approach to the arrangement (listen to the “ba-buh-bap-bap-ba” backing vocals – pure Beach Boys brand aural sunshine!) which perfectly captures the feelings of unadorned teenaged love, untroubled by the cynicism which often sets in later.

The end of the decade would also see an end to this age of innocence. Even in the year that followed, the assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and Doctor Martin Luther King and the escalation of the war in Vietnam would temper the perspectives of many to feel that optimism would be something to work hard at as as the clouds of war and political disillusionment began to gather. Still, the music would endure and continue to be heard in new songs from bands like Apples in Stereo and The Pearlfishers.

I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash

Johnny NashMuch like the sentiment in Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’ the way to clarity is not gained by relying on happy circumstances, or by ignoring bad ones, but by noticing one’s own state of being and finding strength in it. And again, the eternally useful image of the clear sky is evoked, with Nash’s gloriously passionate vocal making it an undeniably powerful statement, as well as one of the greatest hit singles of all time. Nash was one of the first American performers to notice, fall in love with, and promote reggae in a pop format for First-World radio. It helps that it is almost impossible to write a depressing song and set it to the sun-washed sound that is at the heart of the music. Nash was a living connection between American R&B and the music of the Carribean, having toured there in the 60s off of the back of the success of his singles in Jamaica in particular where R&B has a significant following. And his 1972 hit in ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ would introduce a whole new range of sounds for First-World performers when Nash brought his take on reggae back to the States. This cutlural exchange had been completed for many years before Jimmy Cliff a hit in 1994 with his cover of the song.

I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers

The Staples SingersThe influence of reggae on R&B would not be limited to Johnny Nash in the early 70s. Stax recording artists and soul and gospel legends the Staple Singers were in their “message music “phase, yet still retained some of their gospel roots. Where their approach was far from Christian escapism which is common in lot of gospel music, this classic track by the Staples was pure joy at the hope for a better world. And in this song, such hope is palpable and present, set as it is to a loping reggae lilt and carried to even higher ground by the soaring alto voice of the incomparable Mavis Staples. The song is both spiritual and sexy  at the same time (and what better a definition of ‘Soul’ is there?).  It casts a light that seems to banish any doubt that Mavis can take you there!

Like Johnny Nash’s influence illustrated, the sound on ‘I’ll Take You There’ is the fruit of a cultural exchange, with 60s soul music having made an impact in the Carribean, with domestic attempts at recreating soul  resulting in ska and reggae being then reflected back into the sound of soul music in ensuing years. But what strikes me here is the hopefulness apparent in both cultures, like rays of light leaping out of what some consider to be cultures who had no cause to be this optimistic about the state of the world or their places in it. Yet perhaps the place where “ain’t nobody cryin'” is a state of mind too, a perspective gained when one is singing about the existence of such a place.

For more evidence of what I’m talking about, consider the unofficial 11th song on this list, the Five Stairsteps’ ‘Ooh Child’, which is an unabashed anthem to this same kind of optimism.

I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross

Diana RossDiana Ross won a whole new audience in the disco era, partially thanks to her album Diana which was released with great adulation in 1980. The track ‘I’m Coming Out’, one of the lead tracks off of the record, is an exuberant statement which was soon to become a gay anthem upon release, being as it is an empowering expression of pride in one’s identity. The fact that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic produced the album makes it pretty easy to understand how it became such a second wind to Ross, who to be fair had gained a lot of traction with her appearance in the movie The Wiz with Michael Jackson. But the song itself has the same qualities of innocence as many talked about already, along with a celebratory lyric that makes the realization of self-discovery more than just a personal milestone, but as an event to be shared . In other words, it is not unlike what the Christian Right describe a ‘born again’ experience to be; spiritual, life-changing, and worldview-defining.

Rise Up – The Parachute Club

Canadian collective the Parachute Club’s 1983 hit is a theme song to a hoped-for political golden age, with a gay-pride-meets-spirituality message worked in for good measure. The countercultural force of the 1960s is present here, although updated for the 80s – quite a feet in the middle of the Reagan era. This song was recorded when a political swing to the right was largely due to a fear that humanity would do the wrong thing when it counted as opposed to preserving the peace. It was a time when optimism was a tough business – like it is now. In this song, there is a sentiment of protest with a wish for “madness to end”. But for the most part, the song seems to be a celebration of the possibilities of a bright future, when “the spirit’s time has come”.

I think that spirit to which they refer is less about a divine presence coming to bail us out, and more about the kind of spirit that is present when people adjust their ways of thinking on a mass scale, and take action to initiate change as a result. Once again, a change in perspective means everything.

Friday I’m in Love – The Cure

The CureYou can vote this the most unlikely song of optimism on the list, with quite a bit of dark shades to the song from a band who is known for more sombre tones. But what I get from this is an overall sense that even in a week of black moods there lies the hope for love which makes everything worth getting through. I think this is ultimately optimistic, even if (maybe especially if) the weight of depression and despair is all too present. I think this song shows the difference between happiness and optimism, the latter acknowledging the presence of negative forces in life a bit more than the former. It also demonstrates a certain amount of faith that ultimately there is value in life, love to be found regardless of the burden of what also comes along that may make one think otherwise. Of course the joyful jangly guitars help to convey the idea on this one. Despite the darkness in some of the lyrics (hey, it’s the Cure after all…), I think this song is life affirming, with the added bonus of also being an acknowledgement of emotional and spiritual contrast with darker periods in one’s life brings.

Wake Up Boo! – the Boo Radleys

The Boo RadleysHow is it that a song which is so geared for morning people, so unrelentingly upbeat, can also avoid being really annoying? Easy; it’s convincing, and infectious whether you’re ready to leap out of bed every day or not.  The Boo Radleys pull  from the best in pop and soul, pulling out all the stops in this ode to love and to a renewed sense of well-being.  In an age of irony, this is just pure exuberance and joie de vive.  What else can be said?

You Get What You Give – the New Radicals

The weight of adulthood is a popular theme in pop music if for no other reason that the traditional audiences for pop have been the young, going through the clichéd  “changes” that come part and parcel with adolesence.  The power of music that can be a binding force is also a pretty compelling theme, and falls in line with the idea that the value of life can be found in the best art, and the simple pleasures which put any trials we go through into the right perspective.  This tune by The New Radicals embodies this idea, that a love of music and letting oneself be immersed in the joys to be found in it is a liberating experience, and one which can allow us to hold onto that which is most important, even in trying times.  Heady stuff.

And optimistic?  Oh yes.  But one again, this is a state of mind, and a choice to make when standing at the crossroads of important decisions in life.  You only get what you give indeed.

XTC – Stupidly Happy

XTCIt’s great when a writer who is associated with weightier themes – the existance of god, racial hatred, divorce being some of the many – can also be associated by feelings of giddiness which seem to put all of those other areas of life into perspective.  Andy Partridge is such a writer, as I’ve memtioned in other posts.  And here on the track ‘Stupidly Happy’ from XTC’s Wasp Star, Apple Venus Vol. 2 album, the song beams out joy for all to hear.

And again, the theme is all about how the presence of love can be transformative, and can change  one’s perspective immesurably. With this song, what is most striking to me is the surprise in the singer’s voice, as if he didn’t expect to feel the way he feels, but that his own sense of well-being and purpose has been changed for the better.  “All the lights of the cars in the town form the strings of a big guitar/I’m the giant who’ll play you a tune from whereever you are.” I love that line.


Optimism, then.  It has a solid tradition in pop music through out the decades, through wars, fear of wars, poverty, and any other blight that has plagued humanity from the beginning.  The best of this tradition of optimism in pop is that which acknowledges that the world is not the best that it could be, but that it is conceivable that we’ll get there one day.  In the meantime, sometimes it’s enough just to sing along.

10 Cover Songs You Thought Were the Originals

The best cover versions have souls of their own, a life beyond their original origins. And here are a few exceptional cover versions that embody this principle so well, that you didn’t know that they weren’t the originals, did you.

Well, OK. Maybe you did know a few of these. But you’d be surprised. Many don’t!

I love cover versions. Not all of them, mind you. I could admittedly do without a few of them (I’m looking at you, Lenny Kravitz. You too Michael Bolton…). The art of the cover version isn’t as appreciated as it once was. It used to be the order of the day at one time of course. Either a professional writer wrote your hit, or you covered an existing one written by some other artist. Where I would be the last to denigrate the singer-songwriter, I will say that you can really judge the greatest writers by how they do that one cover version of a song you love. Because it’s on the cover that they reveal what turns them on in the music of others. It reveals the music fan in them, and the enthusiasm and joy that goes along with that.

So here they are. 10 cover songs you (might have) thought were the originals.

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

This song, which many associate inextricably to the King, was actually recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1953, which Elvis probably heard on WDIA radio in Memphis. Thornton’s take on the song was decidedly direct. The ‘hound dog’ in question on her version is a guy who only shows up at her door when he wants some, and is otherwise unreliable at any other time. Obviously, Elvis couldn’t sing a lyric like that. Let’s face it, a lot of guys would love a woman to want nothing more from them than sex and not be around any other time. So, they presumably had to tailor the lyrics accordingly.

Of course what they came up with makes no sense at all – “you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine” instead of “you can wag your tail but I ain’t gonna feed you no more”? WTF? Totally meaningless. To me, the song gets by purely on the strength of Elvis’ performance, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller get paid even more for the butchery of their original song, and Elvis’ fame shoots heavenward. Hear the Original!

Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding

Otis ReddingOtis Redding routinely proves the cliché that a good singer makes every song they sing their own. ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ dates back to the 30s, when Bing Crosby covered it, modeling it on the original recording by the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932. Otis recorded it for Stax in 1966 with the MGs and the Memphis Horns backing him, and made it a (rightful) soul classic. Otis’s version inspired a cavalcade of subsequent cover versions, spanning the musical spectrum from Rod Stewart to Tina Turner. It was famously covered again in the 1991 film The Commitments, which was a direct nod to Otis’s version.

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Recognized as her signature tune, this track from her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You is actually an Otis Redding-penned song recorded by Redding the year previous on his equally famous Otis Blue album. The arrangement turns the point of view of the song on its head, with the woman waiting at home demanding respect rather than the hard working guy coming home, as in the original version. As such, it takes Otis’ rather conservatively-toned song into something of a Women’s Movement anthem. In this version, the woman will not settle for her lot. She wants respect. In fact, she demands it. She’s giving the orders here – “find out what it means to me”. Yes, Ma’am.

On the same album, Aretha interprets Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and Ray Charles’ ‘Drown in My Own Tears’, which established her as a giant in the field of interpretation all around. But, it’s ‘Respect’ which is her strongest statement, aided and abetted by the backing vocals by her sisters Erma (famous for her own solo cover of the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’) and Carolyn which give the tune an extra push-me-pull-you punch. They are the best backing vocals on any record ever. Hear the Original!

All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi HendrixHendrix had long been a fan of Bob Dylan’s work, particularly of Bob’s ability as a lyricist. As such, Hendrix took the song ‘All Along the Watchtower’ from Dylan’s late-1967 album John Wesley Harding and ran with it to the point where even Dylan considers the result to be the definitive version of his song. The original recording is a dusty, spare, sepia-toned parable, which is in keeping with the rest of the JWH album. But the Experience’s version (a highlight on 1968’s Electric Ladyland) is epic, the soundtrack to an impending battle between the forces good and evil. Everything about it demands attention, from the opening strummed chords from Dave Mason of Traffic who guested on the track, to Hendrix’s own soulful vocal and towering guitar-work.

Years later, Bob Dylan would arrange the song in accordance with Jimi’s take on it for his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. It remains to be one of Dylan’s most-performed songs, covered as it has been by the likes of U2, XTC, the Dave Matthews Band, and the Grateful Dead, among many others. Hear the Original!

Blinded by the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

In the early to mid 1970s, Bruce Springsteen was lauded as ‘the New Dylan’ (as many have been labeled since…) mainly because of a similar love of language and seemingly nonsensical imagery which he displayed in his early songwriting. One great example of this is his 1973 song ‘Blinded By the Light’ which appears on his Greetings From Asbury Park album. It was covered in 1976 by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, with some of the lyrics altered slightly, which was the bigger hit, and known as the definitive version. Springsteen would of course come into his own later in 1975 with his Born to Run album, and even get on the cover of Time. But, this tune would be celebrated as an AM radio and classic rock staple, and be associated with Manfred Mann’s take on it primarily.

Maybe one of the most famous things about this version would be the fact that it repeats the lyric a number of times, yet what the singer is actually saying still is a bit dubious. Part of the problem is that the original version has the line in question as “cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night”. The MM version, as it turns out, is “revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night”. But for a long time, people were famously trying to guess what the lyrics were, in some cases to comic effect. Hear the Original!

Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Soft CellBy the early 70s, the state of dance music was in jeopardy in Britain being as it was in the middle of an era of progressive rock music from the likes of Yes, ELP, and Gentle Giant, among other bands. But, there was a movement which started in the clubs in the North of England which celebrated lesser known singles put out by American soul singers, largely forgotten in their own country. This movement and the music associated with it became known as Northern Soul, and Gloria Jones was one such artist linked to it. Her single, “Tainted Love”, which was recorded in the mid-60s, was a Northern Soul staple. And Soft Cell singer Marc Almond was a Northern soul fan.

The influence Northern Soul and Gloria Jones’ song would have on his own work in the Kraftwerk-meets-cabaret stylings of Soft Cell can certainly be viewed as inevitable. The group covered the tune in 1981, and their version became an international hit based on its distinctive electronics, and Almond’s plaintive, theatrical vocal. In 2007, Almond would perform the song with Gloria Jones at a Marc Bolan tribute concert. And Marilyn Manson would cover the song as well, inspired by the Soft Cell version. Hear the Original!

China Girl – David Bowie

David Bowie 1983One thing that makes Bowie such a talent is his ability to spot talent in others and add his own touches to it. Bowie’s involvement in the career of Iggy Pop is a prime example of this, first having involvement in the production and mixing of The Stooges landmark third album Raw Power. In addition to this, Bowie teamed up with Iggy again in 1977, producing Pop’s album The Idiot, while also co-writing the songs on the record. Where this record wouldn’t exactly be Iggy’s breakthrough to the mainstream, sessions for the album yielded the song “China Girl”, which was duly included.

Flash forward to 1983 and Bowie’s own Let’s Dance LP, which was certainly Bowie’s breakthrough album to the mainstream, at least where North America was concerned. Although he’d had radio play with other singles, the Let’s Dance album was an enormous smash, yielding multiple hits including a re-vamped “China Girl”, the version on Bowie’s album superceding the one he co-wrote and produced for Iggy years before. Hear the Original!

There She Goes – Sixpence None the Richer

Sixpence None The RicherThis one may look a little strange to readers in the UK who already know this. But the breakthrough song ‘There She Goes’ by fey American outfit Sixpence None the Richer (also known for their hit “Kiss Me”) which enjoyed great success in 1999 was a cover version by legendary one-album wonders The La’s. The sweet vocal from Sixpence’s Leigh Nash assure the listener of the joys of love ‘racing through my brain’, somewhat belying the fact the original version of the song is alleged to be about the initial rush of a heroin high. But whether there is any truth to this interpretation or not is secondary. This cover version proves that delivery certainly affects interpretation on the part of the listener, and that such interpretation is just as valid as any intention that may or may not have been intended by the original writer.

The La’s version of the song (which is the definitive version in the UK), whether it is about heroin or not, remains to be one of the most perfect pop songs ever written. Not to knock Sixpence or their version, but it would have been hard to mess that up. Too bad the notoriously perfectionist songwriter Lee Mavers who wrote the song doesn’t agree. In this opinion, not even his version matched what he had intended the song to sound like. Hear the Original!

The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana

Through out his career, Kurt Cobain wanted to keep the DIY, outsider ethic of punk alive in his own work and life. By the time this song was recorded for Nirvana’s 1992 MTV Unplugged appearance, he’d become disillusioned by his own success. The band’s cover version David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ (found on Bowie’s 1970 album of the same name) was a big part of how he was attempting to express that feeling – that he had sold out, given up a world of musical purity and dedication to his own view of himself as an outsider. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent to him that the mainstream audience he had gained thought that this was an original song by Nirvana. They hadn’t understood, and that made him a part of the problem in his mind.

Cobain was many things, but one thing that we can put in the ‘positive’ column is that he was a dedicated music fan. It’s too bad that he had such expectations of himself that he would take his own credibility in the mainstream as a criticism to be self-applied, rather than as an opportunity to enlighten his fans about where his music had come from. This is a tragedy to me. Hopefully by now, Nirvana fans have explored the music further, as I’m sure Kurt wanted them to do when he was alive. Hear the Original!

It’s My Life – No Doubt

No Doubt Singles 1992-2003American pop band No Doubt have famously praised British music as being a prime breeding ground for the sound they crafted for themselves in the 1990s and in the early part of the new millennium. For their singles collection in 2003, they included a song which would become a radio hit for them – It’s My Life. But what many among their audience might not have known right away is that the song was a major radio hit for the otherwise avant-garde British group Talk Talk in 1984 as well, on the album of the same name.

The No Doubt version is a faithful reading of the Talk Talk version, with vocalist Gwen Stefani following the keening lines of original Talk Talk vocalist Mark Hollis almost exactly. You get the feeling that the band’s devotion and debt to British new wave and post-new wave music is much like the same devotion British bands had to Chicago blues in the 1960s. I love that kind of cultural turnaround! Hear the Original!


The cover version; an offense or a tribute? It can go either way. But the best cover versions at very least make us wonder about the original versions, make us want to seek them out. And any force in the world that makes us want to find more music can’t be all bad! Here’s hoping that some of the cover songs I’ve listed here will start you on a journey to becoming a fan of music that you may not have otherwise considered. Happy hunting! And please report back; I’d love to hear your thoughts, good people.

10 Songs About Drugs

Drugs are BadIn the spirit of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, here are 10 songs about drugs. Maybe I’ll do sex and rock n’ roll in another post. What did I just say?

Since time immemorial, people have used drugs, and for various reasons. From village shamans searching for god, to Romantic poets finding their muse, to leading scientists developing the tools of their trade, drugs have been there. From the earliest uses of natural substances like mushrooms and fermented fruit, to the more modern (and more harmful) chemicals put together in darkened laboratories, drugs – good or bad – have evolved along with civilization.

This being the case, it makes sense that the subject of drugs and drug use should be reflected in popular song. Drug songs are normally associated with the 60s, 70s and onward. But even the early blues and jazz performers had their own take on the evils/joys of dope. Reefer Man by Cab Calloway and Wacky Dust by Ella Fitzgerald are but two examples. Heck, even the traditional polka favourite ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ is all about getting wrecked.

So here they are; a selection of drug songs for your pleasure and edification. Some of them extol the demon drugs. Others condemn them. But each one puts the issue into perspective that if it makes sense to write about drugs, it makes even more sense to talk about them.

Got To Get You Into My Life – The Beatles

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney was nervous about LSD, unlike his comrades in arms John Lennon and George Harrison, who’d tried it for the first time at a dinner party in 1966. They told him that once they’d tried it, everything changed about the way they viewed the world and even how they viewed themselves. Instead of inspiring him, it caused some doubts – once the pill is taken, there is no going back up the rabbit-hole.

Yet in line with the spirit of the time, McCartney was interested in change, in connecting with something that established society couldn’t offer – “another road that maybe I could see another kind of mind there”. This tune is a trace of this process, along with a great homage to soul music, closer to the genre than the group had ever gone before, thanks in part to the joyous horn section that makes this tune beam with (orange?) sunshine.

Ironically, the first Beatle to admit to taking acid was McCartney.

Mother’s Little Helper – The Rolling Stones

Maybe you knew that there would be at least one Stones tune on this list. But, maybe it was less expected that it would be an anti-drug song. This mid-60s tune condemned a real plague of the time – housewives using downers, the “little yellow pill” (probably valium) that mother needs to calm her down. And this by a quintet of speed users.

But, if there is hypocrisy to be read in there, then I think it’s overridden by the genuine tone of concern for the state of a woman trapped in a dreary life with nothing to look forward to. When the issue of misogyny it comes up in relation to the Stones, I always think of this song.

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson AirplaneAlluding to Alice in Wonderland as a means of describing an acid trip is pretty commonplace in pop music. I think this is because it became a common assumption that author Lewis Carroll was a drug user. But, whether he was or not, this tune sure proved to be a compelling interpretation of his work, with the simplicity of swallowing pills to gain access to worlds where it wouldn’t otherwise have been possible being at its center.

The jump from this kind of imagery and metaphor to real life of course led to unpredictable conclusions in the counterculture. Yet, the song captured the zeitgeist of the late 60s, when drugs were not simply a means for recreation, so much as looked upon a means to gain a deeper meaning, a more complete picture of reality. It’s hard to fault the intention – a lot of people go to church for the same reason. Yet the idealism surrounding the use of psychedelics would be outdated by the 70s, when drugs became all about the party. And not everyone would make it out alive.

Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield SuperflyAnother aspect of drugs in song is not only how they affect one person, but how drug use in general affects entire communities. There is an interesting interplay between the song ‘Superfly’ and the movie which carries some of its themes. Where the central character is a hero figure, he’s also engaged in activities which are causing harm to his community. Mayfield doesn’t let this pass.

In trying to escape a world of dope fiends and criminals, he must become a purveyor of that which creates that world. It is one of the many catch-22s of being poor in the city, and this is the sentiment that Mayfield uses to anchor the morality play which unfolds. This is the genius of it – it is hard-hitting because it doesn’t prettify drug culture; it just is what it is, with the consequences which follow as nothing less than expected. Plus, the song and the rest of the music on the soundtrack is funky as hell, with Mayfield acting like an angel on the shoulder of the titular Superfly, caught up as he is in a blizzard of blow and confused morality.

The Needle and the Damage Done – Neil Young

There is a misconception for many I think that all rock stars love the glamour of taking drugs. I think this is too simple to be true. In the case of Young’s ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ from 1972’s Harvest, the dual nature of drug use is made pretty clear – that there comes a certain point when the taking gets turned around on the taker.

Young’s song, it can be argued, is not really about drugs at all, but about loss. For him it meant the loss of friendship, loss of a collaborator for Young in Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten (about whom the song was written), and the loss of what the world might have gained if great artists hadn’t succumbed to their habits. Young would explore this theme on a larger scale with his albums Tonight’s The Night and On the Beach.

Heroin – The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground and NicoOne of the things about the Velvet Underground is that they didn’t shy away from talking about the seedier side of life. They were, in many ways, the anti-Beach Boys with an American landscape populated by junkies and drag queens, rather than surfers and school kids. They were certainly anti-hippy, with little talk about peace and love and universal connection. With songs like ‘Heroin’ serving as a flip side to the more idealistic strains of the Summer of Love, The Velvets talked about drugs as if they were a part of a physical world, not the key to a spiritual one. The irony of the lyrics like “I’m going to try for the kingdom if I can” is held against the image of heroin as “my wife, my life”, with the hint of the absurdities of the time embodied in the Vietnam conflict – with “dead bodies piled up in mounds” – serving to illustrate a nihilistic vision, rather than an idealistic one.

This approach of course carried over into respective solo careers, particularly for Lou Reed, who’s 1973 song ‘Perfect Day’ is purported to be a paean to smack. There are those who feel that if that song were about heroin, Lou wouldn’t have hidden it. Maybe the BBC thought so too, which is why they made it an all-star singalong single for the charity Children in Need in 1997.

Golden Brown – The Stranglers

It can be argued that drugs and British life, particularly its artistic life, has always been closely intertwined. British poet Samuel Coleridge‘s famous intake of drugs to fuel his creative fires is legendary, and possibly stands as a precursor to some of the rock greats and drug casualties of more recent times. Although not exactly writing about Kublai Khan, the Strangler’s song about heroin is cast as a romantic excursion to distant lands, “tied to the mast’ like the image in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

This is a drug song which puts an unsteady beat to a dreamlike lyric and melody, providing a sense of push and pull, yet with a disorienting pulse. And because of the Coleridge image, you get the impression that the voyage may not end well; that there is a price to be paid for such a voyage. But, the Stranglers leave it up to the listener to decide just where the ‘finer temptress’ is leading.

I Want A New Drug – Huey Lewis & The News

Huey Lewis & the NewsTop 40 radio in the 80s let a lot slip past the censors, but this one takes the cake for me. This song is about wanting to take drugs. Now, the drug is meant to be metaphor for the feelings of love and well-being that can be gained when in love. But, Huey sings that he wants a new drug, implying a huge stash of old drugs he’s already got going. Scandalous!

Underworld – Born Slippy

Much like the Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, this song documents a time when drug taking was a part of a scene, when chemicals taken in pill form (or even in liquid grain form) went hand in hand with growing up. In short, this is a song about what it’s like to be a teenager, about the time in one’s life when one is confronted with rites of passage, with awkward feelings, strange feelings that you don’t know what to do with, and without the language to really express them. Is it about E, too? Maybe. But, it’s mostly a series of impressions that evoke the need to identify – a powerful drug indeed.

Because I Got High – Afroman

I remember when this one split the room with two polarized opinions; is this a pro-drug song, or anti-drug? The guys singing are clearly baked, or are meant to sound that way. They’re having fun. But, what are they singing about? Lost opportunities. By the end, they’re singing about the loss of everything, down to a single factor that grew into a single force to take everything away; that’s a pretty strong anti-drug sentiment.

Maybe overall, they’re saying that some people will make it in life, and some won’t when confronted with a world offering all kinds of temptations to distract us from what’s really important. Maybe they’re saying that anything you consistantly rely on to get you ‘high’ (whatever that might mean to you) is something which also has the potential to destroy you. I think this is, ironically, a sobering thought.

Or maybe they are baked. Pass the Cheetos, would’ja?


So, there you go – drugs. Love them or hate them, people are doing them, writing about them, singing about them, and talking about them. So, don’t let me Bogart this topic. Share your own favourite drug tunes and thoughts – comment away!