Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Songs to Light Me Up

In the spirit of endless Facebook lists, I offer some songs that have always stuck with me.

Why not?

Funky Sexy
-Son of a Preacher Man, Dusty Springfield
I always liked this infectious tune, but when I fell desperately in love with a bisexual preacher's son in 1996, the song was burned into my brain forever. I soon had a note to self, however: Don't fall in love with bisexual preacher's kids. :)

-Closer, Nine Inch Nails
So yeah, this is not exactly a subtle number from Trent Reznor, but I dare anyone who is in a randy mood to hear this and not get caught up in its hypnotic, debauchery-inducing spell. This became the theme of what came to be known as the Dionysus parties in my college years. No explanation needed.

-Criminal, Fiona Apple
The opening lyric sets the tone. "I've been a bad, bad, girl. I've been careless with a delicate man." Brilliant. Fiona may be a bit nuts - but this debut album was truly amazing...her talent and soul cannot be denied.

Darling Nikki, Prince
I was pretty young when the Purple Rain album came out, but my parents loved it and so it played on an endless loop in our house. And as a pubescent boy, this particular track was not lost on me - even if it didn't reflect my eventual persuasion. And Prince?...genius. Truly.

Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter, Ike and Tina Turner
I am not sure, but I think this was the flip side of the 45 we had of Proud Mary. I know that it got played a lot before I was five. And I know that I used to shake my butt to it in my diaper. Later, I came to find it completely humorous for its sexy-silly euphemisms. Nikka Costa did a GREAT cover of the song on her album: Can'tneverdidnothin'

Smiles and Movin' Feet
-Chains of Love, Erasure
Bubble gum dance music at its best - and with a message. In an era plagued by overt homophobia along with AIDS deaths and thousands of deaths now known to be attributed to AZT poisoning, this gay anthem was a perfect antidote to a difficult reality. Together we'll break these chains indeed!

-Love Shack, B52s
Sadly, this song has almost worn out its welcome. Overplayed at weddings and the like. But I heard it again the other day and was able to travel back to high school when it came out... everyone running to the dance floor to celebrate youth and friendship. Some say the Cosmic Thing album was their "sell out" - I think it's great they crossed over and kept their unique brand of harmonies and humor.

-You Spin Me Round, Dead or Alive
This may be one of the best dance songs ever recorded. But to enjoy it, one must abandon all sense of good taste and dive into high club kid drama. It's in that sugar coated drug induced neon state that the operatic vocals and psycho-synth arpeggios can be fully appreciated. And what other song has a veritable Tarzan call as its signature?

-Express Yourself, Madonna
I must clarify that though I can still groove to the more electric version of this song as heard on the Immaculate Collection, it is the more acoustic, big band version on Like a Prayer that really stands out. Until this point, I had no interest in the material girl - but this call for independent thinking rang true to a gay kid just discovering theatre in 1989. And those backing vocals! Love it. And let's remember that now famous director David Fincher shot the video along with Vogue.

9 to 5, Dolly Parton
-How can anyone hear the opening vamp of this song and not smile? It's one of the catchiest tunes...EVER. And makes me want to dance like a silly cartoon character (I don't understand this myself, so don't try.) But I also associate it with the film, which is one of the few movies I can see from any point and it never fails to put me in a good mood. And Dolly...so plastic and genuine at the same time.

Tears and Melancholy
-Hurt, Johnny Cash
In his final moments, Cash recorded this song by Trent Reznor and delivered a masterpiece. Whenever I hear, "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" I choke up. There is something so quietly desperate in both the lyric and melody. There are times when it's almost too much to listen to...

-Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
The combination of soaring strings and fast-moving synth beats offered a unique fusion for radio in 1983. Pop songs do not sound like this anymore. And there is no voice like Annie Lennox at the climax - a siren's cry for answers. In 2005, I got to see her perform it as a quiet ballad on solo piano. It still packed a punch. Not a dry eye. That is the sign of a lasting song.

-Kissing You, Des'Ree
Chosen as the love theme to Baz Luhrman's R&J, rarely has a song felt more appropriate for star-crossed or unrequited love. It is, I think, the saddest love song ever recorded. Des'Ree's smoky voice leaves not a single syllable untouched with longing. And I admit, during more than one break up, this has been my tool for cathartic weeping...both as a listener and singer. Though on the R&J soundtrack, I highly recommend the album Supernatural where it also appears.

-Ordinary World, Duran Duran
This song manages to say it's time to move on without discarding the pain altogether. In this way, I find it to be one of the most mature songs from Duran Duran. The soaring vocals accompanied by a terrific guitar line both massage the ear and hit the gut. There's a good reason this single marked a comeback for the 1980s pop band.

-Angels, Robbie Williams
I cannot help myself. This song is so very cheesy. I know that. But the melody manipulates me into falling for it every time. So what that the simple lyrics feel written by a moody high school girl...when Robbie belts out the chorus and the full orchestra takes over, it's worthy of a thousand lit lighters in a stadium. And dude, it makes for awesome karaoke! :)


splattworks said...

The first time I heard Cash's "Hurt," I was driving home from work, and I was so absolutely transfixed...almost paralyzed...that I had to pull off onto the freeway's safety lane, stop, and listen. And when it was over, I sat there a few minutes more. We used a snippet of it for the "heroin" section of "Altered States of America," the veteran character wearing an army jacket and the effect of blue slotted light crossing him from a venetian blind, lights coming up slowly, and it's still one my all-time favorite moments from one of my plays. And now, damn it, I'm going to have to go listen to it.

If folks have not heard it, please check it out. It's a masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Fuck yes, Chains of Love! Me and my wife sang Love Shack at a karaoke bar, and I think we did the 52's proud. I was surprised that I knew every intonation of that song.