January 2009

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On unfogged last weekend there was a call for inauguration themed mixes. I ended up taking more than the allotted time to post my entry, and it has its flaws, but I’m happy enough with it that I wanted to post some longer notes here.


I took, as my theme, songs that are, in some way, historical in their perspective. This was a challenging starting point. I had a conversation with RS several years ago that has stuck with me in which he remarked about how rare it was to find pop songs that had a definite sense of place (it is this, in part, that makes me love “Famous Blue Raincoat” — “New York is cold, but I like where I’m living / There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening. . . .”) Most pop songs have no sense of at place at all, and many more have a purely abstract sense of “city” or “country.” Similarly there aren’t many pop songs that deal with specific historical themes. There are folk / blues / bluegrass songs that are explicitly historical, but I didn’t want those genres to dominate the mix.

I also quickly realized that most songs with a historical bent are unhappy because nobody bothers to write songs about incidents of peace and comfort. So I decided to add to the theme songs about music and culture as a unifying and uplifting force. That is, to be clear, not necessarily songs that are in themselves uplifting, but ones that deal with the relationship between audience / citizen and art.
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There is an old joke about three baseball umpires discussing how they call the game.

The first umpire says, “The way I see it, there are balls and strikes and I call them as I see them.”

The second umpire says, “In my view, there are balls and strikes and I call them as they are.”

The third umpire says, “Bah, nothing’s a ball or a strike until I call it.”

I feel like there’s a similar dynamic in musical performances. Some performers have the song in their head, and are trying to match that version as they play; some have the song in their body memory of hands and voice; and some have so completely absorbed the music that they can do whatever they want and it will fit the song.
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80s Epilogue

An acoustic cover of “Billie Jean” by Brazilian superstar Caetano Veloso*. The first line or two are in Portuguese and then he transitions into “Billie Jean.” I don’t know whether Veloso is the guitar player, but I really like the guitar playing.

Inspired partially by this discussion.

*I’m surprised that this is the first Caetano Veloso song that I’ve posted here. There are a couple of his songs that I really like.

For the end of the (extended) 80s week, I have to thematically related songs, that I think make a good pair and are good examples of pure synthesizer pop:

They are (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang and the extended (single) version of The Politics Of Dancing.
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I have been planning on posting a Thomas Dolby song for 80s week. I have thought for a while that the Thomas Dolby is an underrated songwriter, partially through process of elimination. He’s written several songs that are sold to very good pop songs, and it’s a little bit tricky to figure out what makes them work. He’s a reasonably charismatic performer, but not sufficiently so to carry a bad song. He’s a solid musician but, again, his musicianship doesn’t explain his success.

I’m not that fond of “She Blinded Me With Science” which I think is a noveobut there are several of his songs that I like, such as Europa And The Pirate Twins.

I was thinking about this as I just read reading Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be by Jen Trynin (via)*. About her successes and failures in the music industry.
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