Friday, October 3, 2008

The old 'desert islands discs' cliche

I asked my cousin to put a list of 20 songs onto a single disc for me the other day- I gave her a songlist based on songs that I personally don't own for one reason or another. The only other criteria was, of course, that they would be songs that I like- a lot- and another reason cropped up: I have to get back into exercise, jogging especially- and these songs have been chosen for me to play on an ipod that is strapped to my sweaty arm, to enable me to climb the hills of Pascoe Vale more easily and become rip roaring fit for the second time in my life.

The song list is as follows:

1. Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters (Elton John)

This song is on Elton John's best record from 1971: 'Honky Chateau.'

'While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can't and that is why
They know not if it's dark outside or light.'

It seems to be a song about the oddness of New York City- there are echoes around the gulf between the rich and the poor. Like a much more famous song about New York City, it talks about a wild and chaotic place. I didn't understand the lyric about 'Spanish Harlem'-

'And now I know
Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew
But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City...'

so I looked it up, and saw that Ben E King sang a song called 'Spanish Harlem':

'There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
It is a special one, it's never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run.'

2. This Guy's In Love (with you) (Burt Bacharach)

Not sure if this one is ideal yet for running. It is a bit stilted- perhaps towards the end of the run when you are feeling fatigued- the easy pace won't help you speed up, at any rate. Herb Alpert sings the version I now have- so it must be the original. My favourite part is the bit at the emotional core:

'My hands are shakin'
Don't let my heart keep breaking 'cause
I need your love, I want your love
Say you're in love, in love with this guy,
If not I'll just die.'

3.You Make Loving Fun (Fleetwood Mac)

An easy song to listen to and the catchy tune helps you run quickly as you forget about your stomach and your legs and get caught up in the melody. Apparently Cindy Lauper has some sort of history with this song, as well as Christine McVie.

4. If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)

A beautiful song with lovely, reasonably complex lyrics, that is great for running because it enables time to pass quickly while you get caught up in an intriguing story:

'If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
'bout a ghost from a wishin well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
But stories always end..'

The best bit is in the middle somewhere:

'I never thought I could act this way
And I''ve got to say that I just don't get it
I dont know where we went wrong
But the feelin's gone
And I just can't get it back..'

Hardly celebratory on the topic of love, but too bouncy, lilting to be melancholy. I must say, though, if I needed to be rescued at the point of exhaustion, with 300 metres still left to run, I think i could make it more easily with Johnny' Cash's croaky, faltering version, full of pathos, rather than Gordon Lightfoot's. But all credit goes to the writer.

5.Without You (Harry Nilsson)

Always liked it. The vocal extremities. Definitely a hill song (much more than the one by Kate Bush). I don't much else by Harry Nillson, but I suspect there are other good things apart from this and 'Everybody's Talking.' Apparently it is originally a Badfinger song. This time the lyrics nothing special, just the music.

6.He Ain't Heavy (He's My Brother)

The vocal extremities again, even more powerful this time:

'If I'm laden at all, I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart isn't filled with gladness of love for one another
It's a long long road from which there is no return
While we're on our way to there, why not share
And the load, it doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy - he's my brother.'

Great stuff! Very 60's in it's preaching of love and sharing, and beautiful.

A lot of cover versions- I think I'll pass on Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow and The Osmond's. Elton John played piano on it, and the title refers to the carrying of an actual sibling, not just a 'brother' as in 'peace, man.'

7.The Saddest Song (Melanie)

Good, but not Melanie's greatest song by any means- just difficult to get some of her music off the internet. The sentiment is similar, and beautiful as well:

'And the hardest thing under the sun above
it's to say goodbye to the ones you love..'

Very simple but true. Perhaps best used in running for a run to the airport or the docks to wave goodbye at the steamer that's spilling all its sad streamers into the sea. Would have liked to have captured ' Do You Believe?' to help with the bursting lungs.

8. You've Lost That Loving Feeling (Long John Baldry)

A great vocal performance, but now that I have it, after all these years the female part sounds a little overdone or screechy. Perhaps I just need to get used to it again, or should I have chosen The Righteous Brothers? Apparently her name is Kathi MacDonald??? And why does Barry Manilow keep cropping up? Elvis has a stunning version too, especially live as a showcase in Las Vegas. You don't even notice those sore feet pounding into the cement.

9.Theme From Midnight Cowboy (John Barry)

This is the John Barry of James Bond fame. What a great writer. I don't know who is playing the harmonica, but it is breathtaking and always stays with me. The film is all about travelling, and the music carries you effortlessly along. A perfect song for long distance- say Pascoe Vale to Glenroy and back. The song plays as significant a part in this movie as does, say, the theme to The Godfather in that particular film.

10.One Day I'll Fly Away (Randy Crawford)

I don't remember where I first heard it, but a beautiful vocal, and the title says all you need to hear about wanting to run like the wind, effortlessly and free. Did Nicole Kidman really sing it too?

11.Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)

Goes nicely with the song above, and very much a Roberta Flack signature tune:

' Ifelt all flushed with fever
Embarrassed by the crowd
I felt he found my letter and
Read each one out loud
I prayed that he would finish
But he just kept right on
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softy with his song
Killing me softly with his song
Telling my whole lifewith his words
Killing me softly with his song..'

I don't know of many songs in which the singer sings of admiration for another singer/ musician. Simply beautiful melody and one very much for the long, flat open road- I just wish it went on for longer.

12. The Last Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack)

In a way more of the same, but more tender and breathless:

'And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time my love
It would last till the end of time my love.'

The lyrics are a bit cliched, very much like a juvenile Romeo & Juliet- but the way it is sung makes the drama very moving, allowing to become totally absorbed and lost on your running route so you climb two extra hills without even realising it. Johnny Cash does it well, but I doubt you would climb an accidental hill. And with George Michael? Well, who knows?

13. Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers)

This is soul searching, scorching music to help you forget not only about your feet and your knees, but your heart beat as well:

'Oh my love, my darling
I've hungered, hungered for your touch
A long lonely time,
And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much,
Are you still mine?
I need your love,
I...I need your love
God speed your love to me.'

The song is recorded at number 365 by Rolling Stone magazine in the best songs ever- a bit of a joke- and the joke is also on Alex North and Hy Zaret, who don't seem to have had a lot of recognition for their song. If I ever hear anyone say anything about it being the theme song from the film 'Ghost' I think i will throw up. This one for one of the steepest hills, especially at the rising inflexion of the line 'Are you still mine?'

14.Angie (The Rolling Stones)

I surprised myself by choosing this of all the good Rolling Stones songs. Maybe I haven't heard it as much as 'Gimme Shelter' and 'She's Like A Rainbow' is ruined forever by the silly Australian rabbit advertisement. 'Angie' is painful so a good song for slowing down, turning the final corner, as it sounds conclusive in some way:

'Oh, angie, dont you weep, all your kisses still taste sweet
I hate that sadness in your eyes
But angie, angie, aint it time we said good-bye?
With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats
You can't say we're satisfied.'

Keith Richards apparently wrote it for his daughter, Angela, so like John Lodge's daughter, Emily, and Paul McCartney's dog, Martha, she should feel pretty happy.

15. My Little Town (Simon & Garfunkel)

No, not even near the best song Paul Simon ever wrote (see the next one for that), still good for running:

'In my little town
I never meant nothin'
I was just my fathers' son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun.'

A good song to finish your exhausting run- burst through the finish line banner as Paul Simon and his mate (reunited for the first time in a while with this song), say the word 'gun'. Paul Simon heralds from Newark, New Jersey, which is hardly a small town, so perhaps it isn't quite autobiographical.

16.Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

Yet another song in which you will forget all the sore parts of your body- in fact, you will forget your feet are touching the ground, especially at:

'Sail on silvergirl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.'

It looks plain and boring on paper, but you can hear the emotion if you know it well enough. Apparently Paul Simon feels sad when he thinks of Art Garfunkel getting the plaudits for the magnificent vocal crescendo, yet for these ears anyway, Paul Simon's bit from 'Sail on, silvergirl' is the most memorable part of the song. It extends your exercise for at least another kilometre.

17. You Are So Beautiful (Joe Cocker)

Get Marge Simpson out of my head, for a start. Ok, perhaps not a great running song- it forces you to have a breather, and after the last song you need to have a breather anyway. But who thinks of Billy Preston (writer) when they hear it?

18.Anyone Who Had A Heart (Dusty Springfield)

Back on the track, running your guts out again, to this lovely song:

'Anyone who had a heart
Would take me in his arms and love me, too
You couldn't really have a heart and hurt me,
Like you hurt me and be so untrue
Anyone who had a heart would love me too
Anyone who had a heart would take me in his arms and love me too
Why won't you?'

Cilla Black and Dionne Warwick did well but I think Dusty's is best. Burt Bacharach again.

19.Cannibal's Hymn (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)

A good story and strong rhythms. And clever lyrics.

'You have a heart and I have a key
Lie back and let me unlock you
Those heathens you hang with down by the sea
All they want to do is defrock you
I know a river, where we can dream
It will swell up, burst it's banks, babe, and rock you
But if you're gonna dine with them cannibals
Sooner or later, darling, you're gonna get eaten
But I'm glad you've come around here with your animals
And your heart that is bruised but unbeaten
And beating like a drum.'

Yes, we can well believe that Nick will look after her unlike those heathens and have her best interests at heart, despite her pink pinafore that continually needs mending. Perhaps he is making references to the ancient Egyptian 'Pyramid Texts', perhaps not. But it's interesting, driving rhythm is compelling on the road, up loud.

20.Evening Train (Johnny Cash)

This one is strictly not for the road, unless you are at snail's pace. It is for when you get home and take off the shoes and strip off the wet socks. It's melancholy but touching, especially because it is on the last record:

'As I turned to walk away from the depot,
It seemed I heard her call my name,
"Take care of my baby and tell him,
Darlin', that I'm goin' home,
On the evenin' train."

I pray that God will give me courage,
To carry on till we meet again.
It's hard to know she's gone forever,
They're carryin' her home on the evenin' train.'

After all this, and after all the running and sweating, who would have thought it would all end with Hank Williams?

As I said, I only chose songs that were previously innacessible to me- hence there is nothing here by The Beatles, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Moody Blues or Joni Mitchell.

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