With A Little Help From My Friends

I’ll admit, I put this post off for a long time. The Beatles are widely acknowledged as one of the most, if not the most, influential music band of all time. They’re a little intimidating to tackle. There are documentaries, tribute bands, theses and dissertations, dedications, theories, and anything else I can think of about this band. About the individual members, about their careers, about their music, lyrics, influences, hidden meanings, etc. Multiple movies have based solely on their music; Across The Universe, anyone? This is possibly the most talked about group in the modern history of music.

I’m not about to try and add to that mass of information with my extremely limited knowledge.

Instead, I’m going to share with you some Beatles songs performed by artists who are not the Beatles.

There is a massive amount of artists who have recorded or performed Beatles songs, ranging from just about every genre there is. I have heard their music redone as jazz, metal, rock, trance, soul, R&B, ukulele, piano, Hawaiian, bossa nova, blues, country… you name it and it’s been done.

I’m not really listing these in any order, and they’re not what I would consider a “best of” list either. These are just songs I liked. Many of them I have fond childhood memories of, some I found as an adult. Some are from movie soundtracks. Honestly, I heard lots of Beatles music before I ever knew who the Beatles were.

I’m pretty pleased with the variety of artists I was able to include in this post. So let’s get started.

“Across The Universe” – Fiona Apple’

This version of “Across The Universe” is well known and is likely the most popular of this list. It’s truly lovely to listen to, and I enjoy Fiona Apple’s voice immensely. This was on the soundtrack for Pleasantville which I remember watching in high school. Great song, great artist. It may just be the most successful Beatles cover song ever.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” – Joe Cocker

Legendary version of this song, it’s a soulfull, solid performance. I haven’t listened to a lot of Joe Cocker, but this song is so amazing I really should fix that oversight. The video above is from Woodstock 1969, the Beatles released the recording in 1967. A lot of artists all over the world recorded the Beatles music almost immediately after it was released.

“Blackbird” – Sarah McLachlin

As a teenager learning to play the guitar, I was always especially intrigued by picking patterns. I loved this song enough to learn how to play it (kind of similarly) on my guitar. I still have the picking pattern memorized, though it might take me a minute if I haven’t played it in a while. I always felt this was such a peaceful and hopeful song. Lyrically, there have been multiple accounts as to it’s meaning, but as with any art, the meaning you get from it yourself is the most important. I love this song, and Sarah McLachlin does a worthy rendition.

“In My Life” – Keali’i Reichel

When I was younger, my mom had this CD she got in Hawaii and I remember hearing it a lot as a kid in the 90’s. The music production is a little cheesy, but I have such happy memories tied to this music that it doesn’t matter to me. I haven’t listened to this for more than a decade, but I still love it. His songs in the Hawaiian language are quite beautiful, by the way.

“Hey Jude” – Wilson Pickett

If you like documentaries, watch Muscle Shoals. It’s such a good film, and shares a lot of history about an amazing time in music recording and sheds a lot of insight on musicians and the music industry. This song was recorded there and hearing the account of how it came about was amazing. Until I heard this version of “Hey Jude” I didn’t have a very strong opinion on it, it was good but I din’t really think about it; I love this song now. Wilson Pickett knocked it right out of the park with this one.

“Got To Get You Into My Life” – Earth, Wind, and Fire

So much fun! This is a very recent discovery for me (I heard it the first time getting ready for this post) but it’s a fun danceable song that feels right at home with Earth, Wind, and Fire. Seriously, I love those horns, they are so tight!

“Dear Prudence” – Siouxsie and the Banshees

I heard this one on my favorite local radio station. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than I really enjoy the vibe in this song, and that it fits incredibly well with this band. I am beginning to think that songs by the Beatles are just well suited to be done in any style.

“Eleanor Rigby” – Aretha Franklin

I found this one when I was working on my Aretha Franklin post. I love this version, it gives it a lot of bounce and drive that makes it very fun. Aretha also sang a lovely version of “Fool On The Hill” and I highly recommend that one too. I won’t add a link here, but please check it out on your own! It’s very upbeat and so very Aretha.

“My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Jake Shimabukuro


This is one of the first “viral” videos ever. It has well over 16 million views, and for good reason. This is possibly the most beautiful version of this song I have ever heard. This man’s skill with his ukulele is amazingly impressive. The arrangement is complex and interesting with extremely well done build ups and payoffs. I have rarely seen someone shred so hard on a ukulele before, and never with this level of talent and skill. If you haven’t seen this video, for your sake watch it now.

“My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Regina Spektor

Not much can top the version of this song above, but this one is pretty dang good. If you haven’t seen the movie Kubo and the Two Strings you should absolutely watch it. It’s a fantastic movie all around, original and well written with great production quality and soundtrack. I loved this movie, and most people who have seen it feel the same. This version of the song, as performed by Regina Spektor, was a beautiful different take on it. I’m pretty happy to hear this one anytime.

“Fool On The Hill”, “Daytripper”, “Norwegian Wood” – Sergio Mendez & Brasil ’66

When I was younger, we had a CD by Sergio Mendez & Brasil ’66 that I adored. I listened to it a lot and that is probably where I got my love for Bossa Nova music. These three songs are fantastic renditions that bring a different world to mind. I imagine this would be the soundtrack to 70’s cocktail parties, or an old school visit to some South American beaches.

I heard these songs by this group before I heard the originals. So for me, this seemed the natural way it should be played. It was fascinating for me when I heard the originals and other versions as well. I will always have a special place in my heart for this music, any way it’s played.

“Two Of Us” – Aimee Mann


At some point after I moved out of the house I ended up inheriting a huge book of CD’s from a roommate who had left them behind. Among them was the soundtrack to I Am Sam which is comprised of Beatles cover songs. They are all great songs preformed by great artists. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here, but I’ll put links to a few of the songs that I especially liked. “Two of Us” by Aimee Mann is the first.

“I’m Looking Through You” – The Wallflowers

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” – Eddie Vedder

“Mother Nature’s Son” – Sheryl Crow
(Also check out the version by John Denver or the one by Jack White)

“Nowhere Man” – Paul Westerberg

That’s all I’m gonna share right now, but know that there is a ton more where that came from. If you want to hear more, check out the soundtrack for the movie I am Sam, or just do a google search, you’ll find a treasure trove, I’m sure.

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I find it fascinating how the culture of the music world has changed over time. Looking back to the 60’s and 70’s it seems as if anyone could perform or record any song, no matter the original artist. Going back further, it was unusual for most singers to write their own songs, which would have been written by professional songwriters. Today there are still plenty of singers whose songs are written by songwriters employed by various record labels and other companies, but people also seem to expect most musicians to write their own songs. Of course, this is all just conjecture based on my own observations and I have done absolutely no research into this subject. I would like to learn more about it though, so if anyone has any good resources, please send them my way.

I hope you enjoyed these songs, like I said at the top, these are not necessarily my favorites or what I consider the best, I just like them. There are tons more songs by the Beatles (they were pretty prolific for a band that was only together 10 years) and likely all of those songs have been recorded or performed by other artists over the years. Find what you like! If you have any recommendations for songs I didn’t include here, send them my way, I’d love to hear the songs and your thoughts on them.

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If you want to know more about the Beatles, go listen to them. Til next time, happy listening!

Childhood memory post-script: I didn’t post “Yellow Submarine” since I haven’t heard a cover of it I liked, but if Mary or Becca are reading this, I’m thinking of you 😉

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Sabotage

Buckle up, I have a lot to say about the Beastie Boys.

And about Jazz music.

They’re related, just read the post. Or don’t, this is a long and wordy monologue full of many opinions and few facts, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

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To be totally honest, I hated the Beastie Boys for a long time. Most of the songs I had heard by them were not something I could appreciate, and I just couldn’t listen past the nasal voice of Ad-rock or what I considered stupid lyrics to get to the good musicianship and instrumentation which is remarkably quite excellent. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the repetitive phrase-shout-phrase-shout style of many of their songs (I’m looking at you, “Intergalactic Planetary”, even if it is a good song)

I specifically remember when I was very young and hearing the song “Girls” which, now that I’ve heard all their music, is likely the worst representation of them that I could possibly get. That one song, which I still hate today and will probably always hate, stained my opinion of them for nearly all my life. “Brass Monkey”, while not bad in general, also gets annoying really fast.

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Keep in mind I was a little girl growing up in Seattle at the time, and the a-tonal dissonant stylings of a white boy rap band from New York called the Beastie Boys was not going to impress me. Imagine tiny me, hearing her older cousins (boys) music which was by a group called the Beastie Boys? No thanks. I was predisposed to dislike it.

I remember as a child my first love in life was jazz music. I remember fourth grade me, allowed to join the elementary school orchestra for the first time (I’m sure we were awful, kudos to all parents of elementary-aged musicians for sticking around at those screechy concerts) and I knew then that I wanted to learn to play the big bass so I could one day be the bass player in a jazz band. For reasons I can’t quite remember, I picked up the violin instead and didn’t get onto the bass for 3 years after that.

But Jazz has many intricate syncopated rhythms and moving or jumping melodies. It’s a genre of music that fares just as well with singing as it does instrumental. And I loved it. No wonder I disliked the Beastie Boys with their quarter note rhythms and shouted lyrics that I didn’t really understand, right? They’re completely different. Right?

Wrong.

But back to jazz for a minute; what is it? In the words of something I heard on my favorite Jazz podcast, Riffin On Jazz, “Jazz music is sounds that are pleasing to the ears”. And in the words of Robert Glasper, noted pianist and producer,

“Jazz is the mother and father of Hip Hop. They’re both musics that were born out of oppression, they’re both kind of like protest music, you know, going against the grain. If you’re a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening, you’re probably going to go to jazz first.”

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In fact, Jazz as a quintessentially American art form was the progenitor of most popular music since it’s incorporation into our mainstream culture. Especially music such as R&B and hip-hop. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop there is a ton of Jazz sampled into it. You might hear it in such songs as “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, which samples “Ode To Billie Joe” by Lou Donaldson, or Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” which sampled “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” by Roy Ayers.

It’s also in the Beastie Boys. As you might know, the Beastie Boys are master samplers. Their album “Paul’s Boutique” was critically acclaimed for its intense sampling. It really is masterful the way they assembled it all together.  It has some really interesting bits added from all sorts of other bands. The Eagles, The Beatles,  Curtis Mayfield, The Commodores, even the soundtracks for Jaws and (if my ears don’t deceive me) Psycho. The first track samples an amazing Jazz tune called “Loran’s Dance” by Idris Muhammad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are interested in more detail about everything sampled in Paul’s Boutique, definitely check out this complete radio show by Seattle radio station KEXP. This is a seriously in-depth look at the history behind that album as well as most of the identifiable songs sampled into the entire album, track by track. They literally spent an hour on “Johnny Ryall” alone. I really recommend it, it’s got some amazing insight and great tracks played. Turns out the Beastie Boys have great taste.

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Aside from vocals, the album is almost entirely sampled. In fact, I heard someone counted up to anywhere between 100 and 300 individual samples. That’s absolutely crazy, especially at the time. In 1989, when the album came out, sampling was a far different beast than it is today when we have much simpler digital methods. Here’s a little article on the history of sampling if you’d like to know more.

Paul’s Boutique saved the Beastie Boys from being one-hit wonders or frat boy hip-hop. Most of the stuff on their first album, Licensed to Ill, is firmly in that camp with songs like “Fight For Your Right” “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” “Girls” and “Brass Monkey”. But like many things, The Beastie Boys got better with age. Paul’s Boutique was so different in its content it really cemented them as a quality group and changed the face of Hip-hop at the time. Impressive for three guys that were originally punk.

After Paul’s Boutique came Check Your Head which had a few tracks I especially liked such as “Pass The Mic” and “Lighten Up” as well as “So What’cha Want” which I knew before I started in on this. Thank you, RockBand

Next came my favorite* (more on that later) album by the Beastie Boys. Ill Communication has so many great tracks, I’ll just list my top picks from that album: “Sure Shot” along with the European B-Boy mix on disc 2 of the deluxe version, “Root Down” also with the Free Zone mix in the deluxe version, “Get It Together” again the Buck-Wild remix from the deluxe set, “Sabotage” which has always been amazing and is maybe the sole reason I ever gave them a chance, “Alright Hear This”, “Flute Loop”, and a bunch of instrumental tracks that are kind of transitionary, which I will be addressing later.

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Hello Nasty came out next with more innovation from the band. Seriously, I feel like these guys never let themselves get pinned down, I can’t believe I used to think they were one-dimensional musicians. Hello Nasty includes a song called “I Don’t Know” which is vastly different from the rest of their stuff; the main instrumentation is an acoustic guitar for crying out loud and it doesn’t have any rap in it, it’s much more melodic. The album also features some great instrumental tracks. Again, I’ll touch on those later.

To The 5 Boroughs called back to some of what made people love them in the first place. The only tracks that really stuck out to me were “Check It Out” and “Rhyme The Rhyme Well” which for me gets a little old after a couple listens.

Their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was again full of fantastic music. They really knocked it out of the park right from track one, “Make Some Noise” and the rest of the album is pretty great as well. However, I consider it more of an album that you listen to all at once without paying too much attention. This album had a lot of publicity surrounding it I’m not gonna get into. Suffice to say there was originally a part 1 that never got released and the group disbanded with the death of MCA aka Adam Yauch, so it never will be released.

Here’s the video for “Make Some Noise” it’s pretty fun and has a lot of celebrity cameos.

And now we’ll start to get into those things I mentioned I’d come back to.

In 2007 the Beastie Boys released an all-instrumental album called The Mix-Up. This is what really caught my attention when I was listening through their music. It finally pulled my attention to the absolute mastery these guys have over music.

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I mentioned to someone how this album really helped me see their musicianship, and their response was to point out that much of it is likely sampled. I stand by my statement. These guys show just as much musicianship with their skill at playing music as with arranging all of those samples into amazing and intriguing songs. It’s just as good as any skilled jazz trio I’ve ever heard.

And on that note. The reason I brought up Jazz music earlier was this: I believe this music is the natural evolution of Jazz.

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Now, a lot of people who don’t know Jazz say they don’t like it. And that’s fair; everyone has different tastes, though I wish they’d give it a shot. A lot of people who love Jazz are purists, and those people need to open their minds. For me and many others, Jazz has always been about experimentation and creating music that makes you feel something. It doesn’t have just one definable shape as it’s ever-changing.

Is “Jazz” always the Big band style? Or always the smokey bar lounge singer? How about Bebop? No. Don’t work in absolutes if you can help it, especially in music. And what about sub-genres? There are too many Jazz sub-genres to count. From acid to electro swing to gypsy to straight-ahead to fusion, there’s just too much music in too many different styles.

One analogy I heard once was that music genres are like family reunions. You have a ton of different people/songs who are all related, but maybe they aren’t all that similar. One person has Great Uncle Stan’s wide nose and Aunt Crissy’s curly hair, but someone else might have grandma’s button nose and Uncle Vic’s receding hairline and so they look nothing alike. And some people go from one reunion right to another one on the other side of their family. Make sense? Maybe not, but I tried.

So did the Beastie Boys write jazz music for their album The Mix-Up? No. It’s instrumental hip-hop. But it’s one thing among many that Jazz has evolved into and been incorporated into, and I love it. It’s intricate and intriguing, and it makes me happy to listen to it. It inspires the same kind of feelings in me that listening to Jazz does.

And it’s not their only instrumental albums either. Many Beastie Boys albums contain a bunch of tracks that may be transitionary in nature, but I find them all to be fantastic on their own. And I must not be the only one, because there was a compilation album released comprising entirely of those tracks.

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The In Sound From Way Out! is my true favorite album by this group, but since it’s a compilation I included my love for Ill Communication earlier. It kind of sounds like the soundtrack to an Ocean’s 11 type movie.

So to conclude my rambles about the Beastie Boys and Jazz I want to leave you with this. I created a Spotify playlist of the Beastie Boys instrumental tracks (and a few select others). If you like “lo-fi hip-hop beats” you’ll probably like this. If you like the Beastie Boys for more than “Fight For Your Right” or “Sure Shot” then you might like this. If you like jazz and aren’t a purist, you’ll probably like this. If your main jam is top 40 you might want to stay away. I was told by one person it gets boring and repetitive. I don’t think so at all, but we all have different tastes.

Here’s my favorite track if you just want an example. Check out that funky bass line mixed with precision drums and killer guitar tones. Beautiful. I couldn’t find a good Youtube video, so here’s the Spotify song link.

I know this has been a bit of a weird post, I probably should have formatted it more like an essay with a thesis and conclusion and a nice linear thought process, but I’ve been out of school for years now and I’ve already spent so much time on this one. I’m ready for the next artist.

So give the Beastie Boys a shot if you haven’t yet. And if you have, try out their instrumental tracks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was, and now I have 70 tracks by them in my music library.

Enjoy!

Rest in peace, Adam Yauch aka MCA 1964-2012

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Writing on the Wall

Bear’s Den is another in the category of great-bands-you’ve-never-heard-of. If I remember correctly, I found their song “Dew On The Vine” from an internet radio station. A fantastic find, and one I was very excited to more thoroughly dig through.

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This is a band that has toured with groups like Mumford & Sons and Daughter, as well as lesser-known but equally awesome bands like Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, and The Staves (if you love beautiful female harmonies please check them out – at the rate this project is going I won’t get to them till I’m in my 50’s, so I have to plug them now). That should give you an idea about the genre, but if not, let me break it down for you: Bear’s Den, according to Wikipedia, is described as folk-rock and alt-rock. They are definitely more in the folk-rock category according to their instrumentation, with a certain ambient style brought on by the vocal effects used by the singer, with a little Americana thrown in for good measure. I would describe them as Mumford & Sons crossed with Iron and Wine.

Here’s a video to give you an idea of their sound:

This music is awesome. It’s soothing and well-written, with a certain atmosphere building quality that is typically absent in more poppy tunes.

When I listen to Bear’s Den, I think of road trips through the Cascade mountains and foggy roads that cut through a forest. It may be possible I’m a little homesick for the pacific northwest as I write this, but that’s honestly what I picture. I keep meaning to make a playlist based on an image like this one:

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This music makes me feel at home, calm, and relaxed.

Bear’s Den is a great band to listen to in calm moments, maybe curled up with a cup of tea and a good book or on a rainy day. That said, I would absolutely still go see them live, and I’m happy to listen to them anytime they pop up wherever I listen to music.

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So, all that aside, what are their top tracks? In no particular order, I recommend:

“Dew On The Vine”

“Magdalene”

“Above The Clouds Of Pompeii”

“Isaac”

“Sophie”

“Broken Parable”

“New Jerusalem”

“Red Earth & Pouring Rain”

Those are just a few great songs, and if you like any of them please go check out more music by this band. I really like it and they got me on a huge kick of listening to other great bands like the ones I mentioned above, as well as groups like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Peter Bradley Adams.

In fact, here are more recommendations: if you like this band, check out Admiral Fallow or Bootstraps who I will hopefully be getting to sooner rather than later.

All I can say is go listen to this band. See if you like what they have and explore something new!

Happy listening

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Good Grief

An indie band out of London, England, Bastille came into popularity here in the States with the release of their debut album Bad Blood which featured a number of singles, “Pompeii” being the one most people are familiar with. The album came out in 2013, though it became much more popular the following year. That song was everywhere for quite a while, you could hardly go somewhere without hearing it.

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“Pompeii” is a great song and is noteworthy in and of itself, but Bastille really got my attention when I heard “Good Grief” a couple years later. This track has a fun and infectious beat and includes a few key audio samples from the 80’s movie Weird Science. I am a bit ashamed to report that I didn’t actually pay attention to the lyrics until just recently. That said, they tell a very different story than the upbeat-major key-danceable instrumentation would lead you to believe. It’s about the grief felt from the death of a loved one, and the moments of happiness found in the midst. The pre-chorus lyrics are “what’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?” Read through the lyrics some time, it’s an interesting juxtaposition between lightheartedness and the rather depressing business of going on living when someone you love is dead.

A band who can write a song that way definitely has my attention, so I went ahead and listened to the rest of their work on Spotify for this post. All of their lyrics are smart and fascinating, including the ever-popular “Pompeii”

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They also look like a group of guys who have fun together. I mean, just look at them! They seem like the kind of people I would like to just hang out with sometime.

Overall, I was impressed with all their stuff. They have a good sound and are great lyricists. They keep things fresh, and while his voice is very identifiable, they haven’t let themselves get pigeonholed in just one style or genre. They mix up their instrumentation and use a number of different effects at various times, as well as write their lyrics to be poignant and subtle. For Bastille, anything goes for their songwriting and I really like that.

So, do I recommend Bastille? Absolutely I do. They are a great addition to my music library and my ever expanding musical tastes. Here are my top tracks in no particular order:

“Pompeii”

“Good Grief”

“Power”

“Blame”

“Daniel In The Den”

“World Gone Mad” (Explicit language in this one, kids)

“Of The Night”

If you like these songs, for sure check out their albums.

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I want to close with a great quote from the band’s founder and lead singer, Dan Smith, who said “the whole labeling of music culture is so tired and kind of irrelevant now. Everyone’s music tastes are so broad, and everyone likes a bit of everything now.”

So true, and I won’t try to add anything to that.

Happy listening and I hope you find something new and fun to listen to!

The Attractions of Youth

Barns Courtney is a name I only became somewhat familiar with a year ago. His song “Fire” has had quite a bit of radio play here in the US and I liked it enough to add it to my music collection, but that’s as far as my knowledge went. Turns out he is fairly new as a solo musician, his first and only solo album having been released in 2015.

Barns was born in England, but spent his early years (from 4 to 15) in Seattle and I believe that influenced his overall sound enormously. He isn’t grunge at all, but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on that reminds me of it. Maybe it’s the weathered and heavy vocals? I don’t know, and if you have thoughts on this, let me know.

Wikipedia has Barns Courtney listed under blues rock and folk-pop, though I don’t really agree with that second one. His sound features a gritty, world-weary type of voice, reverb effects that make me feel like he recorded in a tunnel, and an overall gritty production style that is becoming increasingly common. I’m all for it, though I’ll be the first to admit it can get a little old after a short time. I wasn’t sure if I would find anything else he has released that I would like. I am happy to report that I did.

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Not every track on his only album caught my interest, but a few of them did. Honestly, since he is fairly new to the scene there isn’t a lot for me to try and digest so that’s all I really have to say. But I’m not stopping there; I’m taking advantage of the shorter post to get into detail on what I like and don’t like about individual tracks.

Shall we go through them one at a time? I’ll add a Youtube link to each one if you’d like to hear it.

First up, “Fire”

This song is well structured. The chorus has a nice build and energy that grows naturally and dramatically from the calmer verse. The instrumentation is simple as it needs to be, emphasizing the vocals and effects while remaining interesting. The bridge brings to mind images of old western movies with a whistled countermelody put to great effect along with vocal exclamations running underneath. It’s a great song, and I am completely unsurprised at its popularity.

“Golden Dandelions”

With a higher tempo and a more melodic vocal line, it’s set apart from “Fire” though this track still has his signature sound. The thing that stands out the most is the heavy reliance on drums throughout the song, but especially in the verse. He seems to continue his structure pattern of ABABCB that is so common throughout pop music, but that’s not a bad thing. Overall, I really like this track, and it has an interesting music video.

“Hellfire”

The first thing he did right with this song was having the intro set the tone before a dramatic pull back for the first verse. Like in “Fire”, he has a natural and dramatic build up from the verse to the chorus. The beat is infectious, not in a danceable way, but rather in a head-nodding way. His gritty sound is amplified with this one.

“Hobo Rocket”

This song starts with some random spoken words from a “hobo” that made it stick out a bit. There is a rhyme scheme in the verse that makes me think of 90’s rock pretty strongly, but all of the elements blend together very well. One example would be the background vocals with a chorus effect put to excellent use alongside the main guitar line. It transitions into the next track on the album titled “Hobo Outside Tesco, London – Interlude” This track is pretty much an extension of “Hobo Rocket” with spoken rhyme audio from what I expect was a hobo outside of a Tesco in London. It’s different and was a nice break in the middle of the album.

 

“Champion”

This is an anthem for conquering something. I imagine it being used in a car commercial or a movie montage about someone becoming stronger for whatever sport or fight they need to face. Really, it’s a little like this generations version of “Eye of the Tiger” Please note I am not comparing the two songs, just pointing out that’s the general feeling inspired by this song. I mean, the chorus lyrics are literally “champion, I can take a beating, I’ll rise again, burning through the jungle until the end” If that doesn’t spell out the storyline to every sports movie that came after the original Rocky, I don’t know what does. I quite like it, though for some reason I want that movie montage to take place in a corporate office featuring someone sweating over powerpoints, sales calls, and coffee breaks… Anyway, his voice and the effects they put on it are ideally suited to a song like this.

“Kicks”

Another great song for a movie montage, the chorus is something you can really rock out to, the pre-chorus is the perfect change in style leading to the chorus, and the verses are nicely short to make the whole thing move at a good pace. Now that I think about it, he seems to have mastered making his songs short enough to never get really old. If they were longer tracks I probably wouldn’t like them as much. There isn’t a single track that exceeds 4 minutes on this album.

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And that’s it. If you like his style, please check out the whole album. I was pretty glad to have an artist that didn’t have hours upon hours of music for me to listen to, this project is a little tough sometimes.

 

Get In Line

 

Barenaked Ladies are fairly universally liked. They are fun, energetic, clever, and their music is frequently uptempo and fun to sing along to. Add in excellent arrangements and instrumentation, and you have a pretty decent recipe for a band.

When someone mentions Barenaked Ladies the first thing to come into your head is likely their song “One Week” or possibly “Pinch Me” followed by “If I Had $1,000,000” or “It’s All Been Done”

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As a rock band, they are kind of in the novelty category, since many of their most popular songs are kind of random or silly with subjects that are humorous or sung about in a comedic way often showcasing rapped lyrics in a style nearly devoid of hip-hop or R&B. Personally, I love it, as I feel it’s always a good idea to mix things up and be unexpected in music.

They’re not entirely lighthearted though. Barenaked Ladies have many songs that deal with heavy topics in a poignant manner. I would especially point out “War On Drugs” which is about suicide and mental health issues. It’s a very powerful song centered around a bridge in Toronto where people would go to jump. Honestly it kind of stopped me in my tracks, and I think that coming from a group I viewed as fun and carefree made it strike home harder than it might have, had it come from a more typically somber group.

And that’s certainly not the only serious song they have. Before I began listening to their discography I was familiar with the song “Call and Answer” which is ultimately about the reconciliation of a difficult relationship. Which when you think about it, is not a common take on love songs, is it? More often you hear about love-at-first-sight, true love, breakups, cheaters, moving on, etc. It’s interesting to hear one that focuses on not just the difficulties of a relationship, but overcoming them as well.

Anyway, it is a beautiful song, the overlapping vocals and harmonies add a lot of power layered on top of the chiming guitar background. That is actually one of my all-time favorite songs by this band, and anytime it comes on I will absolutely sing along the entire time. There was a really nice version of this song on one of their live albums featuring Alanis Morissette that I found quite enjoyable.

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I wouldn’t neglect their upbeat and fun songs though, as that is arguably what makes them so well loved. They run a gamut of topics from the mundane to the serious to the outright ridiculous. Who else would write a song about getting unsigned postcards featuring chimpanzees? Weird, but a delightful and catchy song.

I’ll list all my favorite tracks at the end of this post, but if you want an album to check out I recommend either Grinning Streak or Stunt. They released an album this past year called Fake Nudes but I found it lacking their usual vim and vigor and wasn’t overly impressed by any of the songs.

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One thing about their discography, at least on Spotify, is the absolutely massive amount of live albums. They aren’t part of their official discography, but they are there nonetheless. From what I can figure, they released recordings of every live performance for their tour promoting the album Everything to Everyone, mixed and released as-is by the end of the show. I did not listen to all of these, as there were just too many and they were all essentially the same. If you don’t count those live recordings, since 1992 they have made twelve standard studio albums, one holiday album (which has some fun tracks), one kid’s album, a Shakespeare themed album (which is not on Spotify and I haven’t listened to yet), and a handful each of live albums, compilations, and E.P.’s. That’s a pretty solid career.

Based on the live albums I did listen to, I would definitely want to go see them live. They would be a fun show and great showmen, I’m sure of it.

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Well, I suppose it’s time for my “Top Tracks” list.

“One Week” “Another Postcard” “If I Had $1,000,000” “Get In Line” “Pinch Me” “Call and Answer” “Never Is Enough” and “It’s All Been Done” are the songs I knew well before this post, and they are all fantastic.

As for new discoveries:

“Bank Job” Probably my favorite find in this post. Absolutely hilarious.

“Odds Are”

“Easy”

“Testing 1, 2, 3”

“Did I Say That Out Loud?”

“Boomerang”

“Toe to Toe”

“Duct Tape Heart”

I added way more than just these to my Spotify, but they are the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned. An overall good mix of fun and heartfelt, Barenaked Ladies is just a great band who puts out great music. If you haven’t given them a chance before, please do so now, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, here’s the video for “Odds Are” just for you:

I think I need to watch that one a couple times to absorb all the stuff going on.

Enjoy your listening, and if you have any new music you want to share with me, send me a message!

Manic Monday

I gotta say, it’s really fun doing this little project of mine, delving into a random genre via one artist at a time really keeps things interesting for me; I think I know what I’m getting into, but sometimes I get thrown a curveball. For example, diving into The Bangles for the past week was not just a stroll down 1980’s summer pop lane as I expected.

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Initially, The Bangles took a lot of influence from 60’s rock and British invasion rock then mixed in a bit of New Wave; you can tell by the tones on their guitars and general playing style and effects. It’s fun to listen to, and some of their hits will be known for generations (even if occasionally in a mocking way).

If you only listen to the stuff released in the 80’s you’ll get mostly what you expect, as well as a few other gems that I can’t believe I haven’t heard before. There are some awesome tracks that I am so glad I found and will be happy to listen to again in the future.

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What a lot of people probably don’t know, however, is that the band reunited in 2000 after having broken up in 1989. They have released two albums since then, Doll Revolution in 2003, and Sweetheart of the Sun in 2011. When I started listening to The Bangles for this post, I started at the most recent album and worked my way back. I gotta say, They have been up to some good stuff.

Their newer songs hold true to the spirit of their original sound, keeping things fun and their instrumentation similar though probably with more modern gear; I can’t hear as much of the 80’s signature synth as is in their earlier work, and the overall production quality is better. Their vocals are the same in style, though the voices themselves are a little more mature. I can hear a bit more Psychedelic rock influence than I anticipated, but maybe I should have expected that.

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The bangles older stuff is great as well. There are the classics which most people know, primarily “Walk Like An Egyptian” “Manic Monday” and “Eternal Flame”, as well as some great other songs. I was especially a fan of “James” and “Going Down To Liverpool”

Overall, I am pleases with their library. The Bangles are more than “Walk Like An Egyptian”, though that is a great song. Really, it has an awesome groove, fun vocal arrangement, and great tones. It’s a bit silly and very fun, which is sometimes exactly what you want. I mean, just look at this picture:

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Here are my top tracks for The Bangles, from newest to oldest:

“Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)”

“Under a Cloud”

“Open My Eyes”

“Mesmerized”

“Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)”

“Eternal Flame”

“Manic Monday” Fun fact, this song was written by Prince.

“Walk Like An Egyptian”

“James”

“Going Down To Liverpool”

I definitely recommend you listen to “Under a Cloud” and “James”, those might be my favorite two finds for this band. I couldn’t find a good video for “Under a Cloud”, so to give you an idea of their more recent songs here’s a video for “Anna Lee” in what looks like an acoustic session:

I think that’s it for this post, onwards to another genre shift: we’re gonna hit up the Barenaked Ladies for the next one, and I’m super excited to see what they’ve got for me!

Casual Party

A few years ago I had a roommate who I bonded with over music. She has fantastic taste, and I was really excited when she burned a CD for me with a mix of recommended music. One of the tracks soon became a favorite, “The Funeral” by Band of Horses.

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It’s a great song and a great intro to the band. Band of horses has a number of fairly popular songs, depending on what kind of music you follow. I would categorize them as indie/folk rock, though an argument could be made for alt-rock as well. I have heard some of their songs on the radio when I’m listening to the community stations or the community alt-rock station. Since I’m living in Utah, I assume their song “Great Salt Lake” gets played here with more frequency than other areas.

There are a couple songs I want to highlight here before my usual top tracks list. Firstly, “Dumpster World” which when I first heard it made me think heavily of the band America, specifically the song “Horse With No Name” because that’s probably the song by them I’m most familiar with (I’ll need to do a separate post about America somewhere down the line). The resemblance is pronounced at the beginning of “Dumpster World” and I haven’t been able to find out if the similarity is intentional or not. I can’t imagine it isn’t, though. The vocal harmonies and instrumentation style is ridiculously similar. In fact, I’ll add a couple links so you can compare the two songs.

What do you think? Purposeful?

Secondly, I want to point out “No One’s Gonna Love You” which is definitely one of their most popular songs. It’s a fantastic song, one that I think anyone can enjoy, but even more interesting to me is the Cee Lo Green cover version. I know a lot of people have strong opinions about cover songs. Some people claim only the original version of any song is best, though I disagree. For example, Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” is much more well known at the very least, if not arguably better than the original by Bob Dylan. Or another example, “Hallelujah” originally by Leanord Cohen. My own personal opinion is that if a cover version adds something or changes the song in some way then more power to them.

That’s pretty much how I feel about the Cee Lo cover. It’s a great version of the song, and his voice is so unique it lends itself to new interpretations easily. Here are two more links for you to compare them:

Wrapping up, here’s my top tracks list for Band of Horses:

“No One’s Gonna Love You”

“The Funeral”

“Casual Party”

“Dull Times/The Moon”

“Dumpster World”

“Compliments”

“A Little Biblical”

“The General Specific”

So that’s pretty much all I have to say about Band of Horses. They are a great band, and if you like groups like The Shins, Fleetfoxes, The National, The Decemberists etc. you will probably love Band of Horses too. They are right up that alley, and a band I would be excited to see live if I ever got the chance.

Lucille

Before we get started, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore the blues. You can reference my post on Aynsley Lister as well and you’ll see what I mean so I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the many virtues of Blues again. Wouldn’t want to be redundant.

On with the post…

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It is a well-known fact that B.B. King’s guitar is named Lucille.

B.B. King said Lucille was a reminder for him, both not to brawl over a woman and never to run into a burning building. There’s a great story there, and if you listen to his song “Lucille” you’ll hear it in his own words. Playing guitar was B.B. King’s life. It was such a part of him and his style seems to have a personality all it’s own, so I’m not surprised in the least that his guitar had a name. Lucille’s sound is very identifiable, and it was strongly linked to King’s singing voice as well. He would essentially sing duets with Lucille, trading off lyrics in his voice and soulful expression from Lucille.

B.B. King is the prototypical blues guitarist, and the way he plays that lovely guitar Lucille is something that guitarists have striven to emulate for decades. I myself am primarily a bass player, but one day I hope to be proficient enough on the guitar to play delta blues like B.B. King, though I know I’ll never achieve his level of skill.

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B.B. King (whose name was Riley, actually) was heralded as the King of the Blues, along with Freddie King and Albert King, and rightly so. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and boy was B.B. an expert at the Blues. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is how much work is involved in being a professional musician. B.B. King wasn’t a great guitar player because he was just naturally gifted. He wasn’t just “discovered” one day – he set out to make it happen. He was a phenomenal musician because he dedicated his life to being so, even at the cost of other things. For example, his two divorces have been attributed to his heavy work schedule, something like 250 performances a year. In fact, in 1956 alone he had 342 performances and three recording sessions. He played and performed until he died, just as he said in his song “Riding With The King”

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B.B. set the stage for blues artists for decades. And let’s be real, if your career is playing a genre of music spans 60-odd years, you probably have had some influence over a lot of musicians.

In fact, B.B. King has more albums on Spotify than Aretha Franklin, more than 70, and I’m not ashamed to admit I lost count. He led an incredibly long career, spanning from 1949 to 2015 when he died. He was a dedicated musician as well as a philanthropist. He was very public about being diagnosed with diabetes, and ultimately it was consequences from his diabetes that led to his death.

If you want to know more about B.B. King’s life and career, I really recommend the official BB King website, there’s a great article on the main page that gets into it a bit more.

I fell into a Youtube rabbit hole in getting ready for this post, and there were too many great videos for me to share. Please feel free to check out some of it, there are tons of amazing videos of him playing with other renowned guitarists. For this post, I’ll stick with this simple version of “Sweet Sixteen”

There are obviously a lot of great songs and albums in his repertoire, though a number of them have repeats and a number are live albums. If I were to suggest any of his Albums, I would first suggest his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King, it is now one of my favorite albums ever. I would also suggest Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. B. B. King, as a fantastic collection of all his best tunes. Don’t disregard his earlier work either, I was jamming out even when I made it back to his albums from the 50’s and 60’s.

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As far as individual songs go, I now have 26 of his songs in my own music library, though I could easily add more. I’ll spare you the whole list and just give you my top 10 favorite tracks. This doesn’t include his collab. stuff, by the way, so feel free to check that out on your own if you’re interested, especially the album Deuces Wild.

Top 10 tracks:

“The Thrill Is Gone” – this song alone has something like 50 versions by B.B. King on Spotify.

“Lucille”

“How Blue Can You Get” It took me a while to realise this was a song sampled in a super chill song I know called “Standing Outside A Broken Phonebooth” by Primitive Radio Gods.

“Ghetto Woman”

“Caldonia”

“Alexis’ Boogie”

“To Know You Is To Love You”

“Sneakin’ Around”

“Is You Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)”

“Sweet Sixteen”

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Seriously go listen to some B.B. King. Right now. Don’t let this important part of your personal music education get away from you!

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

For this post, I was delving into essential 1970’s rock. Seriously, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (hereafter referred to as BTO) is the epitome of classic rock.

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The one song I already had on my Spotify list before checkong out the rest of their library was “Takin’ Care Of Business”. It’s a great song, perfect for staying motivated and getting things done. It has an easy to find beat and it’s a fun song to sing along to. It even has a great breakdown halfway through the song with a rather distinct guitar solo and a great use of piano accenting everything throughout. A great song for the whole band to rock out to.

When I proceeded to dive further into BTO’s music, I realized I knew some of their other stuff already. Seriously, they have a bunch of classic songs people know really well, “Takin’ Care Of Business” being just one of many.

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I did a bit of reading about the band and it’s line-up changes and such, but I really wasn’t interested in that. What I was interested in was the sound they made. I already mentioned they have an iconic ’70’s rock sound, and while all of their work firmly belongs to that genre, they didn’t let anything box them in. They have songs that are pure rock with driving rhythms and guitar solos, but they also have fun playing with different tones for their guitars, use drums to be dynamic as well as driving, balance multiple guitars and tones into a beautifully cohesive way, and throw in some extra elements (such as extra piano or cowbell) to add more flavor to a song.

Thanks to SNL and Christopher Walken, anytime I hear a cowbell I immediately notice it and it becomes all I can focus on during the rest of a song. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for me while listening to BTO, though I wouldn’t necessarily want more of it.

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Altogether, I have been impressed by this band. Great songs that stand the test of time and smooth grooves for me to rock out to are an excellent way to make me a fan. If I were to make a BTO top ten tracks list it would be as follows:

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” – This has a great rhythm guitar pulling it along and an excellent hook as well as a fun lead guitar tone that pops up after the first verse. I’d karaoke the heck out of this one.

“Blue Collar” – Very different in tone than I expected, it has a handful of different guitar tones that really compliment the song beautifully. Seriously, sometimes a wah pedal just pulls me out of the song if it’s too strong or not suited to the rest of the instrumentation, but this was just right. And to pair it with at least 2 other guitar tones vastly different and have it match, plus the very jazzy drums/guitars and tempo change combo at the end, really sell it.

“Takin’ Care Of Business” – As mentioned above.

“Hey You” – A prime example of their overall style. Check it out.

“Roll On Down The Highway” – Great road trip song.

“Lookin Out For #1” – Smooth and chill, comparable to “Blue Collar”

“Not Fragile” – Heavier rock sound, power chord driven.

“It’s Over” – The beginning chord structure made me think of “American Woman” but it’s actually quite different. And pretty awesome.

“Quick Change Artist” – This one is just really fun. Classic BTO style

“Hold Back The Water” – Also awesome. Great use of chorus style vocals.

I guess that’s ten, but if you like those, here’s a bonus: “Welcome Home”

I’ve really enjoyed listening to BTO, and am so glad I know more of their music. I am especially a fan of their guitar work, though the rest of the band are no slouches! This is another group I want to thank our northern neighbors for. Thanks, Canada!

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Go check out this great classic rock band, and happy listening!

 

P.S. If this isn’t the most 70’s picture, I’ll eat my hat*.

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*I won’t actually eat my hat. That would be weird. And indigestible.