I’m about to write about some of my favourite songs. I have a Top 20 list which varies in order. I will only address a few for reasons of avoiding tedium. I will address each song from a musicians perspective. To view any song for further insight simply click on the song title. A decent listening device is required for maximum effect.
The songs are listed randomly & I will no doubt re-think my decision once published. I do hope that you enjoy my selection and what hear & see.
- ‘It Makes No Difference’ This song was written by Robbie Robertson, a member of The Band who released the song but it really belongs to their bass player Rick Danko. The track is a ‘love gone wrong’ song & is one of the saddest songs that I have heard. I can’t listen to it if I’m feeling down. The song has no chorus but it flows from one change to the next seamlessly. To me it’s the combination of the lyrics & Dankos soulful vocals with timely falsettos almost make the music vanish. Every clip I have seen of this song, Danko puts in a 110% effort.
Danko suffered many addictions throughout his life. They caught up with him in his 50s when he became very bloated. This led to his tragic death in 1999 of heart failure at the age of 56. As much as I love his work, this musician feels that Danko had already given his best.
- ‘Highway To Hell’ This song by AC/DC became the swansong for their frontman, the late (Ronald) Bon Scott. The opening chords are almost reminiscent of Keith Richards but nobody can miss the tone off the Gibson SG of Angus Young. It starts off with just the guitar then drums then Scotts vocals as he screams wildly through the song. The rest of the band don’t come in until the first chorus. Scott steals the show as he sings about “….no stop signs. Speed limits,” & sings of when he gets to Hell, “….my friends are gonna be there too.”
It was as if the song was written for him as he was drinking himself to death. On viewing, to say Scott was mischievous is a gross understatement. Bon Scott looks dangerous!!! He looks like he really means it. The song ends with singing in a quiet quivering voice, “I’m on a highway to hell.” Ironic as this would be the last we would hear from Scott, Contrary to popular belief that he died of asphyxiation from excessive alcohol, he died of hypothermia whilst passed out in a car in England aged 33. Many close to him said that he wasn’t going to make old bones due to alcohol abuse. It was almost as if the song was written for him. “Hey mama. Look at me. I’m on my way to the promised land.”
- “What’s Up” This track by the ‘4 Non Blondes’ is about self realisation, maturing and how confusing & frustrating it can be. Musically the song is very basic. There are only 3 chords. It relies on musical dynamics but the key to the song is the vocals of Linda Perry. I have chosen a live version so that you can hear the raw talent of the band, Perry in particular, without added studio effects.
Perry’s vocals rise & fall dependent on the lyrics that she’s singing at the times. She can go from silky smooth & mellow to falsetto to screaming highs in 3 breaths, again, all dependent on what part of the song she’s singing. When she’s being philosophical her silky smooth voice, combined with excellent falsetto are excellent such as when she reaches parts in the song where she sings, “I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed, just to let it all out. What’s in my head.” She goes on to add, “I must say, I feel a little peculiar.” When she reaches parts where sings, “I scream at the top of my lungs, what’s going on!” She REALLY screams it. Note perfect.
Perry went on to record a successful solo album & today dismisses the album from which ‘What’s Up’ as being “….shiny, glossy (expletive).” She has produced albums for Pink & Lady Ga Ga & has directed a movie. She didn’t know that she could sing until she was quite old by musicians standards. Prior to this she has admitted to abusing every drug except heroin & being an alcoholic. She was born in 1965 & I suspect we will hear more from her.
- ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ This track by The Rolling Stones was released as a single in 1968 & to my mind is the first classic rock song. I think it outshines Dylans ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as it is more raw & more guitar based. The combination of Bill Wymans soaring bass, the raw & raunchy guitars of Brian Jones & Keith Richards, all driven by the drums of workman-like drums of Charlie Watts. The in comes Mick Jaggers cat-like vocals purring out what can only be called mythical lyrics.
The song was released between albums as the band felt that it was too good for an album. I think that they got it right. The only album that the song can be found on are a multitude of compilation albums. To me, a Stones fanatic, the song came out about 6 years before the band peaked. I think Mick Taylor gave them a fresher sound. When he left & Ronnie Wood joined, it wasn’t long the band became samey. After several decades I imagine it would be different to remain fresh.
- ‘Without You’ This song is by Harry Nilsson & like ‘It Makes No Difference’ I can’t listen to this song very often. I actually threw the CD out whilst drunk many years ago….shortly after my divorce. Before doing this it initially made me cry. I guess it was a stupid move playing the song but alcohol & logic don’t know each other. Then I became ‘numb drunk’ and began to analyze it (for hours). It’s a masterpiece. The arrangement & orchestration is ahead of its time. Then there”s the voice of Harry Nillson. It apparently took many attempts to get Nilsson to do it. Several versions were attempted when Nilsson finally settled for the released version. I can’t imagine anyone else singing it.
On first or casual listening both verses sound the same. They are far from it. The prominent piano fades to the background and the vocal harmonies in verse 2 are drastically different. Not only are they drastic. They are not standard harmonies. They are quite unorthodox & quite difficult to do but Nilsson does it in spades. It was a masterstroke. I re-visit the song occasionally on Youtube.
- A Thousand Miles Away This song is by Australian rock band ‘The Hoodoo Gurus.’ about a travelling salesman working for himself and how he needs a 30-hour day & is always on the move.
The song begins slowly with singer & guitarist Dave Faulkner describing the start off the mans day. “Estimated time off arrival 9.30am. I’m up before the sun & now I’m tired before I even begin.” At this stage it’s only Faulkner and a keyboard, to me signifies the mans loneliness & tiredness as he enters yet another busy day. Then enters subtle backing vocals with a clever use of flanger singing “When you’re flying,” reinforcing his impending plane flight. The clip goes on to show the man trying to sell his wares during the elongated intro.
Faulkner goes on to sing about the amount of time the subject spends a lot of time in airports or in bars to kill time between flights. Then, “Now you’re flying,” is subtly reinforced. The man needs to find a room for the night. “I’d rather be 1,000 miles away,” sings Faulkner. The song then kicks off, full steam ahead with a sharp series of chords by guitarist Brad Shepherd who interestingly uses a Gibson Sunburst guitar as opposed to his trademark Fender Telecaster. I suspect this is to give the song a sharper, more cutting, feel. It works. The song is pumping.
The song goes on to describe the pitfalls of working for yourself. “Now you’re flying,” continues as a theme. Irony me thinks. During footage of his wife, Faulkner sings, “I might arrive but I’ll be gone the very next day. I must bee on my way.” As the song pumps along the theme of yesterday being a thousand miles away & I’d rather be a thousand miles away, the band adds recurring flanged vocals, “A thousand miles away.” By this point the song has reached its crescendo at exactly the right time. Each band member is giving their all and the song is like a runaway train telling a story.
- Strawberry Fields Forever There are so many songs by The Beatles that I took an age to decide which one to pick. Actually, although not a fan of theirs, I don’t think the releases a bad song. I went to bed last night & went through all of their songs. On waking, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ jumped straight into my head.and that was that.
I gave it quite a few listens with a musicians ear & was surprised at how basic it is musically. Lyrically I suspect that it is LSD inspired. There’s the occasional normal line but for the best part it is non-sensical or ‘trippy’ (man). If you take away all of the special studio effects and unorthodox orchestral arrangement by producer George Martin, you’re left with very basic instrumentation except for the drums (I’ll address them last). The guitars and bass lines are rather simple. The knack that The Beatles had for instrumentation was phenomenal. Where to play and more importantly where not to play. George Harrison & John Lennon weren’t particularly outstanding, or even that good, guitarists but the knew when not to play. Paul McCartney was a phenomenal bass player. The song also has a catchy melody. Lennon & McCartney had a knack for writing ‘catchy’ tunes. There were very few of them deep but they were catchy. Maybe that’s why I’m not that big a fan.
Finally the drumming. My brother has been a drummer for well over 30 years & even he can’t get it down exactly like Ringo Starr (the most under-rated drummer in the world). I watched a doco on the recording of the song & producer George Martin, who previously worked with orchestras got the orchestral part together as easily as he got the effects part down. The guitars & bass were well rehearsed & they too were done in no time. Ringo was the only one with hard work to do. After 30-plus takes, George Martin remained undecided on what take to use. He asked Ringo what take he thought was best. Instantly Ringo said, “Take 2,”…..& that’s what listening to today. What a memory. What a mind. Probably the hardest song ever to drum to & Ringo picked the best take instantly.