Seven Songs

The Seven Songs

  • “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan
  • “Inside a Boy” by My Brightest Diamond
  • “Spirits (Having Flown)” by Bee Gees
  • “A Letter to Both Sides” by The Fixx
  • “Elegie in C Minor, Op. 24” by Gabriel Faure
  • “Tel Que Tu Es” by Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • “Revolution Earth” by The B-52s

Bob Dylan

Professor Fury has tagged me with the “7 Songs You’re Into Right Now” meme, which is good because I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about how it’s only now, thirty years after I bought my first pop/rock record, that I’ve finally entered my Bob Dylan phase. I dismissed Dylan for so many years, mostly because of that voice, which I disliked to such an extent that it fooled me into thinking his songs lack melody. I was wrong on both accounts — about the voice (more on that in a second) and the songs, which are, on average, so impossibly good that I actually feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. I could easily name seven Bob Dylan songs that I’m into right now and be done with this damn post, but my wine glass is still more than half full, and, besides, that wouldn’t be much fun, now would it? And so I give you only “Boots of Spanish Leather” from The Times They Are A-Changin’, written in 1963, when Dylan was all of 22 years old. Such a lovely lyric and melody — better than anything crafted by many great songwriters over the course of a lifetime — but what kills me is the vocal performance, which makes the song sound like it’s a hundred years old.

My Brightest Diamond

To the short list of “Darren’s Dream Jobs” you can now add “Shara Worden‘s Bass Player.” My Brightest Diamond’s second album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth, will reach American store shelves on June 17th, and at this point I’m counting the days. If the first song from the album, “Inside a Boy,” is any indication, it won’t be a great departure from Bring Me the Workhorse, which is just fine by me. Joanna and I have played that album to death. This song is all about the bass line, which is deliriously syncopated and muddied with fuzz. Please play at high volumes.

Bee Gees

If at any point over the past three months you had found yourself in a room with me and a piano, chances are you would have already heard me ramble on about how great a song “Spirits (Having Flown)” is. No, really. You also would have heard me play and sing it. I can’t seem to stop. The lyrics are godawful, even by Barry Gibb standards, and this is one of the few instances where a disco-era Bee Gees song is hindered by the production. (The woodwinds in the bridge disappoint me every time.) But the song is amazing. That each verse includes three different Major-7 chords is enough to earn my affection, but what pushes “Spirits” into the realm of pop music brilliance is the melody, which uses those sevenths — even landing on them at the ends of phrases. (A great example is the short pause after “We go alone” around the 43 second mark. He finishes the phrase by singing an E over an F-Major chord.) “Spirits” also shifts constantly from minor to major tonalities. I especially like the G-Minor to F-Major to G-Major move in the chorus (from 1:37 to 1:43), which is followed immediately by a short key change and a complex but effortless-sounding transition back to the verse. Top-notch songwriting.

The Fixx

Joanna’s new car came with a free trial of XM radio, and I’ve been really enjoying FRED, which plays nothing but New Wave, Post Punk, and British pop of the late-’70s and ’80s. I never imagined I’d hear Husker Du and The Damned on the way to the grocery store. I tend to remember only the tinny, mechanical drumming of those pop records, but FRED has been a fun reminder of how interesting so much of the guitar playing was. Think of the Edge’s playing on War, for example, especially on “Drowning Man.” Or Johnny Marr on The Smiths’ records. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Greatest Hits of The Fixx. Jamie West-Oram has been their guitarist for nearly 30 years, apparently, and he’s a wonderfully tasteful and inventive player. “A Letter to Both Sides,” as I’ve learned while writing this post, was originally included on the Fletch soundtrack, which only adds to its awesomeness as far as I’m concerned. Aside from having the lamest 15-second intro you’re likely to hear in some time, it’s a fantastic song that’s built around a rhythm guitar part that wouldn’t be out of place on a Nile Rodgers record.

Gabriel Faure

Fifteen years ago, when Joanna and I were just beginning to know each other, she invited me to join her in a practice room at the Florida State Music School. I was finishing up my one year as a failed music composition major there, and she was taking cello lessons for fun. We hacked our way through some piece together for about fifteen minutes then spent the next two hours talking. I’m not sure why we never tried playing together again — not seriously, at least. She’s working on Faure’s “Elegie in C Minor, Op. 24” right now, and last week I decided to join her. We’ve only made it through the first twelve measures so far, but give us time. The cellist in this recording is Steven Isserlis, and the pianist is Pascal Devoyon, from Faure: Complete Cello Works.

Charlotte Gainsbourg

On the I’m Not There DVD, Todd Haynes admits that when he finally met Charlotte Gainsbourg in person, he’d never wanted so badly to be straight. I’ve listened to her album, 5:55, more than any other over the past three or four months, and this song, “Tel Que Tu Es,” never fails to make me . . . what’s the word? . . . horny. It’s an incredibly sexy song, right? All that breath in her voice, and the unapologetically lush string arrangement? Plus, I can’t not imagine Charlotte’s face when I hear the song. Lust at first sight.

The B-52s

And finally, I end with a joke — not the song, which was always my favorite of the B-52s’ comeback singles, but the reason it’s on my mind these days. But first, two warnings: One, I know this is a “you had to be there” kind of joke, and Two, of the forty people who read this site, maybe only two or three will get the reference. So, Joanna and I are driving around one night and “Revolution Earth” comes on the radio. At about the 30 second mark, Joanna, without looking up from her magazine, says, “Is this the song Gaeta was singing after they cut off his leg?” I almost wrecked the car I was laughing so hard.

I warned you.

Edit: A little more context for the joke.