Friday Five: Mandolin

Sometimes all you need to make a classic is a little bit of mandolin.

5. “The Battle of Evermore” (Led Zeppelin, 1971)
This might be the epitome of mandolin rock. What’s most impressive, I think, is that it’s the vocals that elevates the mandolin, turning some kind of play on an English country song into a a bonafide Zeppelin groove.

4. “Ripple” (Grateful Dead, 1970)
Measured in quantity, the mandolin is a small feature in this beloved Dead track (originally released as the B-side to “Truckin'”). Along with the playful guitars, simple drums, Jerry Garcia’s voice, and the ending choir sing-a-long, it’s part of a whole that’s bigger than the parts.

3. “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart, 1971)
Ray Jackson’s mandolin was an add-on to this pop hit, Stewart’s first big hit as a solo act. The mandolin compliments the album’s guitar preface, as well as Ron Wood’s 12-strong intro, not to mention the way it finds a musical hook to take us back to a more innocent time of youth.

2. “St. Teresa” (Joan Osborne, 1995)
Mandolin is not just for the early 70s! No, it was also a feature of the cafe sounds of the singer-songwriter mid-90s, the Gen x reboot of the early 70s. The first track off of Joan Osborne’s debut album is proof of that, as well as her creative string play.

1. “Losing My Religion” (R.E.M., 1991)
This is the pinnacle of Gen X mandolin. Perhaps that’s not saying much. But it’s a foundational part of this massive hit, the song that finished R.E.M.’s transformation from a “college rock” band into a popular, mainstream act. The feeling it provides the song is as important as the cryptic imagery of the video.

Friday Five: Music for the Movement

We’ve been here before. However bad it seems, our ancestors fought through much worse and carved out a road for justice. Now we pick up where they left off, aware that the fight has changed but our weapons–dignity, community, and love–have never been stronger.

Power to the people!

5. “Brand New Day” (The Staple Singers)
We gotta put our heads together / and see where we go from there / We got to fight for what we believe in / Somethin’s in the air!

4. “Everything is Everything” (Lauryn Hill)
Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail / To make a better situation / Tomorrow, tomorrow, our seeds will grow / All we need is dedication / Let me tell ya that

3. “Glory” (Common and John Legend)
Every day women and men become legends / Sins that go against our skin become blessings / The movement is a rhythm to us / Freedom is like religion to us / Justice is juxtapositionin’ us / Justice for all just ain’t specific enough

2. “Fight the Power!” (Public Enemy)
Got to give us what we want / Gotta give us what we need / Our freedom of speech is freedom or death / We got to fight the powers that be

1. “Better Way” (Ben Harper)
Reality is sharp it cuts at me like a knife / Everyone I know is in the fight of their life /
And I believe in a better way / Take your face out of your hands and clear your eyes / You have a right to your dream and don’t be denied / I believe in a better way

Friday Five: Blue

The Dodgers are moving on the face the Chicago Cubs in this year’s National League Championship Series. Why not enjoy some blue songs for my boys in blue?

5. “Blue Moon” (The Marcels, 1961)

4. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969)

3. “Forever in Blue Jeans” (Neil Diamond, 1978)

2. “Blue Suede Shoes” (Elvis, 1956)

1. “Blue Monday” (New Order, 1983)

Friday Five: 50 years old

Like most people, I love the music of my teen and early adult years. But my favorite music more often comes from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the era just before and right after my birth.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1966, one of those years that I love, a year that produced some of the most amazing works by a variety of musical artists. Like most years, it was a time of stark diversity. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” was the top single of the year, and Frank Sinatra had a hit with “Strangers in the Night” (the song that would win him his last non-honorary Grammy award, until his 1994 album Duets II). At the same time, the Beatles released Revolver, the Stones released Aftermath, and Dylan released Blonde on Blonde.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Here are five of my favorite songs from 1966:

5. “Paint It Black” (The Rolling Stones)

4. “Land of 1000 Dances” (Wilson Pickett)

3. “Hey Joe” (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

2. “Sunny” (Bobby Hebb)

1. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” (The Four Tops)

Friday Five: 80’s soundtracks

Yesterday, while working, I got a song in mind that I didn’t notice for awhile and then, when I did notice it, it wouldn’t leave. There’s no explaining why this song suddenly occupied my brain, but it did. The song was “Like a Cannonball,” a bad crossover attempt by the Spanish-language boy band Menudo.

“Like a Cannonball” is a piece of crap song that I knew because I was a fan of the 1984 piece of crap movie for which it was written, Cannonball Run 2 (starring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise). Aaaaanyway…it got me to thinking about all the good songs that came from bad 80s movies, too.

So here we are! Five songs that I do like, that came from 80s movies that were, well, not so good.

5. “Kiss” (Prince, 1986)
I was 14 when Prince’s second movie, Under the Cherry Moon, was released. My sister and I saw it on opening day because, well, Prince! I’m sure I was too young to understand what Prince was trying to do. As an adult, I get it, but the film still doesn’t work. The accompanying soundtrack album (Parade) not only hits it, it hits it big! It has two of my favorite Prince songs of all-time, including this massive hit.

4. “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” (Deniece Williams, 1984)
I don’t want to say that Footloose was a bad movie. The 12-year-old me LOVED it. The grown up me loves it, still, for both the nostalgia aspect of it but also for the corniness and the simplicity and the intensity of it all. It is what it is, as they say. Part of “what it is” was a vehicle for a whole bunch of MTV hits, not the least of which is the poppy dance song by Deniece Williams, still a great one for the GenX dance floor.

3. “Rhythm of the Night” (DeBarge, 1985)
The tropical influence, popular in the 80s, is all over this pop hit. There’s a lineage of soul and R&B greatness here, too, in the DeBarge family. I can see why some hated this song but it never bothered me. I loved it, and I still think it makes people happy when they hear it today. What most probably don’t remember is that it was from the film called The Last Dragon (actually titled Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon), a Motown produced film that blended African American life with the Kung Fu and supernatural genre. I loved it! LOVED IT! But I also know it was a piece of crap.

2. “Live to Tell” (Madonna, 1986)
I didn’t see At Close Range until I was in my 20s. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not overall that good. The acting is powerful, if not a little moody. Madonna’s song from the soundtrack (hubby Sean Penn was the star) was bigger than the movie, not only because the film bombed but also because the song was a massive hit. It’s one of my most favorite Madonna songs, a real change from what she sounded like before.

1. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (Tina Turner, 1985)
I have to admit that I liked the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. As a kid, I was too scared to watch the original Mad Max or the hit sequel The Road Warrior because I was pretty scared about violence in films. By 13 I was starting to like cinematic violence, and so this (very sanitized) sequel to the previous films attracted me. Plus, it had Tina Turner, a huge budget, and lots of teens in revealing frocks. It was probably made for my demographic, and it worked. I like it a lot. Time and taste being what they are, none of it holds up to my present-day eyes except for the kitsch factor. This hit song, however, which many might dismiss, is a real gem to me. It’s super overproduced (very indicative of the time) but the sheer talent of Tina Turner brings it home in a way nobody else could do. She elevates pop.

Friday Five: the Big 6!

Our youngest turns 6 years old this weekend! It’ll be a weekend of celebrating her bottomless energy, big heart, and adventurous spirit. Here’s a mix of five songs in honor of her big day…

5. “Believe” (Shawn Mendes)
“Everything is possible / There’s nothing we can’t do / It’s a wild and beautiful fire / And I believe in you!”

4. “Rainbow Connection” (Kermit the Frog/Jim Henson)
My little one shares a birthday with the great Jim Henson, who would have turned 80 years old this weekend. “What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see?”

3. “Firework” (Katy Perry)
“Boom, boom, boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon…”

2. “Wildside” (Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson)
“Don’t wanna live my life by design / Locked inside, breakin'”

1. “Take on the World” (Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard)
“On the edge of something wonderful…”

 

Friday Five: Mooning

The academic year is in full swing, and the family is cruising along in our routine of school and after-school activities. The nights are getting colder, and the days shorter.

And a big, beautiful harvest moon is rising in the sky…

5. “Moonglow” (Duke Ellington & his orchestra, 1934)
4. “Dancing in the Moonlight” (King Harvest, 1973)
3. “Bad Moon Rising” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969)
2. “Man on the Moon” (R.E.M., 1992)
1. “Moondance” (Van Morrison, 1970)