57. The B-52's - Love Shack

It's the fourth wedding that you've gone to in the last six months. Your college roommate's brother; then your little sister (man that was a great one, but that's another story); a guy from work you don't even like, but everyone was going; and now it's a good friend from high school who finally found the right girl. The wedding was okay. Boring but quick, so you can't argue too much. Now you're at the reception and the music's started. Your college roommate is actually the DJ, just mixing songs on his computer. There have been cool songs that you never expected ("Just Like Heaven" by The Cure) and lots of standards. You've done your dancing for the night and sit down for your fourth beer and then it comes on. "If you see a painted sign at the side of the road that says fifteen miles to the love shack!" Your DJ buddy looks at you and smiles, knowing he's got you. Smiling back, you head back to the dance floor, even though this song's been played at all four wedding receptions. And you danced and sang along every single time.

The B-52's had been one of the disputed champs of the "Funnest Song of All Time" category with their hit "Rock Lobster" until they decided that they'd take the title outright with the release of "Love Shack." It's a song that starts out fun and stays that way for the entire song. They never take themselves too seriously, unless you're talking about having a good time. In that regard, they're as serious as a heart attack. The B-52's have never written songs to be popular, but you'd think they'd have known that they had a great pop hit in "Love Shack." Not true. It wasn't the first single from their new (at the time) album Cosmic Thing. It wasn't even the second. Third time is the charm, and thank god they did release it.

It starts with that great drum fill and then plenty of hand claps. In all the B-52's songs, they have three singers: Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson. They all share lead singing responsibilities for all of the band's stuff. So Fred starts it off with that awesome "If you see a painted sign..." line. The other thing that I love that the band does is that they're not afraid to have both of the ladies sing the same melody, rather than always doing some kind of harmony thing. It adds a richness to the melodies that they do, and it really adds a lot to the one for "Love Shack." Guitarist Keith Strickland plays that great guitar throughout the whole song and the effects that they use for the guitar sound add to the party atmosphere of the song.

The lyrics are pure fun. Staying with the not-taking-themselves-too-seriously thing. Here are some great little tidbits of fun:

I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20
So hurry up and bring your jukebox money


Huggin' and a kissin', dancin' and a lovin', wearin' next to nothing
Cause it's hot as an oven
The whole shack shimmies! The whole shack shimmies when everybody's
Movin' around and around and around!

Then they break it down and give a little shout out to the Isley Brothers and their contender for "Funnest Song Ever," "Shout." (Get it? A little "shout" out? Man, I crack myself up...)

Bang bang bang on the door baby! Knock a little louder baby! Bang bang bang on the door baby! I can't hear you
Bang bang bang on the door baby!

The coda ends with one of those lines that everyone thought they knew, but weren't really sure about. Cindy screams out, "Your're what?!!!!!... Tin roof, rusted!" Tin roof, rusted? It wasn't until the internet that I knew what the hell that was all about. The song is a tribute to an old shack that they used to work in out in the middle of nowhere. It did indeed have a tin roof, but that's not where the line came from. "Tin roof rusted" is Southern slang for a woman being with child. So the "You're what?!!!" is Fred's exclamation at finding out that she's pregnant. God I love the internet.

The B-52's have always been a fun party band and "Love Shack" was their coup-de-grace that put them over the top and earned them entry into the Party Band Hall of Fame (if it were to exist). So we may have all heard this song in the tens of thousands, but it refuses to get stale. There may be some times when you think you've had enough of it and you swear it off forever. "That's it! I can't take it anymore! No more Love Shack!" But then you go to your college roommate's wedding......

(Fun Fact #119: If you get a chance check out another great (and seriously funny) song from Fred Schneider's solo album Fred Schneider and the Shake Society. It's a song called "Summer in Hell" and it's about how hell can't be all that bad because all of your friends are going to be there anyway. The lyrics are genius and as always, it's a really fun song. I couldn't find it on Youtube, but if you search for it and find it, I promise you won't be disappointed.)

(Fun Fact #323: There actually is a "love shack," or at least there was. The inspiration for this song comes from a shack that Kate Pierson's family had in the Georgia woods. It didn't have a bathroom or running water, but they could play their music as loud as they wanted, and that made up for all of it. They actually wrote "Rock Lobster" there and it always had a special place in the band members hearts. Unfortunately, the love shack burned down in a fire in 2004.)

(Not really a fun fact, but I have to give a shout out to an old buddy of mine from high school, Ramon Nasol. I was always jealous of him because he could pull off a scarf when it just made me look stupid. Haven't really talked to him much since, but you gotta love that Facebook makes it so easy to reconnect with old high school friends. So in honor of Ramon and all my other high school friends, I'm peggin' my jeans to show off my awesome new Reeboks!)

58. David Bowie - Golden Years

David Bowie is one of those people in popular rock music who almost seems timeless. You look at pictures of him today and he looks uncannily like the guy that stormed onto the music scene in the late sixties. Throughout the years, he's changed styles of music not at the whim of popular music, but at whatever musical style he wanted to explore. He's gone from eclectic rock to fashion rock to popular rock to electronic rock all the while remaining true to his own style. He's got that great voice that can hit multiple octaves, giving him tremendous versatility with what he can do in any given song. And he's devilishly handsome to boot.

"Golden Years" comes from his 1975 album Station to Station, but it sounds much more akin to the music that appeared on his previous album Young Americans. It's almost as if "Golden Years" didn't make the cut for Young Americans but then Bowie rethought it. Actually, "Golden Years" was the first song he wrote for Station to Station, so it's understandable that it has a lot in common with the earlier album. It has that soul and funk infused feel to it that many songs on Young Americans have, but "Golden Years" is their superior.

It starts with that great rock/funk riff that longtime Bowie collaborator Carlsos Alomar came up with during the studio sessions. There's that quirky horn that just randomly pops up, adding to the feel that the whole song was just made up on the spot. Same with the "whop, whop, whop" vocals. They add to the casual nature of both the pacing of the song and the playing of it, as do the hand claps. But don't be fooled. There's some great musicianship here, with Alomar continuing derivations of the original riff. Throughout the song, there are two guitar parts playing at the same time, doing a great job of complimenting each other. And the drums play a more rock beat than a complicated funk/soul beat, helping give the other musicians the freedom to shine.

The lyrics address the theme that so many great songs deal with - missed opportunities and taking what you have for granted. Early in the song, Bowie talks to his "angel" about appreciating what you have and enjoying the life that's going on around you.

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Look at that sky, life's begun
Nights are warm and the days are young

Later on, though, it's clear that the urging went unheeded.

Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel

Come get up my baby
In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine
Come get up my baby

He's still trying to encourage his angel, even when his warnings were ignored. So many people in relationships try to get the other to appreciate the things that they have in life instead of overreaching for unattainable things and focusing on the negative. Most of us have probably been there, which gives the lyrics of "Golden Years" that universality that so many great songs have. We can all relate to it because it's happened to us.

We've all had friends or lovers who were lost but ignored the help we tried to give them. But it doesn't stop David Bowie from trying again and again in "Golden Years," just like we keep trying with those we love. That's what makes great songs like this great. Lyrics you can relate to and music you just can't stop humming. "Whop Whop Whop."

(Fun Fact #84 - David Bowie originally wrote the song to be recorded by another artist whose voice he thought would work well with the melody he came up with. You may even hear the influence of the artist in the way Bowie sings the song. The artist? None other than Elvis Presley. The King rejected the song, and Bowie went on to make it his own US Top 10 hit.)

(Fun Fact #51 - There's a great scene in the movie A Knight's Tale, where they have a dance scene that has a chamber music version of "Golden Years" that morphs into the regular version of the song. The dancing also morphs from the chamber dancing of the middle ages to a much more modern choreographed feel. I love the way they mixed the music and transitioned the dancing. I couldn't help but put the video here so you could enjoy it too. Here you go...)

59. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Starting out like it might be a classical piano concerto, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" is a shining example of the progressive rock era. The only thing that it has going against it is that the song isn't nine minutes long in three parts, but it has the strange lyrics and musical complexity in spades. The piano slowly builds as the other instruments join in, with Peter Gabriel exclaiming, "And the lamb lies down on Broadway!"

The song comes from the album of the same name, which is a concept album (actually, a double album) whose subject matter is a bit ethereal. Lyrically, lots of progressive rock songs are ridiculous (yeah, I'm talking to you, "Starship Trooper") and "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," both the song and the album that shares its name is no exception. I had to copy this directly from Wikipedia because the person who wrote it presumably did do with a straight face. I, however, couldn't hep from LOLing my AO. "The album tells the surreal story of a half-Puerto Rican juvenile delinquent named Rael living in New York City, who is swept underground to face bizarre creatures and nightmarish dangers in order to rescue his brother John." Of course. Half-Puerto Rican. I should've known. What really cheeses me is that they don't specify the other side of Rael's lineage. Half-Puerto Rican and what? But wait. It gets better. "Several of the story's occurrences and places were derived from Peter Gabriel's dreams, and"... "in this context, Rael would believe he is looking for John but is actually looking for a missing part of himself." Man, I need some pot, and fast.

Actually I don't smoke pot, but if I did, either these posts would be a lot shorter, or a lot longer (if that's even possible).

Anyway, back to the song. As musically interesting as this song is, Genesis has done much more complex arrangements in their career (and even on this album), but they didn't try to do too much in this song. The band knew they had a great melody and didn't want to mess with it by adding superfluous musical accompaniment. Still, that doesn't stop keyboardist Tony Banks from earning his paycheck with the opening and with his work in the rest of the song. And while in this incarnation of Genesis, Phil Collins is "just the drummer," he really shows why he's always been underrated as a drummer.

Guitars on this album were done primarily by Steve Hackett, with Mike Rutherford (who did both guitar and bass parts when the band became a threesome) handled the bass guitar work and twelve string guitars. With this primarily a keyboard driven song, their work is more supporting rather than "best performance in a lead role" type stuff. Still, Hackett and Rutherford add their own distinctive styles to the song and give you more to listen to than it at first seems.

The lyrics reflect the a more gritty, mean streets state than what you'd normally expect on a progressive rock album.

And out on the subway,
Rael imperial aerosol kid
Exits into daylight, spraygun hid,

There are all sorts of lyrical images that evoke New York in the 70's, not the gentrified version you'd see if you were to go today.

Nightime's flyers feel their pains.
Drugstore take down the chains.
Metal motion comes in bursts,
The gas station can quench that thirst.

It's almost as if they're trying to do the music for a Martin Scorsese film. It's another example of how Genesis can't easily be lumped in with the fantasy sci-fi prog rock camp as easily as you'd think. Oh, sure, they've done their bit in the past, but The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway throws all of the old rules out the window.

Two-thirds in, the music changes and slows down to a more mellow pace, giving the song that "song within a song" feel that so many rock songs of this era have. But then the song returns to its faster pace as they race to the end, returning to the melody that caught you in the first place.

Peter goes on to briefly crib a bit of the Drifters' hit, "On Broadway" (although I know it more from the musical "All That Jazz").

On Broadway -
They say the lights are always bright on Broadway.
They say there's always magic in the air.

Then the song starts to fade and transition into "Fly on a Windshield" and is done. As strange a lyrical ride as it might have been, the guys in Genesis put a great song together. It's a song that has its title (and accompanying melody) stick in your head long after you've heard it. And then you want to hear it again.

(Interesting Fact #234: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is Peter Gabriel's last album as a member of Genesis. Even though he came up with the story and wrote most of the lyrics, he was spending a lot of time with his wife (who was going through a difficult pregnancy) and Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford ended up doing the lion's share of the music writing on the album, foreshadowing the Genesis that would come.)

60. Cheap Trick - I Want You to Want Me

I had to do some research to find out what other Cheap Trick album this song was on other than 1978's Live from Budokan, because I didn't think I'd even heard the album version. Turns out it was released on their 1977 effort, In Color. Truth be told, I'm not sure I've ever heard the album version, so ubiquitous the album version has become. So again, there's a specific version of the song I'm talking about, but since it's the one that everyone knows anyway, it's not that much of a request.

There's an interesting story behind the song and its popularity. When In Color was released, they did, in fact, release "I Want You to Want Me." It didn't even make the Billboard Top 100, and it had some weird honky-tonk piano in it. It was a flop. But when it was released in Japan, it became a #1 hit, and a huge #1 hit at that. They were so big in Japan that prior to the Budokan show, they were asked to stay in their hotel (and not even look out the windows) for fear of causing a riot. It was a song that they didn't even play at their stateside concerts, but knew they had to for the Japanese audience. Then at the actual show, the mostly female audience shrieked (but in that good way) during the entire show and sang along, creating a great live recording. Live at Budokan was released in Japan and sold incredibly well. Some American DJs got wind of the record and began playing the live version of "I Want You to Want Me." Live at Budokan ended up becoming the biggest selling import of all time before it was released in the United States. The rest, as they say, is history, with Cheap Trick going on to sell millions more and tour the world again and again.

The live version starts with lead singer Robin Zander simply introducing the next song, saying, "And this next song is called: I want you.... to want me!" Then drummer Bun E. Carlos (who, to me always looked like one of the guy's dads who gave them the money for their original demo in exchange for being the drummer). Guitarist Rick Nielsen called it "...our silly pop song. Four guys, three chords." and he's completely right. But it's that simplicity that gives you the feeling that you've heard it before, even when listening to it for the first time. Like all great pop songs, it's got that boom-boom-pow sensibility that starts with the drums and then is carried on by Nielsen's guitars.

Singer Robin Zander does what solid lead singers do, play rhythm guitar. But Zander does it in that typical lead singer way - he plays it only when he absolutely has to, like when Nielsen tears off on a solo. It's just like when Bono picks up a guitar. It's mostly a prop, but he'll play when he's gottta. But just when you think that everything is straightforward, you get a peek of Tom Petersson's bass. That sucker's got twelve strings on it! Sure you see 12 string guitars every once in a while, but Petersson took it to a new level by giving his bass guitar so much more depth to it, giving "I Want You to Want Me" some extra texture to pump up the musical simplicity of it.

The song has that souped-up do-wop feel reminiscent of early rock n roll. It's a simple melody and straightforward lyrics but there's the extra layer of guitar distortion that they didn't have back then that gives "I Want You to Want Me" its fresh sound. You even get the Japanese girls screaming the lyrics ("Cryin'! Cryin'! Cryin'!") that gives this recording a "Beatles on Ed Sullivan" feel to it.

The lyrics remind me of those early Beatles songs, too:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin' you to beg me.

But to be honest, until I just looked the lyrics up, I just mangled this next line (the one that he sings really fast)

Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'.

I've listened for years and all I ever had right was the feelin' and the dyin'. Everything else was a mystery to me.

But what isn't a mystery is that "I Want You to Want Me" is one of the greatest pop songs ever. It's a song that sounds as fresh and new over thirty years later and if you're anything like me, when this song comes on the radio, you're not only listening, but you're turning it up and singing along. "Feelin' something something something something something dyin'..."

(Fun Fact #64 - I couldn't do a post on Cheap Trick without talking about (and showing) some of Rick Neilsen's crazy guitars. Rick started out as a kid with a stamp collection and a baseball card collection, so when he got into music, he just followed the next logical step. Here are some of his great ones...)

61. Sly and the Family Stone - Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

While my two brothers and I were huge music fans and had some natural ability to play things and had great ears for music, we never took it to the next level and bothered learning to play any instrument well and start a band. Then again, that never stopped Sid Vicious, who may just possibly be the worst bass player in the history of recorded music. Maybe if we had, you'd have bought one of our Scotto and the Family Walker albums, just now being rereleased on vinyl by Rhino Records. We could've been the white boy funk fest superstars, a la the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But it was never meant to be. Luckily, though, Sly started a band that featured his brother and sister that took the early style of funk laced soul that James Brown and Jr. Walker and the All Stars did and took it to its next incarnation.

The finest example of their funk revolution is Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It's a song that just barely makes this list, because it was released just a month after I was born. Also, the song that would become one of their greatest and most influential hits doesn't appear on any of their studio albums. They were working on an album that never got finished, but they knew "Thank You" was a winner. So they released it as a single and it later ended up on their first greatest hits record.

It starts out with a great funk intro with bassist Larry Graham slapping his bass like it stole his lunch money. At the time, it was a new technique for bass playing, and funk music wouldn't be the same without it. You've also got the horn section that takes the jazzy arrangements of their predecessors and turns it on its head. The guitar playing reminds me of disco, but then I'm reminded that this is about eight years before disco. And in the same song, you can hear two different guitars playing unique styles, and for someone who's a big guitar fan, it's almost an embarrassment of riches. Musically, the song has a lot going on, but the melody of the words is simplicity itself. It's basically the same phrasing repeated until you get to the chorus. It doesn't take away from the great music playing in the background. And the singing is just everyone stepping up to a microphone and helping out.

For a band that started with positive uplifting songs like "Everyday People" and "Dance to the Music," the lyrics take a more somber turn in "Thank You." The unabashed enthusiasm and optimism has been tempered by the life that they've led in between, and it shows in the lyrics:

Want to thank you for the party, I could never stay
Many things is on my mind, words in the way

Want to thank you falettinme be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme be mice elf agin

The way they spelled the "for letting me be myself again" goes to show you that things are no longer the same for Sly and his disenchantment confuses him. He wants everything to be the way it was, but is resigned that they never will be. So there's a bit of snideness to his thank you, like when your roomate returns your car that he borrowed unharmed, but with vapors in the tank. "Yeah, thanks" you say, as he tosses your keys to you and heads back to his room for a nap. Maybe I'm reading waaaay to much into the lyrics, but the tone is definitely more heavy than their earlier songs. But you can see that newfound pessimism in these lyrics:

Youth and truth are makin' love
Dig it for a starter
Dyin' young is hard to take
Sellin' out is harder

There's more meat on these lyrical bones than Sly and the Family Stone had ever had before, and I, for one, liked it. Happy songs are great, and I generally love listening to them, but they generally won't make you think too much about the deeper things in life.

The music for "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" brought me to the table, but the lyrics helped keep me there. It wasn't until my late teens that I first heard this song, and I'm glad it wasn't until I was a bit older and was emotionally capable to get more out of the lyrics. The thirteen year-old in me wants "Everyday People," but the twenty (and now forty) year-old in me wants to listen to "Thank You." And if I have to choose one, well, you know how this one ends. #61. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

Fun Fact #531 (Even if you've never heard this song before, you probably have. The music is the sampled basis for Janet Jackson's 1991 hit, "Rhythm Nation")