42. The Clash - Clampdown

The Clash is one of those bands where I was a little too young to really appreciate when their albums came out. Sure I liked "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", but I didn't really get them. Then, in the 90's it became fashionable for people of my age (and even teenagers) to say that they've been fans of cool bands since way back when. The Clash was definitely one of those bands. Slap on a vintage t-shirt you got off of ebay and talk about how you wish you could've seen them live. Never one to strive for being cool, I mostly left my exposure to The Clash exactly as it had been way back when.

In the last few years, however, as the coolness factor of being into older punk bands waned, I decided to give The Clash a serious look. Now as I write this, I realize that not listening to more Clash because it was deemed cool was just as stupid and arbitrary as the people who did listen to them because it was cool. So I guess I owe The Clash an apology for waiting so long. Then again, since I would now list their album London Calling as probably one of my top 20 albums of all time, I guess we're even.

Since this isn't a listing of top albums of my lifetime, I chose my favorite song off of my favorite Clash album. "Clampdown" starts off like your typical punk song - wail of feedback, drummer counting everyone in, but then takes a strange turn. The chord progression turns way more poppy, even having some keyboards in the background and there's the muffled spoken word bit that you can't really understand. The way drummer Topper Headon plays his high hat, added on top of the keyboards actually reminds me of early Duran Duran. But then lead singer Joe Strummer screams out, "What are we gonna do now?" and the song returns to its punk rock direction, albeit with that pop sensibility that many punk bands spat on. The other bands would scream their way through songs and playing with basic instrumentation turned all the way up and distorted to all hell, a la The Sex Pistols. But The Clash took punk rock to a new level, adding layers of complexity and musicianship on top of the basic punk sensibility.

The verses are much more punk rock, the drum simply keeping time as the guitar adds the punches. Bassist Paul Simonon actually gets to play the most intricate parts of the verses, picking his way all around the melody. Since The Clash had a lead singer who could actually play guitar as well, guitarist Mick Jones gets a chance to add some flavor from the top part of the guitar's neck, playing some high fills. Joe sings the verses with a very punk style, but the melody that he sings is more pop than punk and when you add Mick Jones' harmonies, it's clear that this is not your typical punk rock band.

But instead of going to your usual chorus, they go into this bizarre, yet gripping bridge that guitarist Mick Jones sings, completely changing the feel of the song. There's an almost Latin, yet reggae feel to it. You've got bongos and a little disco guitar added in, but it still works within of the context of the song. There are time signature changes throughout the song that help add to the overall complexity and diversity that they were going for. It's almost as if they were trying to win a contest to try and fit as many musical styles into a single song as was possible, while still having it sound like a cohesive song.

The end of the song may just be my favorite part. There's some harmonics that Mick plays while another Mick, session keyboardist Mick Gallagher, plays a very busy hammond organ part until song's end. A hammond organ in a punk song? Awesome! I also love the "Ha! Git along, git along" that Joe adds a few times in the song's last minute. It's just one of those great punctuations that some singers add in songs and in this case, it really works for me. As the song fades, they slow things down and slowly fade out song elements until just a cowbell takes you out. And there's nothing more punk rock than a cowbell, right?

So throughout a single three minute and forty nine second song, The Clash gives you four different, yet distinct styles of music and each is played brilliantly. But even so, it still feels like one song. It's a complete idea that just uses different methods of playing to get you through it, while maintaining the singular cohesiveness of the song itself. It's an amazing feat that makes me listen to this song at least once a week, because I can still hear new and cool things that I may not have noticed before.

So I guess I need to find my new Clash and listen to a band that I always had a cursory interest in but never gave them a full shake.  Aw, hell, I guess I gotta go buy a Grateful Dead album now, don't I?

(Fun Fact #75: For as much hoopla they get in the pantheon of punk rock, The Sex Pistols as band released only one studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols.  Less than six months after its release, they broke up.  This is a legendary punk band?  I don't think so.  They couldn't hold a candle to The Clash's.  The Sex Pistols are the Hanson of punk rock.  But at least Hanson could play their own instruments - and they were, like, twelve.)

43. Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

There are two covers on my list that are artists doing songs that others recorded first.  As I was putting the list together, I thought that it wasn't fair to the original artists who wrote a song to put someone on my list who just did a cover version of it.  So I left the covers off of my list and kept ranking songs, trying to finalize things.  As I was listening to song after song, most of the covers that I was contemplating stayed off the list, but two kept popping their heads back into mine.  At first, I was dismissive, holding true to my notion that no cover deserved to be on this list, especially when I was eliminating every song Bob Dylan wrote and performed simply because I couldn't take his voice seriously as a vocalist.  My lines held all the covers at bay, but two finally made it through the front lines and deep into the enemy territory of my brain and I was hopeless to resist.  They made it through for two reasons.  First, when you think of that song, this is the version that is the definitive one.  Secondly, the artists that cover these two songs are prolific songwriters that could have other songs of theirs on this list if it weren't for these brilliant covers.

"Hallelujah," by Jeff Buckley is the first of the two.  The song was originally written and performed by legendary songwriter Leonard Cohen.  Leonard's voice is much more gravelly, a la Tom Waits, and it just doesn't fit the song as well.  And I'm just being nice.  Here's what the editors at Amazon.com had to say:  "If ever an artist deserved the tribute-album treatment, it's Leonard Cohen, an intermittently fascinating songwriter but perhaps the worst singer to ever release more than one major-label album. Cohen has never written a song which couldn't be improved by someone else singing it, and it's no coincidence that he's been the subject of three (ed. note:  now four) tribute albums."

On one of the tribute albums, Tower of Song, U2's Bono does his version of "Hallelujah," a funky spoken word version with a falsetto chorus.  Now there's no bigger U2 fan than me, but Jeff Buckley's voice fits the song "Hallelujah" much better.  His voice has that ethereal, angelic feel to it that suits the melody and especially the lyrics.  On top of that, he plays a great bluesy guitar that compliments his vocals.  For the entire song (almost seven minutes long), it's just Jeff and his guitar.  You almost feel like you've intruded on a personal moment, so moving is his rendition.

The lyrics are pure poetry, and that's appropriate since Leonard Cohen started out as a poet before moving on to songwriting.  The song is about disillusionment with God, all of mankind, and a combatant lover and the loss of passion.  So pretty much everybody and everything.  The first couple of verses deal with the story of King David composing a prayer of hallelujah to God that was pleasing to the Almighty (and the reason he had to come up with it in the first place) and the singer telling the story to his lover.

I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you

Well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah

The second verse describes the scene in the Old Testament's 2nd Samuel where King David sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof of another building.   of Goliath decides he must have her, ignoring the fact that she's married to one of his generals.  Not only goes he ignore her marital status, he goes on to send her husband into a battle where he knows he will be slaughtered.  Now that her husband was out of the way, David was free to add Bathsheba to his own stable of wives.  And in perhaps the greatest understatement of the Old Testament, "but the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."  Yeah, I would think so.

You can tell that the singer wants so desperately to believe in the power of hallelujahs, but the hypocrisy he sees in religion and relationships makes him doubt if they can be found.  Jeff sings it with a combination of reverence, hope and yet some serious heartbreak.  How a singer can encompass all those emotions in just a few vocal phrases just blows me away.  The way he delivers the line, "but you don't really care for music, do you?" with such tenderness and disappointment at the same time moves me.  " 'Hallelujah' can be joyous or bittersweet, depending on what part of it you use," Leonard Cohen's publisher once said, and it's true.  With Jeff's vocals echoing that sentiment, it can both be uplifting and depressing, depending on your mood at the time and what part of the song you pay specific attention to.

Jeff plays the guitar in a bluesy style that gives it an almost casual, lazy feel to it.  It's like he's just sitting there singing, and he's so disheartened about what he's singing about that he might just not be able to play the next few guitar notes.  It's like the pianist that plays Chopin's Prelude in E-Minor (op. 28 no. 4) with such soul that it almost makes you cry.  I envy Jeff's talent on the guitar and when you add his vocal talents on top of it, well that's what puts a song like this on a list like this.  It's a song that moves me every single time that I listen to it.

(Things That Annoy Me #4:  I was talking about how Jeff played his guitar in an almost casual, lazy manner.  In today's lexicon, people who want to sound smart will use the term laissez-faire when they're talking about someone's lackadaisical attitude to something, because laissez sounds like lazy.  The problem is that the term laissez-faire has nothing to do with laziness, but is a term in economics that describes a condition where industry is free from government intervention.  I know I'm the only one that cares, but man, that bugs me.)

(Fun Fact #127:  If you were listening to the song and was wondering to yourself where you'd heard it before, you're not crazy.  The song has been used prominently in nine network shows:  The West Wing, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, The O.C., House, Criminal Minds, ER, Third Watch and LAX.)

44. James Taylor - Sweet Baby James

Timing is everything if you believe the popular notion.  My wife was sitting next to me in bed and asked if I could take a break from my "list" and do a song that was near and dear to her.  "Could you do an entry on "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor?"  What she didn't realize at the time is that James Taylor was already on my list and was next in line for me to do.  So her timing couldn't have been better.  I would have done it for her regardless of where James Taylor was on my list, but her bringing up when she did gave me the chills a little bit.

James Taylor is one of those people whose music transcends musical styles and tastes.  People from all walks of life are James Taylor fans.  President Obama is one.  Your mom is one.  My wife is one.  And you probably are, too.  His voice is like molasses, giving every line that he sings a richness and sweetness that makes you want more.  And with "Sweet Baby James" we are given all we've ever wanted in a song.  With every line that he sings, he weaves a richer and richer storyline that we wish were written for us.  There are songs (like "Colorful" by The Verve Pipe) that I wish I had written, but I wish James had written "Sweet Baby James" for me.  Although the album Sweet Baby James was released in February of 1970, it was recorded in December of 1969 in Los Angeles.  Just a month earlier, I was born within ten miles of the studio where he recorded it.  So although the song was written for his nephew (who was named after him), part of me wishes that it had been written for me.

It has that affect on you.  He sings it as a combination of campfire cowboy song and lullaby, and we wish he was singing it for us, but I guess, to a certain degree, he is.  The song started as an idea that came to him to write a lullaby for his nephew.  He was driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike headed to see him for the first time, with the fresh snow all around on the ground.  The symbolism of the unblemished snow and the life of a brand new baby came easy to James on the drive up.  Seeing a new family member for the first time has a profound affect on you.  It's a momentous occasion and you want to remember it forever and make it special.  So this was James' way of doing that.  He had the idea of a lullaby but wanted to expand on it a bit.  Little boys always like cowboys, so he added the cowboy imagery to the first two verses, but it's still a lullaby through and through.  And although it was indeed a song written for his namesake, there are autobiographical aspects to the song, since he and his nephew share the same name.  So he's singing himself to sleep as well.  And he sings it with just him and his guitar, without any extra production or pretense.  That simplicity was daring, but it pays off in so many ways.

"Sweet Baby James" is the song that my wife sings to my sons when they're having trouble going to sleep.  It's their lullaby.  She sits in the rocker with one of them in her arms, softly singing in his ear, "There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range..." as they almost instantly calm down at the sound of her voice.  There are many times that I stand just outside the door in the dark and listen to my wife sing one of my sons to sleep.  It fills me with a tremendous feeling of love, for both of them.  It's a tender moment that I almost feel bad that I'm intruding on, but I just can't help it.  I'm sure it embarrasses her to find out that I do that, but the tenderness of that experience that she has with my boys makes my heart smile.

The lyrics in "Sweet Baby James" are so full of vivid images that it's easy to be enveloped with them.  You close your eyes (it is a lullaby, after all) and the images of cowboys on the range and rocking babies pleasantly fill your brain.  The chorus has influences from the classic lullaby, "Rock a Bye Baby" and has a melody that becomes pleasantly familiar just as fast.

Goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rockabye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't you let me go down in my dreams
And rockabye sweet baby James

James took a lot of time to get the lyrics just right.  He knew it would be a song that he would sing often (to his nephew) and wanted to make sure that every word was as perfect as it could be.  He probably didn't realize the lasting affect the song would have on so many others as well.  Most songs have moments of poetry, but all of "Sweet Baby James" holds its own as words alone.  When you add the simple yet moving melody on top of it, there's an embarrassment of riches.  James talked about the songwriting process in an interview he did with Charles Osgood of CBS, "It's a process of discovery. It's being quiet enough and undisturbed enough for a period of time so that the songs can begin to sort of peek out, and you begin to have emotional experiences in a musical way."  I love the imagery of a song peeking out, just hoping to be caught.  And when you're driving alone in a car, you've got that undisturbed time on your hands to catch things like that.

Later in the song, he goes on to sing about that first journey to see his nephew and uses the metaphor of the road to parallel the life his nephew is about to lead.

Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

That last line resonates with so many people.  Jay Leno asked James to sing on his final Tonight Show appearance in 2009 because that song really meant something to him when he left New Jersey to try and make it as a comedian in Los Angeles.  So many of us have thousand of miles more to go and wonder what is going to happen in our life's journey.  "Sweet Baby James" has that youthful idealistic optimism of what the future might hold that inspires us to make good use of the miles ahead of us.

My oldest son, Ty, turned four today.  We had a great day where the four of us went to the Wings Over the Rockies museum in Denver to look at their display of airplanes and spaceships (he loves airplanes and rockets).  He touched airplanes that have traveled faster than sound and heard his own voice echo in their air intakes.  He ran around with a glee that I'm worried I've forgotten and dreamed dreams I'll never know.  But he'll share them as he gets older, and he'll make me wiser.  He'll be able to bring his children to a place like this and share in their glee, and then take them home for birthday pizza.

That's exactly what we did. We came home and he helped me make pizza for dinner.  He spread the sauce all over the crust with a pastry brush and then dropped mounds of cheese haphazardly all over the pizza, making it look like an Olympic mogul course.  It was a great pizza.  After dinner, he really enjoyed us singing "Happy Birthday" to him as he and my wife blew out the four candles on the chocolate cream pie that served as his birthday cake.  There was no shortage of smiles today, and it's a day that  I want to remember forever.  So I guess that this blog entry is my "Sweet Baby James."  It's one that I hope I can share with Ty years from now when he's older and I can refresh his memory about how awesome his fourth birthday was.

I don't have ten thousand miles ahead of me, but he does.  And as his Mom sings this song to him, I wonder what images are flying through his brain as he drifts off to sleep.  I just hope that I'm there for as many of those miles as I can be, encouraging and supporting him along the way.  I know it's his journey but I'll be there to help when he needs it.  And when my journey reaches the point when I only have ten miles left to go, I know he'll be there for me, supporting and encouraging me at the end of my life's journey.  But for right now, we have a long way ahead of us, son.  Let's go.

Hope that's kind of what you were looking for, sweetie.

(Fun Fact #61:  Although "Sweet Baby James" has become in many ways James Taylor's signature song, it was never released as a single and became popular only because of his live performances of the song.  He continues to play it at almost every concert he gives, and it usually closes the show.  So it's a live version of the song that I chose to put here for you.)

45. Bon Jovi - Livin' On a Prayer

Bon Jovi has always struggled for critical acclaim.  And by struggle, I mean they really don't give a damn.  They write songs that they'd like to hear and know their fans want to hear.  In many ways, they're the Wolfgang Peterson (director of In the Line of Fire, The Perfect Storm and Poseidon) of music.  They make solid records that millions enjoy.  Until 2008, they had been nominated for Grammys, but had never won.  In the ultimate irony, their only Grammy win was in the "Best Country Collaboration with Vocals" category for the version of their song "Who Says You Can't Go Home?" that they did with Sugarland's lead vocalist, Jennifer Nettles, off of their Lost Highway album.  So the rock icons of the 80's won a country Grammy?  Next thing you'll tell me is that Bono was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Like many great songs, "Livin' on a Prayer" builds in intensity from a single musical source.  In this case, it's David Bryan's keyboards that lay the foundation for the song.  Then there's a few hits of some finger cymbals as the bass joins in.  Finally, as the song kicks off, you have Tico Torres' machine gun drum into.

After the big, atmospheric opening, guitarist Richie Sambora beaks in with his guitar played through a vocoder, or in the guitar world, a talk box. For those of you who don't know, a talk box is a device that takes the sound of the guitar from the amplifier and then funnels it through a plastic tube back up to a microphone in front of the guitarist. So if the guitarist opens and closes his mouth, the guitar can appear as if it's "talking" the notes.  The best example of this is Peter Frampton using a talk box in his song "Do You Feel Like I Do?", released in 1976.  Another good one is Joe Walsh's work on "Rocky Mountain Way." A lot of people think that Frampton "jumped the shark" with the talk box on "Do You," and so you didn't hear much more of it for a while. (Then again, Frampton Comes Alive was one of the most popular albums of all time, selling over six million copies back in the 70's). But Richie brings it back with authority in "Livin' on a Prayer" and it becomes one of the musical foundations for the song.

Talented guitar players aren't too hard to find, but for my money, there are none better than Richie Sambora.  He plays with such passion yet technical perfection that I'm still in awe when I listen to him play.  He does the lightning fast guitar solos, but also stunned the world with the acoustic performance that he and Jon did for MTV's Unplugged.  He can play rock, metal, blues, jazz - anything you throw at him or the song requires.  He even knows when to play with restraint when that's what's needed, an example that many other rock guitarists should follow.  I've said that I would give my right pinkie finger to be able to play like Richie Sambora.  Not Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai or Jimi Hendrix.  Richie.  Of course, I should probably practice some instead, but that sounds like work.  Just take the finger and make me a rock god.

Jon Bon Jovi sings the song with the gravelly voice that echoes the song's subject matter.  He alternately sings as if he's dead tired, but in the choruses, he lets his vocals soar.  "Livin' on a Prayer" is about two blue collar Americans, Tommy and Gina, who are "down on their luck" because of a union strike.  Sure, Gina works at the diner and brings in some money, but without Tommy's income, they're just not making ends meet and the stress is taking its toll.  These are Springsteen's working class heroes who've been betrayed by Reaganomics.

Tommy got his six string in hock
Now he's holding in what he used
To make it talk - so tough, it's tough
Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers, "Baby it's okay.  Someday..."

But as their lives crumble, their love keeps them strong.

We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot for love

We'll give it a shot 

Critics called it cheesy, but the lyrics spoke to so many of America's couples who struggle with the hands that were dealt them.  You want Tommy and Gina to make it.  You hope that their love will give them the fortitude to make it through the tough times.

As the song heads into its final chorus, there's a key change, kicking the melody up a notch, and taking the high notes of the chorus to a death defying level.  There are notes that I'm sure Jon probably now regrets writing because he no longer has the twenty-four year-old voice he had when he recorded it in 1986.  But in listening to the studio version, the song soars to epic levels.

"Living on a Prayer" is that guilty pleasure that people don't want to admit they have.  But when the song comes on the radio, they're not turning that dial.  They're staying through Tommy and Gina's story 'till the end.  And if they're in the car alone, you know they're trying to hit those high notes at the end.  I know I am, but I'm not 24 anymore, either.

This is the official video of "Livin' on a Prayer."  Jon's outfit is the epitome of the 80's fashion gone bad.  The black leather jacket with the fringe (and the shoulder pads!).  The faded jeans with holes in the knees.  The cowboy boots.  The scarf and the tacky claw necklace resting on his chest hair.  And then his hair - on his head!  Look up 80's rock n roll fashion trends in the dictionary.  And there he is, in all his glory.  Awesome!  Totally Awesome!

Fun Fact #67 (Not really a Bon Jovi fun fact, but since I talked about Peter Frampton and his performance of "Do You Feel Like I Do?", I thought I'd point out that the live version of the song on Frampton Comes Alive! checks in at a mind-blowingly self-indulgent 14 minutes and 15 seconds! Exclamation point, indeed! Come on, Peter, I've got a doctor's appointment in four hours, could you wrap it up, please?)

46. No Doubt - Spiderwebs

There aren't too many bands that I can say that I liked them before they got really big.  I'm a fan of pop music (and rock, rap, metal, alternative, etc.) but it usually has to become somewhat popular before I hear it.  I'm not the one combing the indie charts trying to find the next big thing.  Occasionally, however, I hear a song by a band at the cusp of popularity (or even below it) and really like it, making me thirsty for more.  No Doubt was one of those bands.  Living in Los Angeles, I listened to all sorts of radio stations depending on my mood, but the world-famous KROQ was always at or near the top of my dial.  KROQ was instrumental in breaking all sorts of bands, from The Cure and Depeche Mode to No Doubt and The White Stripes.

It was on KROQ that I first heard No Doubt back in 1993.  The song was "Trapped in a Box" and it fascinated me.  First there was Gwen Stefani and her vocals.  Her trill that she did on her vocals totally caught me off guard.  The whole song did that for me.  It definitely had a ska feel to it but had metal and fusion elements as well.  Then it broke down into an insane ragtime bridge that completely blew my mind.  That piano, the roaring trombone and a motherf*ing banjo!  In a rock song!  A ska song!  A "whatever-the-hell-this-is" song!  Immediately I was hooked. 

So I was eagerly awaiting their next album, which turned out to be their breakout hit, Tragic Kingdom.  Although I really liked the first single, "Just a Girl," it was "Spiderwebs" that really impressed me.  The musical diversity of the album was a treat, and it's evidenced most prominently in "Spiderwebs."

Drummer Adrian Young starts it off with a nice little fill and then you immediately get the ska sound of the guitar and horns.  But then it transforms into a different sound with guitarist Tom Dumont playing a tweaked out guitar that sounds more rock than ska.  That's the thing with No Doubt.  You'll hear six different musical styles in the same song, often with different instruments playing different styles at the same time.  That's what makes them so fun to listen to (and listen to often).  There's always something new to hear and notice.

You can easily hear the influence not only of ska, but bands like The Cars and other new wave bands, plus some seriously strong rock tendencies as well.  It's a fusion that sounds like it would be a mess, but the unique combination blends flawlessly, creating the "No Doubt" sound.

The lyrics are as direct as they could possibly be.  The song's about a guy who really liked Gwen and got a hold of her phone number.  He called relentlessly, thinking his persistence would pay off with a relationship with Gwen.  As any sane guy will tell you, that's not the way to go about it.  Gwen sums it up best:

You think that we connect
That the chemistry's correct
You words walk right through my ears
Presuming I like what I hear 

Yet she doesn't want to destroy his ego, so she just hopes he'll get the message with her lack of response:

You take advantage of what's mine
You're taking up my time
Don't have the courage inside me
To tell you please just let me be 

I like that she takes responsibility for the fact that if she can't tell him the truth.  Like so many women, they don't want to hurt our feelings, but they also want us to just go away.  With a guy like this, though, I doubt candor would have deterred him.  So Gwen is stuck getting endless phone calls from a guy who just doesn't get it.

And it's all your fault
I screen my phone calls
No matter who calls
I gotta screen my phone calls

The bridge is a musical and lyrical dream state.  Gwen's finally been able to drift off to a listless sleep, but her dreams are now invaded by the unwanted phone calls.  The tempo slows, Tom's rhythm guitar echoes ethereally while his lead phases in and out, adding to the disorientation.  Bassist Tony Kanal and Adrian add a pulsing rhythm that represents the relentless intrusion into Gwen's dreams.   There are tempo changes throughout the song, with this dream sequence being the most pronounced.  It ends with a build-up that leads to that frantic chorus.

Gwen Stefani really came into her own as a lyricist on Tragic Kingdom and it shows.  Strong lyrical images abound on the album, especially with "Spiderwebs," "Just a Girl," and the huger than huge smash hit "Don't Speak."  Tragic Kingdom took No Doubt to the level of popularity and stardom that the music deserved, but I have to admit that there was a bit of jealously on my part that the band that I really liked became the band that everybody liked, and for the first time, I could empathize with my brother, Scott, who usually lost interest when a band became popular because they were no longer his band.  But unlike Scott, I continued to enjoy the band after they became popular and longingly await a new No Doubt album.  So hop on it, guys, we're waiting....

I'm going to do two videos here since I mentioned "Trapped in a Box" in my intro.  So here's "Spiderwebs" and "Trapped in a Box," for your enjoyment.

(Fun Fact #533:  In the video for "Spiderwebs," you may have noticed Japanese characters on the screen.  It's not some weird Youtube thing - they're supposed to be there.  They all relate to this party and translate to:  "Excellent party", "I really like cake a lot", "What is your name?", "This is excellent champagne", "What is this? Crazy kids", "It's making me sick".)

47. Elvis Presley - Burning Love

I knew this one was coming. It kept getting closer and closer and, to be honest, I was afraid of it a little bit. This is the song that'll get me called a hypocrite. In the first post, I talked about putting a lot of weight in having the performers of the songs on my list actually write the songs as well. Up until now, I kept to that ideal. But Elvis Presley didn't write "Burning Love." In fact, out of all of the songs that Elvis recorded throughout his career, Elvis wrote the music for none of them. He was a collaborator on the lyrics to three of his songs and was given a token songwriting credit for lyrics on four others (meaning he didn't really contribute, but the songwriters wanted to make sure Elvis recorded their songs, so they added his name to the writing credits). To be fair to The King, artists were presented songs to do by their record companies, who had stables of songwriters cranking out song after song. Back then either you wrote all of your songs, or you wrote none of your songs.

So yeah, I'm a hypocrite (a little), but it's ELVIS PRESLEY. He took the "rock and roll" of the many black artists that influenced him and made it "Rock N Roll," bringing it to a whole new audience. He pioneered performing on camera and made way for The Beatles and everyone after. Without Elvis, this list wouldn't exist at all, so he had to make an appearance, if nothing out of sheer respect.

Luckily for me, though, "Burning Love" isn't an honorary pick like Henry Fonda's Oscar for On Golden Pond. It's a great song that deserves to be on this list. I have to admit that it's probably higher than it would've been if it weren't Elvis, but it's EL... do I really have to break the caps out again?

"Burning Love" starts out with some simple guitar strumming, quickly joined by a rollicking, almost ragtime piano and then with a modern sounding drum fill that belies its 1972 recording with its furious complexity.  Elvis didn't record too many out-and-out rockers, but "Burning Love" is probably at the top of the list.  The bass line is all over the place, but in that good way.  I wish I could give both the drummer and bassist some well deserved props, but after a fair amount of research (ten whole minutes!), I couldn't find out who they were.  Elvis had an established backing band in his early career, but worked with a plethora of studio musicians later in his career.  Later in the song, there's a cool Hawaiian sounding guitar twang that just tickles me.  It's the little things in life, I guess.

Although many would complain that the lyrics are over the top, again I'd have to disagree.  When you have a love for someone that's so strong that you don't think your body can even contain it, these lyrics capture that feeling.  You can't think about anything else.  You may not count the minutes until you see him/her again, but you can quickly figure it out to the closest quarter-hour.  Three days, seven and a half hours.  God, she smelled so good last time.  She even laughed that laugh when I told that lame joke during dinner.  Three days, seven hours and fifteen minutes.  Hmmmmmmm......

It starts off:

Lord Almighty,
I feel my temperature rising
Higher higher
It's burning through to my soul

Given Elvis' gospel roots, that Lord Almighty isn't just a name in vain use, he really means it.  Just thinking about her gets him all riled up.  People the phrase "to my soul" way too much, but in 1972, it had a poetic touch to it that it loses in today's culture.

Elvis keeps the gospel tinge in the chorus:

Your kisses lift me higher
Like the sweet song of a choir
You light my morning sky
With burning love 

If you tell a woman that she lights your morning sky, she will swoon.  And if you're the King of Rock and Roll, she might just explode.  Even though I've been married for almost ten years, my wife Jennifer does light my morning sky.  There are times where my love for her starts to burst out of my ears and I just have to hug or kiss her right away.  Now I know I can't hold a candle to Elvis, but I think she really appreciates the gesture.  And I like that I can fell that way even a decade in to our relationship.  So as tacky as it sounds (and as self-serving, I have to admit), "Burning Love" really does remind me of my wife.  Yes indeed, I am made of cheese.  But my wife loves cheese (she's from Wisconsin and knows her cheese), so we're the perfect pair.

And one last time for you non-believers, it's ELVIS PRESLEY!  So just relax and enjoy...

This first video is the album version, but I couldn't help but find a white jumpsuit live version as well.

If only I could pull off a white jumpsuit....

(Movie Plug #17:  Speaking of Elvis, if you haven't seen Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, then your bucket list has an extra item on it.  Cage's performance is gloriously manic while Sarah Jessica looks really good in this movie (and she can act, too).  There are too many great lines to quote, but I have to give you this one:

Jack:  I had a STRAIGHT FLUSH!  It's like, unbeatable.

Betsy:  Like unbeatable is NOT unbeatable.

Jack:  Hey!  I know that now, okay?!!!

Trust me, watch the movie.  It's way funnier than I could possibly make it look in text.  And just to show you, here's another clip from the movie:

New Look - Same exciting taste!

Don't worry, it's still me, just with a shiny new wrapper on.  Having finally been introduced to all sorts of newfangled layouts that were available for my blog, I decided to spice things up a bit and go with something that had a bit more pizazz.   So I hope you enjoy the new diggs and look forward to the rest of the Top 100 Songs of My Lifetime.  I know I am.

You know, while I'm breaking character, I figured I'd do a little post off subject.  No list this time, just "the Worst Movie I've Seen in the Past Year."  For those who don't know, I'm incredibly easy on movies (although as I get older I find myself being much more critical, I guess because I realize there are a finite number of movies left that I will be able to see and I get pissed off when I waste one).  I'm the guy that thought Sylvester Stallone's Daylight was "pretty good" and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra was "not too bad.  Great effects.  The Blu-ray has lots of extra stuff on it?  Cool.  Sure, I'd watch it again..."  But in my defense, I did walk out of what may be the worst movie of all time, Eddie Murphy's excretous (if that's even a word) The Adventures of Pluto Nash.  So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

The movie that recently sucked was Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale.  She plays a federal marshall stationed down in Antarctica as the lone law officer.  She's haunted by a former gig gone bad and has escaped to the boring confines of an Arctic station.  And boring it stays.  Even with a gratuitous shower scene with the beautiful Ms. Beckinsale (where you don't see everything, but is still a pleasant diversion, chauvinist pig that I am), the movie is woefully short of anything worth watching.  Sure, you've got the "it's really cold down here" scene that establishes that at some point, many people are going to be out in that deadly cold.  The character development is so poor that you don't really care who gets stuck out there and, if anything, the movie would be more interesting if everyone would get stuck out there.

There's a murder (of course) that she needs to investigate, which in the course of her investigation, there's more murders (of course).  The story then has a mystery about a cold war era Soviet plane that crashed with some mysterious cargo.  Having watched so many better Arctic offerings (X-Files, Star Trek - Enterprise), I expected it to be something sinister and interesting.  But nope, it's just some diamonds.  Big flippin' whoop.  Oops!  I forgot the SPOILER ALERT before that.  Don't worry, you'd thank me.  Then it turns into a badly acted "who can you trust" thriller that has all the thrills of reading the latest Reader's Digest.  I actually finished the whole stupid movie waiting for that cool ending that you didn't see coming.  But no, I saw it coming and my two year-old saw it coming. It left me with that feeling you get when you're super hungry and you eat bad Chinese food because it's all you've got and damn, you're hungry.  You end up feeling fuller but ashamed of yourself afterwords.  Same thing here.  I was waiting for something cool and ended up with... this.

It clocks in at a bloated 101 minutes, more than half of which feel like filler.  They took an idea that wouldn't even have made a decent episode of NCIS:  Antarctica and decided to make it twice as long.  The flashbacks used to establish Kate's torment are probably the most exciting part of the movie, but seem more like a lame plot device than anything else.  I think Kate Beckinsale is a fine actress (and a fine looking woman, to boot), but the performance director Dominic Sena gets out of her is uninspired at best.  I can just hear his notes on her performance:  "More angst.  No!  With the eyes!  The eyes!  This is gonna be great!"  But it's not, and everyone who made this waste of space should've known it.  Sure, it's a paycheck, but at least the aptly named Ben Affleck movie of the same name had a somewhat interesting plot to it.

So do yourself a favor.  Miss Whiteout at every opportunity.  Your life will be better for it.  I actually am jealous of most of you who haven't seen it and don't have to try to get it out of your mind.  But since the plot and acting are pretty forgettable, I'm hoping it'll kick in soon and my memory of seeing it will fade and just seem like a boring afternoon in study hall that I had in high school.

Here's hoping...

Okay, enough diversion.  I'll be back tomorrow with the next entry on my Top 100 list.  I'll even tell you what it is, since I'm breaking the rules now anyway.  "Burning Love" by Elvis Presley.  See you soon...