Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Foresee Terrible Trouble And I Stay Here Just The Same: Songs for A Whiskey'd Evening


The song: Steely Dan, "Dirty Work"; 1972

*


The song: Gladys Knight & The Pips, "Midnight Train To Georgia"; 1973

*

The moment: those times when, impracticality of location or situation aside, you just want to be Near the person.

Yrs,
AW

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Recommended If You Like: The "Twin Peaks" Soundtrack

If you enjoy the trippy, dreamlike pop sweetness of the Twin Peaks theme song and general soundtrack:



Try The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae.

Wonderful for so many reasons, but in large part fascinating to me because Janelle Monae is obviously a Crazy Talented Young Genius.

Describing this album in words always leads to unholy Reviewers' Contortions so I'll just say it's a balls-to-the-wall musical reinterpretation of a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction film and that it's CRAZY and AWESOME and REQUIRES A GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHT POWER TO LISTEN TO.


The song: Janelle Monae, "Sir Greendown"; 2010

Plz enjoy.

Also, hey, that gum you like is going to come back in style.

Yrs,
AW

Make It Part Of You To Be A Part Of Me: The Intelligent Woman's Love Song

Things I Love About This Song:
  • It sounds like Andrew Lloyd Webber at his best. (I stand by that statement.)
  • It's recognizably Peter Paul & Mary but uses a richer pop instrumentation than usual instead of their legendary harmonies. (Is that a little bit of gentle organ I hear? And check out that percussion!)
  • The narrator, as in several other of their love songs, is an obviously intelligent and talented woman who mourns the difficulties of love as a traveling musician. Usually the woman's role in that story is as the one who is left behind, not the one who is (reluctantly) leaving. (Previously: "Leavin' On A Jet Plane")
  • Its vision of love as a warm friendship involving late-night talks, shared travel, and an easy integration into each others' lives. Sounds pretty good to me.

*



The song: Peter Paul & Mary, "Follow Me"; 1971

Yrs,
AW

Monday, March 26, 2012

We Didn't Start The Fire But We Sure As Hell Fought It: "El Salvador"

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a little bit preoccupied with the conservative turn America took in the 1980s.

You have to admit, it is MORE than a little creepy that Orwell's novel just happened to be titled 1984.

Considering that yeah, that seems pretty dead on from this perspective if you're looking to pinpoint a year (plus or minus a couple) that seems to contain the seeds of the dystopian weirdness we live in today.

But, as occurs so often in history, perhaps the key to this seeming Sociological Mystery is what's being left out of the retelling.

(Previously: "Rich Girl")

*

So here's how I would illustrate, using hit pop songs as examples, the narrative My Generation was taught about this particular slice of the mid-late 20th century:

1964: "The Times, They Are A-Changing"

1971: "Imagine"

1978: "Night Fever"

1984: "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"

This, and that one movie, is why I think it's reasonable that most people of My Generation think of the 1980s in America as a time when most people were NOT, as they say, Keeping It Real.

*

And oh, was there a lot to keep it real about! As Billy Joel put it:

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again,
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock

Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline,
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

"Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide,
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz

Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law,
Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore!

Wow, Billy, I am really buying what you are selling here about the many troubles of American and global society! If ONLY there were someone out there who was writing REALLY good socially conscious folk-pop that does NOT fuck around!

But wait, could it be?

YES. They did not crumble into dust and blow away on the wind at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1980:

it's

PETER

PAUL

&

MARY.

*


The song: Peter Paul & Mary, "El Salvador"; 1982
The moment: 1:57; 2:38

When this song starts playing, you may think "Oh brother, this is just another shlocky white person funky faux-Mexican style folk song, why's Amy Wilson so excited about this Jimmy Buffett bullshit?"

But just keep listening and it gradually dawns that no, this is a song that takes the same reference points as Jimmy Buffett bullshit to craft what can only be called a CAUSTIC screed against U.S. involvement in the brutal Salvadoran Civil War.

And at 1:57 comes the point when it becomes obvious that no, this song is not going to let us off the hook and we really are going to hear this nice-voiced "Puff, The Magic Dragon" man describe a group of innocent people being blown to smithereens simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time

AND

that this takes place with the soundtrack of some stupid mealy-mouthed American ABC News announcer and some REAL shlocky white person music, Gene Autry's "South Of The Border".

And THEN the emotional onslaught continues at 2:38 where Peter Paul and Mary slow their roll just enough to reveal that they know Exactly how U.S. involvement in El Salvador fits into the larger globalization-Cold War-military-industrial complex puzzle.

And as if that were not enough, all of this builds to a simple question at the end -- a simple, decisive point:

Don't you think it's time to leave El Salvador?

If that is not a heaping serving of 1980s-style Extreme Realness, I do not know what it is.

*

I don't know about the other members of My Generation out there reading this, but I know that personally I have to struggle against feelings of persistent embarrassment while listening to earnest socially conscious music like "El Salvador".

Perhaps it is because our flavor of socially conscious music sounds more like The Arcade Fire than it does Peter Paul & Mary. And while The Arcade Fire makes decent music and "Haiti" is a powerful song, its lush sound-poetry style will never -- to me, at least -- pack the visceral punch of the vocal, musical, and lyrical transparency of "El Salvador"

And also perhaps it is because we are like people who have been raised from birth in a swimming pool and so can't understand what it means that our eyes are burning except it's a swimming pool filled with irony, not chlorine.

But there is nothing embarrassing about the earnest desire to spotlight any of the terrible global injustices in which Americans are knowingly or unknowingly complicit simply by virtue of being American, and there is nothing embarrassing about the will to operate this spotlight through popular music.

And it is only irony that tells us otherwise.

So I say SCREW irony, DOWN with irony

and UP with Peter Paul & Mary.

Yrs,
AW

PS I worry that the overall angry and caustic tone of this post will sully your image of Peter Paul & Mary for those of us for whom that is still being formed.

So please, let this song be like the marshmallow mint after the spicy BBQ dinner.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Bed With Someone Else: Viva! La! Vida!

Friends,

it is my great pleasure to introduce to you the first guest post, and guest poster, on
In Bed With Amy Wilson.

Appropriately, this person was also the first friend I had who -- way back in high school -- was singularly obsessed with Pop Music.

(And I do mean singularly, since it was always
one act at a time. Always!)

Although our lives first became inextricably entwined when his locker happened to be right next to mine in the hallowed halls of West Sylvan Middle School, my fondest memories of this friend were formed in the back of a tenth-grade math class wherein the teacher -- either laidback or just lazy -- inevitably gave us mostly of the class period to work on our homework for the night.

Inevitably we spent this time discussing music, endlessly anagramming our own names and others', and otherwise obliviously irritating our fellow man.

We made too many jokes about the punctuation necessary to indicate a factorial operation RIGHT ALONGSIDE some life-long memories.

5!

I mention this silly exclamation point thing because this friend of mine is perhaps the most unreservedly enthusiastic human being I have met, and I love that just as much as in 10th grade he loved first Led Zeppelin, then Bob Dylan, then Neil Young.

I now leave you to the capable hands of my dear friend Matthew Stahlman and his essay "Viva La Coldplay Or, Pop As Pop Philosophy".

Yrs,

A "Nay, I'm Slow" W

*

Power comes and goes. We are all familiar with novels and films about downtrodden individuals who achieve a degree of autonomy or self-realization (Batman Begins, for instance), or about the strong descending into extreme weakness (Leaving Las Vegas, The Wrestler), or those in which multiple trajectories occur concurrently or consecutively (The Artist). The course of our lives seem to subvert any instinctive desire to acquire and keep power. One thinks of Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I: with his ironic slacker ethos and existentialist cry of “Give me life,” Falstaff is pricking at moral certainty, of course, but with his lack of ambition to be king, he also indicates how the course of life tends to upset power-structures.

Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends is, as the title suggests, chiefly an album about life, and more specifically an album about power as seen through a Falstaffian prism. Its protagonists tend to have been weak and are becoming strong, or vice versa; they are, literally and metaphorically, both deposed kings and revolutionaries. What’s particularly interesting, in the context of Coldplay’s whole catalog, is how unsentimental this album is. Whatever their faults, Coldplay can reliably put together a moving, compassion-flavored love ballad, such as X & Y’s “Fix You,” but there is no “Fix You” here; the album wants to understand emotional plight (especially as it relates to power) as much as it wants to achieve catharsis.

Let's look at a specific example or two of how this functions.

*




Several reviews have singled out "Lost" as an example of Chris Martin's lazy, cliche-riddled lyrics, but of course, cliches alone don't render words worthless -- if there is substance to the ideas. "Lost" is a portrait of resolve:

Just because I'm losing
Doesn't mean I'm lost
Doesn't mean I'll stop
Doesn't mean I will cross
...
You might be a big fish

In a little pond
Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come a bigger one.

It's a revenge song, sure, but it also gestures towards the album’s central theme: life's subversion of individual power. Martin's imagining a sort of Wheel of Fortune paradigm; everyone gets a chance both to succeed and fail. This paradigm is observed somewhat dispassionately: there’s plenty of loudness but there aren’t any huge string swells or crescendoes, which, for a Coldplay song, is somewhat jarring.

*



Standout single "Viva La Vida” is only more of the same: a deposed king remembering his past glory, feeling perhaps like a tragic figure but also perhaps some gratitude at not having to struggle with the pressures of power anymore. “
Just a puppet on a lonely string / Ah, who would ever want to be king,” he reflects.

*

The other songs tend to either tackle these themes directly ("Death and All His Friends," “Violet Hill”) or obliquely ("Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love,” “Yes”). Again, with the possible exception of "Strawberry Swing,” sentimentality is avoided. As for the melodies and arrangements -- it's a Coldplay album. Yes, Brian Eno is producing, and yes, he by all accounts not only did amazing technical work but also successfully pushed the band to expect more of themselves. But Coldplay were never slouches, sonically -- a bit derivative, but always adept. Everyone has their favorite musical moments on this album; mine include the wailed backing vocals of "Violet Hill", the twinkling piano of "Reign of Love", and the midsection of "Death and All His Friends", which feels like it should soundtrack the trailer to an indie coming-of-age love-story film.



*

The little moments of musical genius are strewn all over. But again, it's Coldplay. What did you expect? They're a great pop band. They made a great pop album.


The big story, then, is the lyrics. Here, for once, Chris Martin isn't set up as the high priest of compassion, who will lovingly soundtrack your breakup/reverse-slow-mo-car-crash and who Will Try To Fix You. The themes that replace it aren't exactly dense -- just that life is mysterious and you can't really hold on to what you have -- but they are explored, it would seem, with real curiosity and packaged in nice song structures. In other words, Coldplay has managed to -- without over-intellectualizing -- make an album that speaks to the head as well as the heart. When it’s executed this well, it’s difficult to complain.

Matthew Stahlman is a graduate of Lewis and Clark College and works as a barista. He enjoys playing guitar and watching Christopher Nolan films, and also spends a great deal of time thinking about music and contemporary French philosophy -- especially while in bed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hell With Philosophy Cause Right Now It's Just You and Me: The Irresistable Magic of Hall & Oates

GUYS.

I am beginning to realize that this blog might end up becoming decidedly moody.

*

If you've ever known the feeling of what feels like an actual intense, brief crush on a pop song

you will understand how hard it can be resist the urge to fall in love with the pop song equivalent of the manic pixie dream girl.

You know, the song that is SO beautiful and SO ridiculous and SO serious?

You know, the kind of song that if it were a person could use the word "mocktail" with no irony.

(No irony at ALL!)

This is where I confess that I am about to post my third song in less than a month from Hall & Oates' 1975 album Daryl Hall and John Oates.

(Previously: "Sara Smile"; "Camellia")

If you enjoy musicians with great technical skill and passion but no innate sense of irony (Billy Joel, Morrissey, Elton John [but only intriguingly rarely with him, to be precise], Radiohead), you have GOT to get to this album ASAP.

In other words, if the thought of
  • a soaringly beautiful song featuring the refrain Sitting. And staring. And sitting. And staring.
  • or a snappy ditty with the refrain But isn't it a bit like oxygen? Too much will make you high, but not enough will make you die
  • or a sentimental breakup song in which an apparently straight man laments never being able to go window shopping with his girlfriend again (and it's called "(You Know) It Doesn't Matter Anymore")

makes ANY part of your brain light up at ALL,

this one goes out to you,

brother/sister.

*

You see our lives are like
the ice inside
this paper cup
We both start out with a job to do
but age
and fade away
until we are swallowed up



The song: Hall & Oates, "Ice" (demo; released as bonus track on remastered album); 1975
The moment: It is a perfect pop song about how human mortality is like the ICE inside a PAPER CUP. THE WHOLE SONG IS A MOMENT.

Daryl Hall and John Oates
: musical beauty for those of us who like sitting and staring and contemplating our mortality and the importance of oxygen

What a potent mocktail!

Yrs,
AW

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All The Papers Had To Say Was That Marilyn Was Found In The Nude: Love and Death in Pop Music

In my personal life, I am an avid conspiracy theorist.

You name it, I've got a weird paranoid social theory about it. Peanut allergies. Reality TV. Fibromyalgia. JFK RFK and MLK.

And yes, I think the truth is most DEFINITELY out there.

There is one style of conspiracy theory I can't get behind, and that is the kind that posits that when a successful and beautiful young person with a troubled life dies tragically that there must be some kind of sinister influence at work.

So no Marilyn or Princess Di theories from me (I have a lot else to say about Princess Di though, like what about the fact that she was OBVIOUSLY mentally unstable?).

It's hard to resist the impulse to make sense out of a highly visible (and predictable) tragedy like what happened to Marilyn Monroe, if only because it goes some way to absolve us of our collective cultural responsibility for the insecure young women who get chewed up and spit out in service to entertainment. (The part about our collective cultural responsibility comes in when we enjoy the performance of the Insecure Young Woman Getting Chewed Up And Spit Out persona as much or more than we enjoy the actual singing or acting or princess-ing or whatever the Insecure Young Woman felt she had to offer anybody in the first place.)

Let's all just listen to "Candle in the Wind" for a second.

The song: Elton John, "Candle in the Wind"; 1973


*

So that's why I think Tupac is for sure dead, but why I have deep sympathy for those who will go to great lengths to believe he is not.

Yes, in his songs and music videos he was obviously obsessed with the idea of young men getting randomly shot, which many conspiracy theorists believe was a shrewd way of intimating to his fans that he was going to fake his own death, or (depending on your flavor of paranoia) that he was going to be deliberately assassinated.

But you don't need that kind of conspiracy to understand what he was going for! He was saying, "HELP! LOOK! LOOK at how many cool young black dudes just get shot one day for no reason! IT IS SENSELESS AND AWFUL AND I WOULD LIKE FOR IT TO STOP."

And then it happened to him and it was senseless and awful. I was way too young and way too white to love Tupac when he was alive, but I understand that people did, a lot, and that the shock of his death left them reeling. And that grief makes you do crazy things.

But here's this song, in which Tupac uses his incredibly easy, elegant style to declare himself pro-choice, anti-war, and a champion of children born in urban poverty and their mothers. This song may not be pop music exactly, but it works within the framework of pop by sampling the Five Stairsteps' beautiful "O-o-h Child" and, at 1:50, referencing Marvin Gaye--another super literate, socially aware black man senselessly killed before his time.

(2:27: "I try to find my friends, but they're blowing in the wind"--he knew exactly what he was doing.)

The song: 2Pac, "Keep Ya Head Up"; 1993


*


The song: Kanye West ft. Rihanna and Kid Cudi, "All Of The Lights"; 2011
The moment: 3:08

This song features a regular smorgasboard of backing vocalists, but Rihanna sings the hook and it had to be that way.

Turn up the lights in here baby, EXTRA bright I want y'all to SEE this

Like Marilyn Monroe, Rihanna rides the line between the persona of the Troubled Young Woman and the reality of it, and she does it well. What does everybody know about Rihanna? That her boyfriend beat the shit out of her and that she sings sexy songs about men beating the shit out of women. If she wanted to Rehabilitate Her Image, she could call up Kelly Clarkson or Beyonce and do a standard-issue lady-empowerment song, but instead she does this song--this song that says, in so many words, "HELP! LOOK."

Like all the best songs about social issues, "All of the Lights" connects it all together ("Candle in the Wind" is as much about homophobia as it is about sexism; "Keep Ya Head Up" rightly ties war, poverty, and gang violence to violence against women) AND does it in a way that is musically innovative, unique, elliptical and poetic, and just all-around GOOD.

(Piano line provided by Sir Elton John, who obviously still has an investment in highlighting the darkest sides of celebrity culture.)

At 3:08 a brief pause signals a break before the breakdown. And what a breakdown it is! The horns are almost royal in their pomp and circumstance, and then an unidentifiable collection of (male) voices sing the (previously feminine) hook:

Turn up the lights in here baby, extra BRIGHT I want y'all to see THIS

And then you hear Alicia Keys come in with the "whoooooooas" and then this weird, gruff voice starts singing "I tried to tell you but all I could say was whooooooooa" and then the song ends right there, just like that--You tried to tell me what now? All you could say was what?

THAT VOICE.

IS.

ELTON.

JOHN.

Who needs conspiracies when it's all right here?

Yrs,
AW

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You Could Force Me To Use A Little Tenderness: Another Song For A Sunny Day

Rest assured that this is not the last appearance Elvis Costello will make here.

In fact I think it's fair to say that good old Elvis is one of the patron saints of my particular style of pop music admiration, given his simultaneous tendencies to make really good pop songs and also to hate so much of what goes along with making really good pop songs (RADIO IS A SOUND SALVATION! RADIO IS CLEANING UP THE NATION!). On a personal level, he was the first artist I really heard who used the language of 50s pop--greatly beloved to me as a child--to write songs with a modern and cynical edge. (I am thankful it was Elvis Costello who got to me first and not Billy Joel's Glass Houses,

but I think I was the right age when I discovered Glass Houses,

which was 20.

More on that soon.)

This song, off his debut album My Aim Is True, is typical of what one might call Costello's unique romantic style (which I can only describe as "sexually passive-aggressive")--making it a wonderfully absurd bonus that the only video I could find of it on YouTube is this jumble of cute-cat footage.

(Sexually passive-aggressive? How's this: "I get you in my dreams/You should do the things you see".

I see what you did there, DECLAN.)

But in any case, if the theme of this week is "spring fever" (and it IS!) this homage to the sneaky feeling fits right in.

*

The song: Elvis Costello, "Sneaky Feelings"; 1977


"The magic of the moment might become too much for you"? CHEERS, Elvis.

Yrs,

AW

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Got To Get You Into My Life: It's Way Too Sunny To Be In Bed

As long as this beautiful early spring Michigan weather holds I will be actively trying to NOT spend time alone in my room listening to pop music.

For my health, you understand.

Until I get back to it I will be posting a series of songs for sunny days (like this Hall&Oates track I can only describe as "vibrant").

And this is one if I ever heard one.

I love the original but this version has a breeziness to it that matches what I see outside/feel in my heart/feel on my legs because I AM WEARING A DRESS.

(My heart is also wearing a dress.

And I hope yours is too.)

*

The song: The Beatles, "Got To Get You Into My Life (Demo)"; original released 1966


(This song is TOTALLY about pot.)

Yrs,
AW

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Oh, Camellia, Won't You Take Me Away?: The Sunday Song

It's that day.

"First Shorts Day"

Nearly 70 degrees in mid-March in Michigan and I know I am not the only one out there with some variation of intense spring fever.

You know, when you just want to eat the whole world and everyone in it?

This is a song for a day like this.

*

Following these steps will probably enhance your appreciation of this song:

1. Go outside if you possibly can. Otherwise open a window.

2. Please--I ask you this as a friend--

Turn.

It.

UP.

The song: Hall & Oates, "Camellia"; 1975



Yrs,
AW

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can't Say I'm Not Alive: "I'm A Bitch"

Let me preface this post by saying that I categorically do not think this song is a truly great pop song. In fact, it is pretty awful--but awful in a sincere, transparent way that--I think--brings it around to enjoyability.

Let me also say that this post would have been a whole lot funnier if I had managed to get it together to post it on International Women's Day, yesterday, as I had idly dreamed might be possible.

But hadn't you forgotten this song exists? And that it is the red-headed stepdaughter of the Empowered Lady Singer era of the mid-nineties? And aren't you, deep down, in some small part of your soul, happy to be reminded of its existence? I hope so.

I would like to eventually write a post about karaoke, and how karaoke moments tend to be somewhat of the frozen orange juice concentrate of life. (The kind in cans, naturally--intense, chunky, often tucked away and forgotten until it is needed. . .)

My own Karaoke Moment related to this song came during my very first professional conference, during which we did karaoke and I witnessed a young lady tackle this song with what can only be called APLOMB. Although I have not seen or spoken to her since, I remain about 30% (non-seriously but significantly, in other words) in love with her.


The song: Meredith Brooks, "I'm A Bitch" (or if you prefer, the radio title "Nothing In Between"); 1997

I would love to hear your Karaoke Moments (perhaps times at which you or someone you know was a bitch/lover/child/mother/sinner/saint/your hell/your dream?) at inbedwithamywilson@gmail.com.

Yrs,
AW

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

This May Be The Song For You Right Now If: "Like Rock & Roll and Radio"

If:

You are, at this moment, 30% sad.

You are, at most moments, at least 30% sad.

You know that very young people often feel very old, and that makes them ridiculous in the eyes of pretty much everyone, and yet you are very young and often feel very old.

(Alternatively, you are in a Sofia Coppola movie and you are staring out some sort of window.)

It is August and you are driving through the Columbia Gorge.

You appreciate a good example of a harmonica solo.

You occasionally enjoy feeling ridiculous.

This might be the song for you right now.

The song: Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, "Like Rock & Roll and Radio"; 2010

*



And then when you're ready to shake it off, this can help:

The song: "Old Before Your Time"


When waking up from a moment of self-pity, it helps to do it gently.

Yrs,
AW

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Key To My Peace Of Mind: The Sunday Song

For my entire conscious life I have been subject to occasional (and occasionally crippling) bouts of what I have heard called "the Sunday night blues".

(The discovery that there was a recognized term for this feeling, and thus other people who also experience it, was reassuring in and of itself.)

It's not what you might think: The Sunday night blues have existed for me for much longer than I have understood Sunday as The Day Before You Go Back To Work.

I don't exactly know how to describe these blues, but the word "keen" often comes to mind. For me the compelling thing about a Sunday is that it is simultaneously an end and a beginning.

*

At this stage in my life I often find myself grappling with questions about what it means to be young, a woman, a young woman, etc--your general existential angst miasma. And for whatever reason, these questions often coalesce into one of authenticity.

YES. I SAID THE WORD "AUTHENTICITY" ON MY BLOG ABOUT POP MUSIC.

(But hey, it's 2012 and as my friend Carolyn put it in January this will be a year when one shouldn't be surprised to just see a large jungle snake slither by out of the corner of one's eye, or to unexpectedly hear a random, foreboding drumbeat.)

When it comes to authenticity in pop music there is no more appropriate Patron Goddess than Carole King--the Jewish girl who wrote the hits of the sixties. All the hits.

(Okay, so she didn't write "Oh! Carol" but she INSPIRED it so I'm gonna give that one to her too.)

*

Carole King wrote "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" which, as sung by the Shirelles, is absolutely one of my favorite songs in the entire world and will get a post in the future probably with the title One Of My Favorite Songs In The Entire World.

She also sang her own version on Tapestry, her mega-successful 1971 solo album. I personally feel the Shirelles version is unquestionably better, but that's a topic for another time.

Where it comes to "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", I have to say I'm more undecided. As previously evidenced here on In Bed With Amy Wilson, I have carried a brightly-burning torch for Soul Goddess For The Ages Aretha Franklin for a long time, and her 1967 recording of "A Natural Woman" is both better-known and, admittedly, sassier than the version Carole King released on Tapestry.

But sometimes, on a Sunday, a young lady happens to value sass less than what feels real.


The song: Carole King, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"; 1971
The moment: 2:48

I will be the first to admit that I am incredibly easily taken in by the pyrotechnics of pop music. Horns! Handclaps! Showy, major-key re-imaginings of a particular refrain endlessly repeated starting at about minute 3!

(Looking at you on that last one, Mariah Carey.)

Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman" has a full complement of pop embellishments and sparkles, which is part of why it remains one of the enduring--if perhaps over-used in movies for a time in the mid-nineties--hits of the 1960s.

Carole King's has none. It's her voice and her piano stylings and the elegance and transparency and simplicity of her lyrics. (Somebody who can do justice to the line "When my soul was in the lost and found/You came along to claim it" and keep a straight face has a LOT to teach those of us stuck in the meta-aware hell that is 2012 about earnestness. A LOT.)

At 2:48 these things combine for a climax that is as powerful as any gorgeously engineered Aretha Franklin song--a climax made no less powerful for its use of earnest emotion rather than the musical facsimile thereof.

I used to feel so uninspired.

*

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish the very happiest of birthdays to Amy Sumerton, a dear friend and kindred soul who is teaching me by example that the passionate pursuit of authenticity in life can have very great rewards.

It may be a Sunday, but everybody, let's MARCH FO(U)RTH with humor and boundless energy in honor of Amy Sumerton today.

Yrs,
AW