Thursday, July 30, 2009

So Much Things To Say

Song: So Much Things To Say

Written By: Bob Marley

Performed by: Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill

Appears on: Bob Marley’s “Exodus” (1977), Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged No. 2 (2002)

Trying to choose the “best” Bob Marley song is impossible, but So Much Things To Say is one of my favorites. In it, Marley issues a call-to-action against “they”, “they” being anyone who talks a good game but won’t back it up, especially politicians and The System (Babylon, to a Rastafarian). It’s nowhere near as militant as some of his earlier (“Burnin’ and Lootin’ “) or later (“Zimbabwe”) songs, but it definitely calls on all of us to stand up for our rights.

“They got so much things to say” Marley sings, but when it comes to action, “they” crucify Jesus, sell out Marcus Garvey, and turn their backs on Paul Bogle. What can we do about it? Well, we can all do our part to see that the-powers-that-be live up to their words – “don’t forget … who you are and where you stand in the struggle.”

Marley also realizes that “they” are probably not going to look kindly on being held accountable and while he’s not looking for a physical fight, we must take a stand against “spiritual wickedness in high and low places” and our response might require civil disobedience that may not be “justified by the laws of men”, but will ultimately be rewarded.

My favorite line in the song is “When the rain fall, it don’t fall on one man’s housetop” and Marley insists that we “remember that”. I initially thought he meant we’ve all got problems (see “every man thinks his burden is the heaviest” from “Running Away” on the “Kaya” album), but I think what he’s saying here is that when the rain of injustice or inaction falls, it affects all of us, not just some of us.

The next-to-last verse neatly sums up the song: “They got la, la, la, la … they “la” very much all the time”. They’re all talk and no action, or as we say in Texas “All hat and no cattle.”


So Much Things To Say
They got so much things to say right now;
They got so much things to say.
They got so much things to say right now;
They got so much things to say.

Eh! But I'll never forget no way: they crucified Je-sus Christ;
I'll never forget no way: they stole Marcus Garvey for rights.
I'll never forget no way: they turned their back on Paul Bogle.
So don't you forget (no way) your youth,
who you are and where you stand in the struggle.

They got so much things to say right now;
They got so much things to say.
They got so much things to say right now;
They got so much things to say.

I'n'I nah come to fight flesh and blood,
But spiritual wickedness in 'igh and low places.
So while they fight you down,
Stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises.
'Cos I'n'I no expect to be justified
by the laws of men - by the laws of men.
Oh, true they have found me guilty,
But through - through Jah proved my innocency.

Oh, when the rain fall, fall, fall now,
It don't fall on one man's housetop. Remember that:
When the rain fall,
It don't fall on one man's housetop.

They singin': so very much, so very much, oh so very much,
so very, very -They got so much things to say right now;
yeah, they got so much things to say.

Hey, but I'n'I - I'n'I nah come to fight flesh and blood,
But spiritual wickedness in 'igh and low places.
So while, so while, so while they fight you down,
Stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises.
I'n'I no expect to be justifiedby the laws of men - by the laws of men.
Oh, hey through Jah to prove my innocency,
I told you wicked think they found me guilty.

They got la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la;
la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la;
la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la;
la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la- they "la" very much all the time.

So much things to say, rumour about,
they got so much without humour,
they don't know what they're doin', yeah.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Country Blues

SONG: Country Blues

WRITTEN BY: Traditional/Dock Boggs – at its base, “Country Blues” is a traditional song, both musically & lyrically. However, Boggs certainly added enough of his own touches to call it “his” song.

APPEARS ON: The Anthology of American Folk Music, vol. 3, "Songs" (Smithsonian/Folkways); Dock Boggs: Country Blues (Revenant); Doc Watson: The Essential Doc Watson (Vanguard)

I don’t recall the specific circumstances when I first heard Dock Boggs sing “Country Blues.” It was probably back in the 90s in San Francisco when I purchased The Anthology of American Folk Music. What I do recall is that chill one gets from a song that combines great playing skill with an almost raw emotion; this, combined with the song’s unusual (to contemporary ears) harmonic structure produce an altogether eerie listening experience.

Of course, I’ve since listened to a good deal more of the real old-time music recorded in the 20s & 30s, & have come to realize that some of those qualities I associated with “Country Blues” are endemic to Appalachian music—when I hear Buell Kazee sing & play “East Virginia” or Clarence Ashley sing the old Child ballad “House Carpenter,” I recognize that same underlying sound & that same approach to the music—something that sounds very much to us as coming from another place altogether. This sound is what rock critic Greil Marcus wrote about in his Invisible Republic, in which he devoted two chapters to Boggs. It should be noted, however, that music critic William Hogeland made some good points in critiquing Marcus’ approach to Boggs’ in his article “Corn Bread When I’m Hungry” (published in The Atlantic Monthly, & available online here) Leo G. Mazow gives a nice summary of this debate in Picturing the Banjo; Mazow sums up the points of difference as follows: “Is the banjo simple or surreal? Is it folk or fantastic.” Mazow himself sees these contradictions as embodying something very real within the banjo as a signifier.

But back to the music—& to point out that there are tangible factors behind that alien sound. One important consideration is that, like African American music, the Appalachian sound drew on scales & harmonies that move beyond the typical major & minor scales. This music is often called “modal,” & put very simply, the scales underlying these types of music are neither completely major nor completely minor. This is not only true of the blues, which introduces all sorts of “minor” tones in the form of “blue notes,” but also of traditional British Isles music, which took root in Appalachia. Of course, ultimately American folk music is a Creole concoction—a mixture of styles & concepts between quite different cultures, & in many ways this was as true in the hill country as in New Orleans.

The two most common “modes” in traditional music (not counting plain old major & plain old minor) are what are called the “Mixolydian” & the “Dorian” modes. Without getting too mind-numbingly technical, the “Mixolydian” comes up fairly often in music from the British Isles—& hence, in Appalachian music; a very well known old-time song in the Mixolydian mode is "Old Joe Clark," while pop fans will find the sound in the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." The “Dorian” mode, which is more on the “minor” side, is found in a number of very old-time Appalachian tunes; perhaps the best known is "Shady Grove" (the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" also is in the Dorian mode). It’s what Pete Seeger called “Mountain Minor,” & one fairly common banjo tuning used in old-time music (usually referred to as the “Sawmill” tuning) is employed exclusively for this mode.

Dock Boggs was much influenced by the blues—we have this on the best authority: Boggs himself. He said, “You think them blues ain't here on this banjo neck, the same as they're on that guitar? They're just as much on this banjo neck as they are on that guitar or piano, or anywhere else if you know where to go and get it, & if you learn it & know how to play it.” Boggs did utilize “blue notes” in his playing, & some of his recordings sound very “bluesy”—one major influence apparently was an African-American guitarist named “Go Lightening.” The song “Country Blues” itself owes a lot more structurally to the way the Mixolydian mode than to the blues, however. Boggs frequently used a particular banjo tuning to accommodate this—given the often eerie nature of Boggs’ music, this is appropriately known as the “Graveyard” tuning.

“Country Blues” is based very closely in terms of melody & harmonic structure on the old time song “Darling Corey,” which is also related to the song “Little Maggie”—the latter song is often played in a major key & in an upbeat tempo by contemporary bluegrass bands, but in origin it’s a modal tune, & old-time musicians still play it that way.

The lyrics also bear considerable similarities; the third verse of “Country Blues” (see below) is found verbatim in both “Darling Corey” & “Little Maggie,” while the last verse is found pretty much verbatim in the song “East Virginia” (also closely related in melody). The penultimate verse (“Go dig a hole in the meadow, good people, Go dig a hole in the ground”) also appears in “Darling Corey,” tho in that song it’s the woman who’s being buried, not the “poor rounder.” In fact one thing that I find remarkable about “Country Blues” is how Boggs strung together so many traditional verses & yet formed a very coherent story.

The lyrics follow, as do YouTube clips of first Boggs & then the great Doc Watson. Despite the fact that Watson is a more “polished” musician both as a singer & an instrumentalist, he brings his own soulfulness to both the playing & the lyrics & produces a version that can stand on its own (in my opinion) next to Boggs’ version.

Lyrics:
Come all you good time people,
While I've got money to spend;
Tomorrow might be Monday,
And I'll neither have a dollar nor a friend.

When I had plenty of money, good people,
My friends were all standing around;
Just as soon as my pocketbook was empty,
Not a friend on earth to be found.

Last time I seen my little woman, good people,
She had a wine glass in her hand;
She was drinking down her troubles
With a low-down, sorry man.

Oh my daddy taught me a-plenty, good people;
My mama she taught me more.
If I didn't quit my rowdy ways,
Have trouble at my door.

I wrote my woman a letter, good people
I told her I's in jail;
She wrote me back an answer
Saying, "Honey I'm a-coming to go your bail."

All around this old jailhouse is haunted, good people,
Forty dollars won't pay my fine;
Corn whiskey has surrounded my body, poor boy,
Pretty women is a-troubling my mind.

Give me corn bread when I'm hungry, good people,
Corn whiskey when I'm dry;
Pretty women a-standing around me,
Sweet heaven when I die.

If I'd a-listened to my mama, good people,
I wouldn't have been here today;
But a-drinking and a-shooting and a-gambling,
At home I cannot stay

Go dig a hole in the meadow, good people,
Go dig a hole in the ground;
Come around all you good people,
And see this poor rounder go down.

When I am dead and buried,
My pale face turned to the sun,
You can come around and mourn, little woman,
And think the way you have done.






Monday, July 27, 2009

Marvin Gaye : Piece of Clay


SONG Piece of Clay

WRITTEN BY Marvin Gaye

PERFORMED BY Marvin Gaye

APPEARS ON Phenomenon Soundtrack(1996) The Master 1961-1984 (1995)


Marvin Gaye is one of the greatest singers of all time in my book. He released some classic albums during his years on Motown but some of his best work was unreleased due to problems with the label or problems Marvin had with his own demons. One of the best unreleased songs and a true example of his talent is a ballad titled Piece of Clay. It was first released on a box set of his work named The Master 1961-1984 and then included on the soundtrack for the movie Phenomenon in 1996. Piece of Clay is a song about the struggle for self identity and the way we treat one another. The words to the song are simple and straightforward. Marvin is expressing his feeling that people should love one another no matter what kind of person they are.

While the lyrics are not complicated, the song gets its true impact from Marvin Gaye’s ability to inject whatever emotion he is feeling during the song into the mind of the listener. Whether it’s a song about love (Distant Lover), heartbreak (Here My Dear), or sex (Lets Get It On), he had the ability to put you in that mood. That’s a special gift that not many people have. In Piece of Clay you can feel his pain and frustration with trying to find comfort with who he was. There are a lot of his unreleased songs that have the same darkness. His personal life definitely shaped his view of the world. It’s not a surprise that Motown had problems releasing this work. Back in the mid 70’s this kind of song would have ran many fans away. The material works much better now that he isn’t here and his life story is out in the open. It actually adds an extra level of appreciation in some of these songs because the emotion was so real. I often wonder how a man so gifted could be so unhappy. He probably would have been more content working in a factory or something and doing music in his basement on his days off. That’s what I think about when I listen to this song.

Lyrics:

Father stop
Criticizing your son
Mother please
Leave your daughters alone
Don't you see that's what wrong
With the world with world today
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay

We all talk of kindness
But it's only only a word
Brother turned on a sister
In this cruel cruel world today
That's what's wrong
With all in this world today
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Somebody to play with
Wanna to mold you, mold you
Shape you like they wanna
Wanna to do their thing

Children are told
To give not just to take
If we were all children
You know the world
Will be a better place
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
We should all love each other
Love and take one another
We should love each other
Love and not hate, oh

Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay
True everybody wants somebody
To mold them, shape them own way
Everybody wants somebody
Try to make it
Or do their, do their thing
Everybody wants take somebody
Got to make it do their thing
Everybody wants somebody
To be their own piece of clay



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Common : The Corner


SONG The Corner

WRITTEN BY Common, The Last Poets

PERFORMED BY Common ft. The Last Poets

APPEARS ON Be (2004)





In some neighborhoods the corner is the epicenter for life. When you grow up in the inner city you get accustomed to seeing men on the standing or sitting on the corner. In general people in the neighborhood have a tendency to sit outside anyway but the corner is where the men congregate together to share a common existence. It is usually the area that is close to the neighborhood store. When I was growing up the corners around my house were reserved for the older men to share a drink and discuss the good and bad aspects of life's journey. They wouldn't do anything but stand out there, talk loud, and yell at the children when they saw them doing something wrong. You can also find other things on the corner depending on where you are. You can find young street soldiers marking their territory and making money by selling illegal drugs. That’s the dark side of the corner. You can find people selling some pretty unique items like paintings of deceased black actors and entertainers or gift baskets on Mother’s Day. There could even be a few street preachers saving souls. These days you might see a bunch of folks selling Barack Obama t-shirts.

The Corner is a hip hop song performed by Common on his “Be” album. The album was released in 2004. The Corner was his second single released in 2005. I am sure there may be some folks reading this page that are not hip hop fans. If the music doesn’t appeal to you look up the lyrics to Common songs and appreciate his lyrical ability. I’m sure if he was a singer instead of a rapper he would be considered one of the greatest lyricists of this generation. He has a gift for explaining the human experience without being ignorant. Even the rough side of urban life is told in a way that gives a human aspect to the situation. This is an under appreciated gift in hip hop music. The song is taken to another level by the spoken word of The Last Poets. The injection of the poetry leading into the second verse and closing out the song gives it a different energy. The song is produced by Kanye West who also adds his voice on the hook. The basic raw hip hop sound lets the message in the lyrics take center stage.

Lyrics:

(featuring Kanye West & The Last Poets)

[Verse 1: Common]
Memories on corners with the fours & the moors (pronounced foes and moes)
Walk to the store for the rose talking straightforward to
Got uncles that smoke it some put blow up they nose
To cope with they lows the wind is cold & it blows
In they socks & they souls holding they rolls
Corners leave souls opened & closed hoping for more
With nowhere to go rolling in droves
They shoot the wrong way cause they ain't knowing they goals
The streets ain't safe cause they ain't knowing the code
By the fours I was told either focus or fold
Got cousins with flows hope they open some doors
So we can cop clothes & roll in a Rolls
Now I roll in a "Olds" with windows that don't roll
Down the roads where cars get broke in & stole
These are the stories told by Stony & Cottage Grove
The world is cold the block is hot as a stove
On the corners

[Hook: Kanye West]
I wish I could give ya this feeling
I wish I could give ya this feeling
On the corners, robbing, killing, dying
Just to make a living (huh)

[Spoken: The Last Poets]
We underrated, we educated
The corner was our time when times stood still
And gators and snakes skins and yellow and pink
And colored blue profiles glorifying that

[Verse 2: Common]
Streetlights & deep nights cats trying to eat right
Riding no seat bikes with work to feed hypes
So they can keep sweet Nikes they head & they feet right
Desires of street life cars & weed types
It's hard to breath nights days are thief like
The beast roam the streets the police is Greek like
Game at it's peak we speak & believe hype
Bang in the streets hats cocked left or deep right
Its steep life coming up where sheep like
Rappers & hoopers we strive to be like
G's with 3 stripes seeds that need light
Cheese & weaves tight needs & thieves strike
The corner where struggle & greed fight
We write songs about wrong cause it's hard to see right
Look to the sky hoping it will bleed light
Reality's and I heard that she bites
The corner

[Hook]

[Spoken: The Last Poets]
The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dancers and
war cries that broke out on different corners
Power to the people, black power, black is beautiful

[Verse 3: Common]
Black church services, murderers, Arabs serving burger its
Cats with gold permanents move they bags as herbalist
The dirt isn't just fertile its people working & earning this
The curb-getters go where the cash flow & the current is
It's so hot that burn to live the furnace is
Where the money move & the determined live
We talk play lotto & buy german beers
It's so black packed with action that's affirmative
The corners

[Hook]

[Spoken: The Last Poets]
The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar, our Stonehenge
Our Taj Mahal, our monument,
Our testimonial to freedom, to peace and to love
Down on the corner...


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stevie Wonder: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

SONG I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

WRITTEN BY Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright

PERFORMED BY Stevie Wonder

APPEARS ON Talking Book (1972); At The Close Of A Century (1999); High Fidelity (Original Soundtrack) (2000)

One of the most uplifting popular songs ever written, "I Believe" starts as a simple ballad, develops as an anthem, and concludes as a full bore gospel shouter that initially overlays the gospel and anthemic verses. It's representative of Stevie Wonder's unique ability to apply sophisticated arrangements and songwriting skills to a fundamental sentiment, and is as bravura a piece of songwriting, arranging, and singing that you're likely to hear.

The opening piano-guitar-cymbal statement introduces an emotionally devastated man with seemingly nothing to live for. But Wonder immediately introduces the simple pleasures of shared experience as a prelude to his immutable belief that he will fall in love and that when he does it will be forever. When this happens, the "shattered dreams" and "worthless years" will give way to the "joys of caring," "strength," and the "truths of love."

These truths, Wonder fervently believes, come from God. No matter how simple the "joys of caring" might be, they are divinely inspired and therefore demand the adoration and epic sweep expressed by this song, this prayer. So come on, says Stevie: Let's fall in love. You have nothing lose but a "hollow shell" and paradise to gain. And, if the closing beat says anything, it's that you'll dance your ass off, too.

I could sing this song and it would still be great; Wonder's vocals are a marvel. His inimitable tenor moves from the sadness to hope to joy with remarkable conviction, expressing each emotion with such empathy and intimacy that one's own feelings mirror his throughout. If there's a such thing as a perfect song delivered perfectly, "I Believe" is it.

LYRICS
Shattered dreams, worthless years,
Here I am encased inside a hollow shell.
Live began, then was done,
Now I stare into a cold and empty well.

The many sounds that meet our ears,
The sights our eyes behold,
Will open up our merging hearts
And feed our empty souls.

I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever
I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever

Without despair we will share,
And the joys of caring will not be replaced.
What has been must never end,
And with the strength we have won't be erased.

When the truths of love are planted firm
They won't be hard to find.
And the words of love I speak to you
Will echo in your mind.

I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever
I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever
I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever
I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever

God surely answered my prayer
(I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
God surely answered my prayer
(
I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
You know God surely answered my prayer
(I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
You know God surely answered my prayer
(
I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
God always will answer your prayers
(I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
Believe in one who will answer my prayer
(I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)
Thank you God
(I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever)

I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever...

Come on, let's fall in love
You're the woman I've been waiting for
Come on, let's fall in love
You're the girl that I really adore
Come on, let's fall in love...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

There is a Balm in Gilead


SONG: There is a Balm in Gilead

WRITTEN BY: Traditional

PERFORMED BY: Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, et al.

APPEARS ON: Paul Robeson: Paul Robeson Live at Carnegie Hall (Vanguard) & Songs of Free Men/ A Paul Robeson Recital (Sony); Mahalia Jackson: In Concert Easter Sunday, 1967 (Columbia Europe - an import, but reasonably priced); Rahsaan Roland Kirk: I, Eye, Aye: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1972 (Rhino - amazingly, this has been discontinued, but it’s still available used or as an mp3 download)

This blog’s founder, the redoubtable Citizen K, was kind enough to ask me to become a contributor; actually, K asked me this some time ago, but as life has a way of doing, my schedule conspired to make any writing beyond my usual take on Robert Frost’s Banjo impractical. I’m glad that I finally have the time to contribute to Just a Song.

By way of further (brief) introduction, I should say that while my musical tastes are eclectic, I’ll probably be concentrating on old-time music in my contributions here, with some forays into jazz; & the first song I chose to write about illustrates this—it’s the old spiritual “Balm in Gilead.”
I’m not a religious person—not even a “believer” in the conventional sense of the word—but I find the spirituals to be incredibly moving music, & this beautiful song is most certainly can be described as "moving." I’m familiar with three recorded versions, all of which are memorable. These are by Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson & Rahsaan Roland Kirk—two vocal versions & one instrumental. I’ll discuss the versions, but first a bit of background on the song.

The title is taken from the Old Testament, specifically Jeremiah chapter 8 v. 22: "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God's] people?" As such, it not only describes the condition of a spiritual exile—a common theme in 19th century U.S. hymns—for instance “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” in which the Christian pilgrim is moving from this unreal physical world to the “real” world of heaven where all wounds will be made whole & all will be reunited. One can only imagine the power of such a concept to people in the actual bondage of slavery, taken from their native land & subject to severe wounds, physical, psychological & spiritual.

But looked at from the perspective of one like myself who’s focused on our mortal life & not on a life to come, the song reminds me that there is a place where despair can be healed—a place within perhaps (tho these spatial references always tend to get us in trouble, don’t they?) The music reinforces this sense of peace with its stately swing & its movement between major & minor chords (the verse actually ends on a minor chord, which then resolves to major leading into the chorus). For those who don’t know, minor chords tend to produce a darker, sadder harmony, while major chords tend to provide a brighter, more happy sound.

According to Wikipedia, some of the lyrics are related to an 1854 hymn by one Washington Glass, tho it appears his hymn borrowed heavily from a John Newton hymn from 1779. In addition, the second verse seems traditional—this same verse or a close variation of it turns up in a number of old spiritual songs, & probably dates to the beginning of the 19th century or earlier.

All three performances we’re sampling are extremely moving: Robeson’s rich & operatic basso rendition with a simple piano accompaniment, Mahalia Jackson’s dramatic version, backed by both piano & organ, & Rahsaan’s passionate instrumental. It’s interesting to contrast Robeson’s & Jackson’s versions—both singers liked slow tempos, but Robeson’s “Balm in Gilead” moves along in a steady andante (not fast, but moving along at a “walking” pace), while Jackson soars in a rubato largo (a slow but free tempo for you non-musician types)—so slow that it seems the next downbeat will never come. This type of tempo invites exploration, & Jackson not only improvises with the rhythm; she also creates some beautiful improvisations on the original melody, while Robeson renders the melody closely (& magnificently). Needless to say, both versions work extraordinarily well.

Finally, we turn to one of my all-time favorite jazz musicians, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, for an instrumental version captured from his show at the Montreux Jazz Festival in ’72. Kirk was in fine form that day, as witnessed by the album I, Eye, Aye—why Rhino decided to discontinue this album is beyond me, but looks like there are plenty of used copies available, as well as mp3s. In his introduction to the song (on the album, not on the clip), Kirk mentioned the idea of “getting the song in your ear” & making it your own—this was one of his gifts. In the process he remakes this old spiritual on clarinet & tenor sax, turning it into a soaring march such as you’d expect at a New Orleans funeral. If you’re not familiar with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, he frequently played more than one wind instrument—as many as three simultaneously. To describe this makes it sound like a novelty, but Kirk’s playing is always much more than that. My wife Eberle talks about Kirk as having an “orchestral” mode of thinking, & that’s certainly on display here. It’s also worth noting that Kirk’s clarinet playing here is superb—so dramatic, & making full use of the instrument’s wide range; & although Kirk is the main focus, his backing bands were always top-notch—among other things, Kirk was known for playing with excellent pianists, & Ron Burton is no exception here. I wonder about Joe Texidor smoking a cigarette while playing the tambourine, however! I should note that on the I, Eye, Aye album there’s an intriguing intro that didn’t make it into this (or any other) YouTube video clip.

Lyrics are as follows:

Chorus
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

VERSE 1
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

(Chorus)

VERSE 2
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

(Chorus)





Monday, July 20, 2009

Stevie Wonder : As

SONG As

WRITTEN BY Stevie Wonder

PERFORMED BY Stevie Wonder

APPEARS ON Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)




Stevie Wonder was born Steven Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950. He was signed to Motown Records at the age off 11 and had his first hit single Fingertips (Pt.2) at the age of 13. Despite the fact he lost his sight as an infant, he is considered by most to be a musical genius. During the mid 1970's Stevie released several albums that are considered classics. Perhaps the best and most groundbreaking of those releases is Songs in the Key of Life. It was released in 1976 and spent 14 weeks on the Billboard charts as the number one album. In American music as a whole this album is considered among the best ever made. In R&B music it is arguably a top five album of all time. There are a few songs from this album I want to write about but I will start with what I feel is the best and most underrated. Writing about this song was a special request. It’s a wonderful tune about everlasting love titled “As”. I always thought the name of this song was I’ll be Loving You Always until I scored an original copy of the album and couldn’t find that title on any of the four sides.

“As” is not a typical slow and sappy love song that is prominent in R&B music. I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t listen to my fair share of sappy love songs but this song is much deeper than that. It is about the genuine and undying love from one person to another. I did a blog post once about the songs that represent my life and listed this song as the song I would use to tell someone I love them. The song speaks to the kind of love that can sustain you throughout your life. Everyone should have someone like that in their life. It can be a spouse, parent, or a child. It can be your sibling, cousin, or just a damn good friend. It can even be a dog or a cat. It can be about that one person in your life no matter who they are that fills the need of knowing someone loves you and you love them back. The other day my friend told me she was in the store with her teenage sister. She fell in love with a pair of shoes and her sister decided to buy them for her. Her words were “as long as I have money, you have money.” It's like all the years growing up watching your dad wear those raggedy clothes knowing he wanted to look good but he couldn't because he didn't have a lot of money and he wanted his kids to look right. That’s the kind of love Stevie Wonder is singing about.

Anyone who reads the post I make will soon realize that I am heavy into lyrics. I have to give equal attention to the words of the song no matter what the subject matter of the song or the tempo. I think Stevie Wonder intended for this song to be inspirational and uplifting. The tempo is fast enough to dance to. It’s meant to celebrate the presence of that person. I think that’s the way it should be. When I think of the people in my life who I love I want to feel good about it. The words themselves are plainspoken but constructed to allow anyone of significance to come into the listeners mind. There is no mention of male or female. The only reference is “you”. Towards the end of the song the direction of the lyrics shifts to metaphors that describe how the love he has will last by basically saying “I’ll be loving you until….a bunch of things that will never happen.” For example:

“Ill be loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high”

The only disclaimer I can give about this song is that if you ever go to a Stevie Wonder concert please be prepared because the night I saw him at the Essence Music Festival he performed this song for about 20 minutes. I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of love to handle. Other than that minor tidbit, please enjoy the selection.

Clifton

Lyrics:
As around the sun the earth knows shes revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early may
Just as hate knows loves the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That Ill be loving you always

As now cant reveal the mistery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all is born is new
Do you know what I say is true
That Ill be loving you always

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Always
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Always
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Always
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream

Did you know that true love asks for nothing
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee
To last through forever and another day

Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That Ill be loving you always

As today I know Im living but tomorrow
Could make me the past but that I mustnt fear
For Ill know deep in my mind
The love of me Ive left behind
Cause Ill be loving you always

Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Always
Until the trees and sea just up and fly away
Always
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
Always
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Did you know youre loved by somebody?
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Always
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Ill loving you forever
Until dear mother nature says her work is through
Always
Until the day that you are me and I am you
Al~~~~~wa~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~aa~~~
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
~~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~aa~~~
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
~~~aa~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~ys

We all know sometimes lifes hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say youre in it but not of it
Youre not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our childrens grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell

Ill be loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Loving you
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Loving you
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Be loving you
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Loving you
Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away
Loving you
Until the day that 8x8x8x8 is 4
Loving you
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Loving you
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Be loving you
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Loving you
Until dear mother nature says her work is through
Loving you
Until the day that you are me and I am you
Now aint that loving you
Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Aint that loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
And Ive got to say always
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Al~~~~~~~~~wa~~~~~~~~~~~~ays
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Um al~~~~~~~~~wa~~~~~~~~~~~~ays
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Al~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~wa~~~~~~~~~ays
Until the trees and sea just up and fly away
Al~~~~~wa~~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~~~~aa
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Aa~~~~~~~~~~~~aa~~~~aa~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ays
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Al~~~~~~~~wa~~~~~~a~~~~~~~~~~~~aa
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
~~~~~~aa~~~~~~~~aa~~~~~~aa~~~~~~ays
Until dear mother nature says her work is through
Al~~~~ways
Until the day that you are me and I am you

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky
Until the ocean covers every mountain high
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
Until the day is night and night becomes the day
Until the trees and sea just up and fly away
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
Until dear mother nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bruce Springsteen: Darkness On The Edge Of Town

SONG Darkness on the Edge of Town

WRITTEN BY Bruce Springsteen

PERFORMED BY Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

APPEARS ON Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978); Live 1975-1985 (1986)

Ask most Bruce Springsteen fans what their favorite song of his is and they'll answer "Thunder Road." I'm no exception. So, the question becomes, what is your second favorite Springsteen song. For me, that's "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

"Darkness" contrasts the lives of two former lovers, one of whom eschewed risk ("that blood it never burned in her veins" in favor of the safety of "a house up in Fairview" while the other continued to frequent at the "spot out 'neath Abram's bridge". In "Darkness"' Springsteen examines the costs of both material comfort and discontent. To him, it's too easy to sneer at the person who chooses the nice home at the expense of self-examination, for that too forces a price ("I lost my money and I lost my wife").

To Springsteen, life comes at a pychic cost ("everybody's got a secret") that one must be willing to pay because existence will exact it anyway ("'Til some day they just cut it loose"). He must be "on that hill with everything I got," but at the same time he grasps that that may not be possible for everyone. In fact, he's not even there by choice: He's there because he must be. Whatever the costs exacted by the darkness on the edge of town, he'll pay them in order to remain true to himself. This may not be the easiest path, but it's his.

LYRICS
They're still racing out at the Trestles
But that blood it never burned in her veins
I hear she's got a house up in Fairview
And house she's trying to maintain
Well if she wants to see me
You can tell her that I'm easily found
Tell her there's a spot out 'neath Abram's Bridge
And tell her there's a darkness on the edge of town

Everybody's got a secret, Sonny
Something that they just can't face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
'Til some day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag 'em down
Where no one asks any questions
Or looks too long at your face
In the darkness on the edge of town

Some folks are born into a good life
Other folks get it any way anyhow
I lost my money and I lost my wife
Them things don't seem to matter much to me now
Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town

From the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, 9/19/78:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain

SONG Sugar Mountain

WRITTEN BY Neil Young

PERFORMED BY Neil Young

APPEARS ON Decade (1977); Live Rust (1979); Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968 (2008); Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 (2009)

NOTE According to Joni Mitchell, the line "you can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain" stems from Young's realization that he would soon no longer be allowed into the teen-only hangouts that had been the staple of his social life.

Perhaps because they must thrive in a decidedly unsentimental environment, rock stars from Jackson Browne to The Kinks have looked back on innocence of childhood with a wistfulness and nostalgia unusual for the genre. None, perhaps, did this to better effect than Neil Young, who wrote "Sugar Mountain" at the ripe old age of 19.

Using an amusement park as a metaphor for childhood, Young retraces his youth beginning with vague memories of "the barkers and the colored balloons," the hoopla of the park, and eating candy with his friends and parents. In later years, he catches the eye of a girl and even sneaks his first cigarette "underneath the stairs." Finally, he eagerly heads out on its own only to discover that "real" isn't what he had imagined.

Young maintains that he wrote 126 verses to "Sugar Mountain" and that -- in the process of paring them down to four -- he included the worst verse he ever wrote (the third). To me, though this image of teen-aged boy huddling under the stairs, nervously smoking after having given some offense -- epitomizes adolescent anxiety. Although it does not depict growing up with the same fondness as the first two verses, it's a perfect bridge to the uncertainties of adulthood evoked in the final verse.

LYRICS
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

It's so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

There's a girl just down the aisle
Oh, to turn and see her smile
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

Now you're underneath the stairs
And you're giving back some glares
To the people who you met
And it's your first cigarette

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

Now you say you're leaving home
because you want to be alone.
Ain't it funny how you feel
When you're finding out it's real?

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon





Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill

SONG Solsbury Hill

WRITTEN BY Peter Gabriel

PERFORMED BY Peter Gabriel

APPEARS ON Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) (1977), plus all compilation and live albums

I'll admit it: I've been a Peter Gabriel fan from the very first Genesis album. The man's musical tastes have always so synched with my own, from the early progressive rock/electronic musings to the multicultural explorations his solo work developed into. In the multicultural music field he's become something of an icon and a mentor - he's introduced more "ethnic" musicians to western audiences than any other performer - Yousou N'Dour, Papa Wemba, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, L. Shankar (he of the double-necked violin, not the legendary sitar player)... Like Dizzy Gillespie always being sought out by Latin American musicians as soon as they hit New York, musicians from Africa, Asia, South America, wherever, head right for PG's Real World headquarters in Wiltshire. Plus he created WOMAD (World of Music, Arts, and Dance), which sponsors musicians and puts on World Music festivals all over the world.

And not to forget his humanitarian accomplishments, which grew out of his interest in world music. He co-founded WITNESS, a non-profit group that equips, trains and supports locally-based organizations worldwide to use video and the internet in human rights documentation and advocacy. PG and Richard Branson talked with Nelson Mandela, talks which resulted in the formation of The Elders, a group of elder world statesmen and women who speak out their wisdom on the world's challenges. The Elders includes Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Aung San Suu Kyi, and others. PG and Branson have a group known as "The Founders" which funds The Elders.

Looking at this, the question arises: Would any of this have happened if Peter Gabriel had stayed in Genesis? And that's what "Solsbury Hill" is all about.

Gabriel recorded the song on his first solo album in 1977 (the album itself is untitled, so it's usually referred to as either Peter Gabriel 1 or Car, from the album cover picture of PG in a rain-beaded car). It's all about listening to that inner voice and doing what it tells you; it's about taking risks, about leaping out into the abyss and trusting that it's the right thing to do. And Peter Gabriel certainly did that when he left Genesis and launched his solo career. Atlantic Records and the other Genesis band members were concerned that Gabriel was becoming the dominant figure in the band, and the suits at Atlantic were especially worried that his musical vision wasn't "commercial" enough, despite the success of the innovative concept album A Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; they wanted pop tunes, not serious music. In this kind of atmosphere, you can imagine how suffocated Gabriel was feeling. He needed to get out and expand; he needed creative freedom!

A songwriter writing about taking risks might be expected to write a song full of trepidation and nerves - am I doing the right thing? Is this going to hurt me? But "Solsbury Hill" is one of the most joyous songs I've ever heard, because it's all about the freedom gained by taking that risk. You can hear the "Wheeeeeeeee!" of a little kid launching himself off the top of the hill on his sled all over this song, from the strummed acoustic guitar at the start to the final line: "You can keep my things,/ They've come to take me home." The 7/4 time signature emphasizes that kind of bouncing-for-joy feel to the song, and PG's live performances of the song have featured that bounce, either skipping up the proscenium with David Rhodes (guitar) and Tony Levin (bass) as in the 1993 Secret World tour, or riding a bicycle around a theater-in-the-round stage with all the band members skipping by him in the opposite direction (the 2003 Growing Up tour). This song is all about celebrating freedom, and it's become PG's signature song - it's on all the compilation albums and it's on the playlist of all his live performances. You can't go to a Peter Gabriel concert and not bounce to "Solsbury Hill"!

LYRICS

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut
"Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
(Back home.)

When illusion spin her net
I'm never where I want to be
And liberty she pirouette
When I think that I am free
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" I said "You can keep my things,
They've come to take me home."

For your video delectation, I've included my two favorite performances - the 1993 Secret World tour where PG and friends skip up the proscenium, and the 2003 Growing Up tour version with the bicycle. What celebrations these are! Enjoy!



Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero/No Limit

SONG Love Minus Zero/No Limit

WRITTEN BY Bob Dylan

PERFORMED BY Bob Dylan

APPEARS ON Bringing It All Back Home (1965); At Budokan (1979); The Concert For Bangla Desh (2005, DVD only)

I've been pondering the meaning of this song for more than thirty years. LMZ/NL is one of my favorite Dylan songs (and therefore one of my favorite songs), although a precise interpretation has long eluded me. But, writing about a song uncovers meaning. Even the act of copying lyrics has an effect: I grasp much more from typing them instead of cutting and pasting.

For example, the meaning of this aphorism closing the second verse--
She knows there's no success like failure,
And that failure's no success at all
--perplexed me. Was Dylan being deliberately enigmatic, laughing up his sleeve as fans sought a profundity where none existed? Then I wrote it down and Dylan's point suddenly became clear: Since we learn more from our failures, they are more important than our successes ("there's no success like failure"). Thus, failure is nothing like success ("no success at all"). Dylan sets up the lyric nicely with an account of banal conversations and speculations irrelevant to what actually happens.

Dylan often deals in punch lines. LMZ/NL typifies this propensity, where the imagery of each verse sets up a clearly stated conclusion. Thus in the first verse, love's elemental nature renders mere store-bought valentines as an inadequate expression. In the surreal third verse, iconic figures ("madams," "horsemen," "pawns," and crumbling "statues") intermingle and destroy each other while love watches bemused ("My love winks"), not judging because it's all small stuff anyway.

In the climactic fourth verse, the banker's nieces' ideal of "perfection" (the "gifts of wise men") echoes the Nativity story. Compared to love, though, religion is a relatively earthly matter subject to corruption (hence the financial imagery). Love in all its forms -- romantic, platonic, brotherly -- is Dylan's higher power. We can see this by the way he invokes love's strength in the face of everything from the quotidian ("dime stores and bus stations") to the mystical ("ceremonies of the horsemen").

All which leads to the doozy of the finale:
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she's like some raven,
At my window with a broken wing.
The power of love notwithstanding, human indifference can break it. The elements suddenly turn dangerous, reducing love to a futile exercise of battering at the window separating it from an unresponsive lover. And so, love can in the end fall victim to the banalities of human nature. Which is why we must strive to be "true, like ice, like fire" lest we lose love's great capacity to heal, bind, and reveal.
LYRICS
My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hour,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can't buy her.
In dime stores and bus stations,
People talk of situations,
Read books, repeat quotations,
Draw conclusions on the wall.
Some speak of the future,
My love she speaks softly,
She knows there's no success like failure,
And that failure's no success at all.

The cloak and dagger dangles,
Madams light the candles,
In ceremonies of the horsemen,
Even the pawn must hold a grudge.
Statues made of match sticks,
Crumble into one another,
My love winks, she does not bother,
She knows too much to argue or to judge.

The bridge at midnight trembles,
The country doctor rambles,
Banker's nieces seek perfection,
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she's like some raven,
At my window with a broken wing.

Newport, 1965:



From the Concert for Bangla Desh, with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Leon Russell:



A gorgeous version from 1994:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bill Withers : Grandma's Hands



SONG Grandma’s Hands

WRITTEN BY Bill Withers

PERFORMED BY Bill Withers

APPEARS ON Just As I Am (1971)


Some of the songs that I find the most powerful are the songs that remind me of family. This is especially the case since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. My grandmother Geraldine was a maid. She used to work for a doctor and his wife. She lived next to us in a double house when I was growing up and almost every evening when she came home I would go through the door that separated our houses to see what kind of pastry treats or fruit she bought from the fruit stand on the way home. She always had this song she used to sing when she would give me my treat bag.

My grandmother Mildred was a housewife. She was married to my grandfather for 68 years. She's an awesome woman and I still haven't tasted a better sugar cookie from anyone including the Keebler elves. These ladies were quite different in personality and approach to life. The one thing they had in common as it relates to me is their absolute love and affection for me.

I can admit to being a spoiled young man. There was never a time during the first 31 years of my life that I didn't feel special when I was around them. I don't think Mildred ever yelled at me my entire life. Hurricane Katrina happened on August 29th 2005. Flood waters claimed Geraldine and Mildred's home of 50 years was washed away. On August 30th my world was a lot less bright and comfortable. There hasn’t been a good day since then that couldn’t have been better if they were here.

Grandma's Hands is a song written in 1971 by Bill Withers about his own grandmother. It was included on the album Just As I Am. This album is probably best known for the song Ain't No Sunshine. Which could be his biggest hit along with Lean On Me. Grandma’s Hands was my favorite song of Bill Withers before Hurricane Katrina and now it has a more special meaning to me. In the song Withers describes the power and influence of his grandmother in the family by describing all the things she did with her hands. Her hands could be used to chastise. They could be used for comfort. They could nurse you back to health and save you from a whipping if she got there fast enough.

It’s a beautiful song sung with the sounds of an acoustic band. You can feel the sentiment and emotion with each line. I couldn’t post this unless I found the version of the song when he gives the monologue before the song about walking her to one of those old black churches on Sunday morning. Whether you had to walk with your grandmother to church or not, I am sure anyone who had a grandmother that meant the world to them can feel that story. The video clip is another performance of it with a different story at the beginning. The only cover of the song I felt did justice to the Bill Wither’s words was the version done by Simply Red. I am adding that one as well. I would like to dedicate this post to Geraldine and Mildred.

Clifton


Lyrics

Grandma's hands
Clapped in church on Sunday morning
Grandma's hands
Played a tambourine so well
Grandma's hands
Used to issue out a warning
She'd say, "Billy don't you run so fast
Might fall on a piece of glass
"Might be snakes there in that grass"
Grandma's hands

Grandma's hands
Soothed a local unwed mother
Grandma's hands
Used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma's hands
Used to lift her face and tell her,
"Baby, Grandma understands
That you really love that man
Put yourself in Jesus hands"
Grandma's hands

Grandma's hands
Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma's hands
Picked me up each time I fell
Grandma's hands
Boy, they really came in handy
She'd say, "Matty don' you whip that boy
What you want to spank him for?
He didn't drop no apple core"
But I don't have Grandma anymore

If I get to Heaven I'll look for
Grandma's hands

This is my favorite version


Grandmas Hands (Live) - Bill Withers





Simply Red’s version

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Who: Susbstitute

SONG Substitute

WRITTEN BY Pete Townshend

PERFORMED BY The Who

APPEARS ON Live At Leeds (1970), Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy (1971), 30 Years Of Maximum R&B (1994), The Ultimate Collection (2002), many others

NOTE "Substitute" is an essential Who song. No Who anthology is complete without it.


"Substitute," The Who's sardonic look at a relationship plagued by inflated expectations, stands as one of their finest early songs. For years the traditional concert opener (until supplanted by "I Can't Explain"), "Substitute" remains in their repertoire today and rarely fails to get a crowd on its feet. I saw them perform a brilliant rendition of it as recently as 2002, shortly after John Entwhistle's death. Roger Daltry blustered and bawled out the words while Pete Townshend prowled the stage, windmilled with abandon, and sang harmony as well as ever. (He must have been feeling especially on that night, as he even smashed his guitar at the end of the show.)

The first two words of the song -- "You think" -- signal that that the singer has a different notion of the the way things are than the person he sings to, even though "we look pretty good together." To begin with, he's shorter than she is ("I look pretty tall but my heels are high"). Moreover, he resents the way she has imposed a fantasy ("The simple things you see are all complicated") on a man who is not only short, he's older ("I'm just backdated") and wears a cheap suit ("My fine looking suit is really made out sack"). In other words, he can't possibly live up to the image she has of him.

Born on the wrong side of the tracks ("he north side of my town faced east and the east was facing south") and in modest circumstances (" a plastic spoon in my mouth"), it is perhaps these humble beginnings that give him the power to see things as they are ("I can see right through your plastic mac"). The problem is that whenever he tries to be open about himself, the "crocodile tears" flow because she's happier substituting "lies for fact." Although they have a "genuine problem," she prefers to "just pass it by": Paradoxically, she puts the relationship at risk by refusing to take a risk and admit to the problem.

Anyone who has been in a relationship in which the other person expects them conform to an ideal rather than be themselves can identify with "Substitute." The person held up as an ideal, ironically, gets little out of the relationship because whatever is given is given to someone who doesn't exist. Hence the sarcastic final verse, in which the singer confides that he'd rather be with his mother:
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done
Pete Townshend would write many more songs exploring the natures of perception, fantasy, and reality, especially as they had to do with rock stardom and fans. In this context, one might view the two lovers in "Substitute" as stand-ins for a rock star and a fan, with the fan mistaking the trappings of stardom for reality. Townshend, a fan himself as well as a star, ultimately held The Who's supporters with great affection even as he warned them of the personal dangers of attaching too much credence to the pronouncements rock stars. He would rarely write of this with more wit or greater insight than in "Substitute."

-Citizen K.

LYRICS
You think we look pretty good together
You think my shoes are made of leather

But I'm a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I'm just backdated, yeah

Substitute your lies for fact
I can see right through your plastic mac
I look all white, but my dad was black
My fine looking suit is really made out of sack

I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth
The north side of my town faced east and the east was facing south

And now you dare to look me in the eye
Those crocodile tears are what you cry
It's a genuine problem and you won't try
To work it all out you just pass it by pass it by

Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done

These performances of "Substitute" across 31 years (1966-2007) show how The Who changed their look and developed their act. From 1966:




1967, at the Monterey Pop Festival. What a difference a year makes.




1970, at Leeds. Daltry's curls and fringes and Pete's jump suit appear and The Who become rock icons.




1974. The harmony vocals are especially strong:




1979. A nice solo by Pete and some great windmills:




1982:




2000. John Entwhistle's last tour. Drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) is often credited with reenergizing The Who's live act. Don't miss Pete's monologue at the end:




2007. They can still bring it: